The ongoing criminalisation of cannabis will do nothing to protect children from drugs and heap continuing heartache on young Australians, Victoria’s Labor Government has been told.

And while politicians have the “privilege” of admitting to having consumed cannabis in their past, thousands of Victorians are still being prosecuted and suffering devastating consequences for doing the very same thing, Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP Rachel Payne said.

Speaking in the state parliament’s upper house last night, Payne and fellow Legalise Cannabis MP David Ettershank called on the government to be “courageous” and end the flawed war on cannabis.

The comments came during a session triggered by a Legalise Cannabis Party petition which gathered almost 3,000 signatures in 72 hours supporting the decriminalisation of personal use cannabis.

Turning the focus on the inequality of current cannabis laws, Payne reminded the house that a “tidal wave” of MPs confessed to consuming cannabis.

Yet these very same politicians are continuing to criminalise its use and watching young people suffer as a result, Payne said.

“Last year we saw a tidal wave of MPs step forward and announce that at one time or another they have consumed cannabis,” the MP said. “There is immense privilege that comes with being able to make such a disclosure…but for many members of the public the criminalisation of cannabis has forced them into the judicial system and stamped them with a criminal record.

“They have lost their freedoms, their money and their ability to chase their dreams. The criminalisation of cannabis has caused so much harm.

“So when members of this government disclose their cannabis use, and then fail to act on decriminalising cannabis, it is a smack in the face to every Victorian who is not privileged enough to avoid the law.”

Those people continue to suffer because of “government inaction”, she said.

Later, Ettershank tackled the oft-cited argument that legalisation would expose children to cannabis and trigger an avalanche of new users.

He argued that those who believe prohibition protects children “might be quite devastated to learn that cannabis is already being consumed by 14-17 year olds”.

“Use [in that age group] has increased 20% from 2019 to 2023 because criminals don’t care about protecting our young people,” he said.

“All of us are rightly concerned about the harms that illicit drugs can do to our children. They should not be able to access drugs. But no amount of hand wringing or exhortations will protect our children from the harms of contact with an illicit drug market.”

The argument that a decriminalised market would see cannabis use climb was also flawed, he said, citing research in the ACT which showed consumption had not changed since 2020 when personal use was no longer deemed a criminal offence.

“It runs counter to the prevailing idea that decriminalisation will increase usage and cause our young people to run amok,” he said.

The Melbourne Western Metropolitan member called on the government to understand the “profound impact” a criminal record has on young Australians.

“This is something we will have to deal with sooner or later, and it will take a courageous government to do the job,” he said. “I like to hope that courageous government is this one.”

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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