Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are far more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in Victoria – and far less likely to receive a caution – according to data from the state’s Crime Statistics Agency (CSA).  

Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP David Ettershank asked minister for corrections Anthony Carbines how many people were arrested for possession in 2020-2021, how many of those identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI), and how many were offered a caution under the cannabis cautioning scheme. 

In a written response, Carbines said of 11,493 alleged offenders in 2020, 35% (4,066) received a caution. However, of the 826 who identified as ATSI, only 20% (168) were cautioned.

The figures were similar in 2021, with 32% of alleged offenders cautioned but only 21% of those who identified as ATSI, and in 2022, when caution rates were 36% and 25% respectively.

Carbines added: “The Victorian Government knows that Aboriginal Victorians are overrepresented in the justice system. That is why our 2023-24 state budget provided A$5 million for the continuation of the Aboriginal Youth Cautioning program. 

“Developed through engagement with Aboriginal communities, this program is an important initiative that aims to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system.”

Legalise Cannabis Victoria’s Regulation of Personal (Adult Use) of Cannabis Bill 2023, which would allow adults to grow up to six plants per household and possess up to 50 grams, will be debated on November 29.  

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Nerita Waight said: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have historically been overpoliced in Victoria for minor offences like drug possession. 

“The Police Commissioner apologised for this sort of racist policing at the Yoorrook Justice Commission earlier this year, yet we are still waiting for words to translate into action.  

“When people have an issue with drug use… it should be dealt with as a health issue – not a criminal matter. Victoria has already learnt this lesson under the most tragic of circumstances. 

“Victoria should engage in drug reforms that reduce discriminatory policing practices and increase health and community support for those that need it.” 

Ettershank added: “This is stigma and marginalisation in broad daylight. Arrests for cannabis possession have a profound effect on a person’s ability to access housing, employment, education, finance and sadly, this becomes much worse if you’re already marginalised because you identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.  

“The government says it’s committed to removing the systemic discrimination and hyper-incarceration of first nations people but it’s clearly not working. Personal possession of a small amount of cannabis is a victimless crime – let’s change this law.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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