Reason Party leader Fiona Patten and drug law reform campaigners have published an open letter calling on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to decriminalise cannabis.
Signatories to the letter include Unharm, the Health and Community Services Union, the Youth Support and Advocacy Service and the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
It urges Andrews to listen to “the evidence, the experts and the demands of the community” and says “decriminalising cannabis use will help us take care of ourselves and our communities and make Victoria a fairer place for us all”.
Drug law reform group Unharm said the recent Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis, chaired by Patten, attracted hundreds of submissions and recommended the decriminalisation of cannabis use and possession, but has so far been ignored by Andrews.
Campaigns director Sam Kidd said the ongoing criminalisation is out of step with the evidence and with the community’s values.
“The Andrews Government’s dogged pursuit of criminalising people who choose to use cannabis has devastating impacts on people’s lives,” Kidd said.
“Over 11,000 Victorians are arrested for low-level cannabis possession every year, that’s 30 every day. And it’s Aboriginal people, people of colour, young people and people experiencing homelesness who are disproportionately targeted.
“The huge number of arrests for cannabis stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of Victorians, 77% of whom support decriminalisation.
“The message from experts, the evidence and Victorians is clear – decriminalising cannabis is the right thing to do. It will make Victoria a fairer, happier, and healthier place for us all.”
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Nerita Waight urged the Premier to end the overpolicing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
She said: “The war on drugs was founded on racist attitudes. The criminalisation of drugs has been used by police to target Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, and other marginalised communities. The overpolicing of our people needs to stop, and decriminalising cannabis is an important step on the path to decriminalising all drugs.”
“If people have a problem with their cannabis use, they need healthcare and support – not harassment from police. Being arrested and getting a criminal record makes it harder for people to find work, housing and support. It’s time to treat drugs as a public health issue and get people the support they need to heal.”
The letter in full…
“Dear Premier Andrews,
Every year, over 600,000 Victorians from all walks of life use cannabis. We want them to be treated fairly and supported to live full and happy lives. That’s why we are calling for your commitment to decriminalise cannabis use in Victoria.
Since 2014, Victorian police have arrested more than 50,000 Victorians merely for using cannabis. Thousands of people have had their opportunities in life permanently limited by the burden of a criminal record. And it’s Aboriginal people, people of colour, young people and people experiencing homelesness who bear this burden most heavily.
Experts across the legal, mental health, Aboriginal justice, youth justice and alcohol and other drugs sectors support the decriminalisation of cannabis. The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service has noted that “decriminalisation not only allows reallocation of court and legal resources, but vastly improves social and health outcomes for community and families”.
For most people who use cannabis, it’s a minor part of their life. But for people whose cannabis use becomes a problem, decriminalisation means they can reach out for help without the threat of an arrest.
We note that the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that 77% of Victorians think cannabis use should be decriminalised. The ongoing criminalisation of people for using cannabis is out of step with community expectations.
Mr Andrews, we call on you to listen to the evidence, the experts and the demands of the community. Decriminalising cannabis use will help us take care of ourselves and our communities and make Victoria a fairer place for us all.”