Reason Party leader Fiona Patten is pushing the Victorian government to consider a ‘Plan B’ as her bill to decriminalise the possession of small quantities of cannabis makes its way through parliament.
The bill looks doomed to failure given opposition from both the Labor government and Coalition MPs.
However, The Age reports Patten met with Premier Daniel Andrews this week to discuss trialling the plan on a smaller scale in either St Kilda or a regional town such as Bairnsdale, both of which have faced problems with drug use.
The trial would apply to all illicit drugs including cannabis, methamphetamine and heroin.
Patten said the move has the support of “law enforcers, addiction experts, policy analysts, medical associations, doctors, nurses, other front-line service providers and an increasing number of people in the community”.
And yesterday (Wednesday), attorney-general Jaclyn Symes agreed to investigate future reforms.
She told parliament: “The government will convene a working group with police, health professionals, addiction specialists among others to give advice to the minister for health and the minister for police on possible infringement trial options.”
No location for the potential trial has been confirmed.
Meanwhile, the state’s parliamentary budget office has estimated Victorian taxpayers could save up to A$128 million over the next 10 years if Patten’s bill was passed.
It said a saving of around $133 million from reduced drug-related work for courts and prisons would be offset by a decrease of $5.1m in revenue from fines for drug offences.
Premier Daniel Andrews said economics were not the only factor to consider, telling reporters “there are many things that would save money, whether they are good things to do or not is another thing”.
Patten told The Herald Sun the money saved on clogging the courts and prisons could be spent on rehabilitation and treatment.
“People with alcohol and other drug problems need help, not more harm,” she said.
“Here is a measure increasingly adopted around the world, amid proof it reduces needless deaths, leads to recovery, slashes crime, saves public funds, and rescues families.
“This change needs and merits bipartisan political support.”
Despite the bill’s almost certain defeat, Patten remains determined to push ahead with her reform campaign.
In a video posted to her social media account, she said: “This bill starts that conversation around treating the use of drugs differently, seeing it as a health issue, not one that should be stigmatised or criminalised.”