A two-year inquiry by the Victorian state parliament that was set to recommend significant changes to the state’s cannabis laws has been watered down after government MPs intervened at the last minute.
According to The Age, the inquiry’s report, due to be released this morning (Thursday), now suggests the government “investigate the impacts of legalising cannabis for adult personal use in Victoria” – a far cry from the big changes in drug policy campaigners were hoping for.
The inquiry considered evidence on both the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis, with most Australian and international health and legal experts favouring decriminalisation for personal use, including making home grow legal in small quantities, and expunging minor cannabis convictions from criminal records.
However, other stakeholders, including the Victorian Police, opposed decriminalisation citing the potential for mental health problems, antisocial behaviour and risks to road safety.
A framework for allowing cannabis for personal use, initially recommended by the committee, chaired by Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, would have mirrored the Australian Capital Territory where people can possess and grow small amounts.
However, when the report was in its final stages, three Labor MPs on the committee used their majority power to water down the recommendations, in what a fellow committee member called a “galling” last-minute move.
“I found it galling that you could sit [on] an inquiry for a year, Fiona could do all that hard work, then the government could simply come over the top and change the recommendations before they’re made public,” said the MP, speaking anonymously.
Victorian crossbench MP David Limbrick (Liberal Democrats) said he was “very disappointed with the outcome”.
He added: “I was not happy with the report and have submitted my own minority report that will be released on Thursday.”
“I support full legalisation of cannabis. I think the evidence presented to the inquiry was crystal clear that legalisation presents a golden opportunity to undermine organised crime in this state.”
A Victorian government spokeswoman told The Age “our focus is on fighting the pandemic and creating jobs — we have no plans to legalise cannabis”.
“We’ll continue to invest in reducing drug-related harms and supporting Victorians affected by drug use and will consider the recommendations in that context.”