Wednesday, 29 November 2023


Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023



Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Rachel Payne:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (14:26): I rise to make a contribution on this bill on this important topic, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023 in Ms Payne’s name. From the outset, can I thank Ms Payne and Mr Ettershank for the significant thought and effort that has gone into preparing this private members bill. I am sure the house would agree this is a complex issue that comes with potential benefits but also significant potential risks, which this government does not take lightly.

However, I do want to acknowledge some of the very important motivations that these members have in bringing forward this bill with regard to harm minimisation, equity and illicit market disruption. There is much work to do on the issue to better understand the impacts of cannabis reform on individuals and communities – important work that the government is now undertaking. While the Victorian government does not have current plans to decriminalise the personal possession and use of cannabis in our state, the Victorian government shares the members’ views about innovative drug policy that supports harm minimisation.

As I have said, issues of alcohol and drug use and harm can be complicated, with policy responses often hotly contested. However, we are a government that looks past the division and sensationalist rhetoric of some people, and we want to take an approach to implement thoughtful and effective policies that improve the health of and social outcomes for Victorians. We have certainly put our money where our mouth is in respect of investment in this space, as the budget papers clearly outline. In the ninth budget this government has handed down since being elected in 2014 we have invested well over $2 billion in alcohol and other drug treatment supports and harm minimisation initiatives. That is before we consider the important legislative reform steps we have taken, from becoming the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes to our recent decriminalisation of public drunkenness.

We do not just talk the talk when it comes to drug and alcohol reform and support. Our $370 million investment in the most recent budget is more than double that which those opposite delivered in their last budget the last time they were in government. This year the investment in drug and alcohol support means that more than 40,000 Victorians each year are able to access help from government-funded alcohol and drug treatment and support services. This investment has also supported a range of innovative policy initiatives and dedicated services to reduce drug harm in our community, whether that is the well-publicised establishment of Victoria’s first life-saving safe injecting service or the sometimes lesser-known programs, such as our DanceWize program.

I will just take a moment to reflect on DanceWize. It is an important program. It is funded by this government and run by Harm Reduction Victoria, and it is an original. It is Australian, and it is a peer-based alcohol and other drug harm reduction program that delivers peer care and support services for music events and festivals across Victoria. The project involves the attendance of key peer educators who host a chill-out space, discuss safer drug use and distribute health resources. Starting as a grassroots Victorian group known as RaveSafe, DanceWize has been supporting the minimisation of drug harm since 1999. The program’s success saw its model adopted in New South Wales in 2017, and it is part of a national network which is able to support the emergence of similar programs in other parts of our country.

Of course DanceWize is just one part of a broader suite of harm reduction initiatives funded by the government, including the drug overdose prevention and education program, which delivers peer-based training through structured workshops on overdose prevention and response and other drug education; Drug Facts, run by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, which provides accessible and comprehensive online information for all Victorians about alcohol and other drugs with an emphasis on harm reduction and primary prevention; the Good Sports program, which is a fantastic program which partners with local sporting clubs to change attitudes towards drinking, tobacco and drug use and improve mental health and nutrition among sporting participants in the wider community; and the Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth program, PARTY, which is a harm minimisation outreach program that demonstrates the impact of alcohol and drug abuse to young people. It is delivered through the Alfred and Royal Melbourne hospitals to students across Victoria. Participants learn about the trauma, injury and health consequences of risky behaviour by reviewing real-life clinical scenarios. Whilst confronting, it gives them firsthand clinical scenarios – seeing an emergency room, a burns and trauma unit, an intensive care unit and a family bereavement room. Young people also meet trauma survivors, who discuss the impact of risky behaviour and options to minimise risk.

You are probably wondering why I am going down this road, but the reason I am focusing on the Allan Labor government’s record of investment in these sorts of initiatives that aim to reduce alcohol and other drug related harm is precisely because harm reduction has to be at the very centre of drug policy and drug reform. And while Ms Payne and Mr Ettershank clearly have articulated and outlined the benefits of the decriminalisation of the personal use of cannabis, as a government and particularly for me as the Minister for Mental Health, we must also properly consider the potential risks of changing the legal framework of cannabis use in Victoria. We really need to tread carefully around these issues and ensure that any alteration to the approach does not undermine either our harm reduction endeavours or indeed our vision to make Victorians the most mentally healthy in the country.

I have to say, in considering this issue we also need to make sure that we are not unintentionally sending the wrong message to the public, in particular to young Victorians, that cannabis use is not harmful. Cannabis use can have a range of negative health impacts, and any increase in use could also lead to ill health for more Australians and impact our health system.

I think it is well understood, the health burden of alcohol and other drug use. It is not inconsiderable in our country, and the effects of cannabis, like all drugs, by their very nature are going to vary from one person to another, depending on the amount consumed, how it is administered or taken and the user’s previous experience and individual circumstances, mood and body. The active drug in cannabis makes its way into the bloodstream. We all know that it enters the bloodstream more quickly when it is smoked compared to when it is orally ingested. Obviously this fact can influence many people’s choices about the preferred method of ingestion, but of course I do not need to spell out to the house the health impacts of smoking, whether that is tobacco or cannabis. We know that the ongoing and regular use of cannabis is associated with a number of negative long-term effects, an issue I know obviously is true of many drugs, including, it must be said, many legal drugs. But regular users of cannabis can become dependent, and commonly reported symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, sleep difficulties, appetite disturbance and depression.

But before we consider any changes to current law we must acknowledge that there are already many Australians suffering poor health outcomes caused by recreational cannabis use. Cannabis use can lead to physical ill health and conditions such as bronchitis or smoking-related disease, including cancer, cardiovascular system damage and impaired reaction time and brain function. Of particular concern and focus for me is the potential for poor mental health outcomes from cannabis use, including anxiety, paranoia, memory loss and an increased incidence of schizophrenia, and there are also impacts to the broader health system that must be taken into consideration.

I do not highlight these points with any intention to be alarmist but simply to illustrate I guess the inherent complexity of this issue. Any and all drug reform must have the best interests of the Victorian community in mind. In that sense, we must take a balanced and considered approach to both the benefits and the risks, and there are still many of those questions that need to be answered. However, as Ms Payne and Mr Ettershank are very well aware, the Victorian government has a strong record of taking the issue of personal cannabis use very seriously. As I have already mentioned, we led the nation when it came to the legalisation of the use of medicinal cannabis. I understand that this is an issue of fundamental importance to the Legalise Cannabis Victoria Party, and I want to acknowledge their genuine engagement with the community, with the Parliament and of course with the government on their reform agenda.

This bill, which proposes to legalise the adult personal use of cannabis beyond that required for medicinal reasons, we are unable to support in its current form at this time. However, the government is amenable to ongoing discussions with the Legalise Cannabis Victoria Party on this topic and a process that would take the advice of experts and engage with the community. I am looking forward to continuing those important discussions with you both and of course to your constructive and thoughtful engagement in relation to these matters.

Georgie CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (14:39): I rise to speak to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023 that has been presented by Ms Payne from the Legalise Cannabis Party, and I want to thank her for the very extensive and detailed information that she has provided to me and to my colleagues and to Ms Kealy, who is the shadow minister in this area. I really thank her for providing that information. And can I say that I do understand many of those points that you have provided to us around the issue of young people, around possession and around the number of young people that have been charged with cannabis use and possession of drugs and what we need to do in relation to that very large cohort. It is concerning that the numbers are growing, as outlined by Ms Payne to me. I think she said in 2019 there were 9000 people charged with cannabis use, and in the three years to June 2019 there were 11,498 people convicted. Significant numbers of people have been charged. I do hear that, and I do want to acknowledge that.

What I want to make a few points about is that what this bill aims to do is basically make it lawful for an adult to cultivate a certain number of cannabis plants and to possess and use small quantities of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol and authorise certain activities related to the cultivation of cannabis plants and the personal use of cannabis. There are various amendments in the bill that look at a person over the age of 18 that will be able to cultivate no more than six cannabis plants at the person’s principal place of residence for personal use. New section 69Y authorises the limited manufacture of cannabis in preparation for personal use. New section 69Z authorises a person over the age of 18 years to possess a small quantity of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol and to possess not more than six cannabis plants cultivated at that person’s principal place of residence. New section 69ZA authorises a person over the age of 18 to use cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol provided that use does not occur in a public place.

The bill goes on to authorise a person of or over the age of 18 to be able to give a gift of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol provided the gift is made in a small quantity to another adult. This also clarifies that a gift not made for payment, consideration, barter, exchange or other compensation is not an offence under the principal act. The legislation’s new sections authorise a person of or over the age of 18 to use or possess items related to the cultivation or manufacture of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol provided the person intends to cultivate or manufacture cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol for personal use.

Finally, there is another section which authorises a person of or over the age of 18 to publish documents containing instructions for the cultivation or manufacture of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol for personal use provided that the documents do not contain instructions relating to trafficking. The last part of what Ms Payne wants to achieve through this private members bill is for an owner or occupier of land or premises to permit another person of or over the age of 18 to cultivate cannabis plants at the premises.

That is all very technical, but what it means is that to enable that personal use, somebody can have six plants in their own home and use them, and that sounds fine. The concern I have is that the ACT has gone along this path and legalised personal use, but the cannabis party’s bill goes further than the ACT’s legislation. The ACT decriminalised cannabis use in 2020, almost three years ago. What they have in place is the cultivation of up to two cannabis plants per person, with a maximum of four plants per household, and you are allowed cannabis in your home for personal use. In the ACT it is an offence to expose a child or young person to cannabis smoke. This bill is silent on that. It is an offence to store cannabis where children can reach it. This bill is silent on the storage of cannabis where children can reach it. It is an offence to grow cannabis using hydroponics or artificial cultivation, and this bill is silent on that aspect. In the ACT it is an offence to grow plants where the public can access them, and it is an offence to sell, share or gift cannabis to another person. Gifting of cannabis is specifically allowed in the legislation that we are debating today.

In Victoria obviously we do not want young people to be caught up and then have a criminal conviction because they have had a small amount of cannabis on them. I think everyone wants a commonsense approach to that. Obviously the police will make that assessment, but I think there needs to be a bit of common sense. If somebody is caught or they are repeatedly caught, they do have the ability for diversion and to undertake the cautioning with cannabis programs that are provided.

Frankly, it does not really bother me if somebody just goes out and smokes a joint now and again. But I do have concerns about the long-term effects of cannabis use on many, many people, and it has been a concern for me for many years. As we know, some people can manage, but many, many other people cannot. I want to read a media release from the AMA, who made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which was examining a bill. The AMA said they are worried that:

… there are many short-term and long-term risks posed by recreational cannabis.

I want to read this in because I think it is important, and this is my concern about where we are at:

Legalising cannabis for recreational purposes sends the wrong signal to the public, and especially to young Australians, that cannabis use is not harmful –

this is AMA president Professor Steve Robson saying this –

We know from a recent systematic review that there was an increase in acute cannabis poisoning post-legalisation in the US, Canada, and Thailand.

When I have looked at various documents in the US – and there are many states in the US that have legalised it – there is data coming out, and that data is quite alarming in relation to potentially traffic accidents and crime. They also note that it is not marijuana of the 1970s, 40 years on, that it is a far more potent substance and that therefore it has a much more significant effect, and that is what is concerning many lawmakers and medical specialists in the US looking at that data that is coming out over years of having cannabis legalised. The AMA obviously has those concerns too around those recent reviews that have been undertaken in these areas where cannabis has been legalised for years. I will go back to this press release:

We also know there are already many Australians suffering detrimental health outcomes caused by recreational cannabis use. We see poor mental health outcomes from cannabis use including anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, memory loss and an increased incidence of schizophrenia.

Cannabis use can lead to physical ill-health conditions such as bronchitis or cancer, cardiovascular system damage, and impaired reaction time and brain function.

I think these are the concerns for me in this bill. It sounds quite harmless, but when you take into consideration what the use is and what potentially could happen by sending that message to young people that this is a safe drug, that it is fine, but it really does have these very significant mental and physical health impacts, that is the AMA’s concern as well. I do think that there are harm reduction measures that are in place, and we need to do more. On that I listened to the Minister for Mental Health. They have obviously got concerns, and they want to continue the discussion with the cannabis party. But clearly the government is getting similar data and concerns from medical experts around some of those issues and the harm minimisation that needs to be done.

I also note that in the AMA’s submission they express concern that people may use recreational cannabis products to self-medicate. They are urging patients to speak to their doctor about that and to discuss better treatment methods, because they are worried about people going off and using cannabis in replacement for other medication that is regulated through the TGA and has GP approval and allows for GP oversight of medical conditions. For those reasons I am concerned that while it sounds like a simple thing, it is more complex than just allowing someone to have a few pot plants – pardon the pun ‍– in the backyard and what that will mean. For those reasons and because this bill goes further than what is already in place in the ACT, I am of the view that we need more data to come in on this.

I hope the government is doing this body of work. I have been to America and spoken to some experts in this area, some years ago now, but it is up to the government to have a look at the data that is coming in through those systematic reviews and understand the potency of cannabis and what is out there now and how that can impact young people. We do understand that more needs to be done on harm minimisation. We do understand that we need to look at those issues around a health approach rather than just any kid that has a bit of dope on them gets a criminal record. I think we need to have some common sense around that as well, so I hope the government is working towards that.

I do finally want to say that I know that when we did the inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria in 2021, when I was on that committee – it was an extensive undertaking, that inquiry – the police came and spoke to us about their concerns. I would hope the government is continually speaking to the agencies that are affected around this and working on those concerns that were raised in that report back in 2021. But I say again that I think the views of the AMA, in that media release that I have referred to of 10 November this year and in their submission to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee examining a bill to legalise cannabis for recreational use, must be taken into consideration by all levels of government. On the basis of those concerns, the opposition will not be supporting this bill at this time.

David LIMBRICK (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (14:53): Firstly, I would like to thank Ms Payne for bringing forward this bill. It is rather more modest than I would have liked, but nevertheless it is a significant improvement on the status quo in this state. I will start by saying one of the things that this bill does not do which I wish it did, but I understand the reasons for being more modest, is it does not really address the problem with supply and the underlying problems with organised crime in this state. There is a little bit on supply – you can grow your own – but I think, like with tomatoes, not many people will do that themselves. Some will of course.

The fact is over a third of Australians have used cannabis at some time in their life. Over 7 million Australians have used cannabis at some time in their life, and as we have seen from the statements from the Labor Party and from the opposition, these parties believe that you are a criminal. They believe that the police should hunt you down and that you should have a criminal record.

Nick McGowan: That is what the law says.

David LIMBRICK: Yes, that is what the law says, and that is not what the law should say. They also believe that if you have a friend who has consumed cannabis in their life, your friend should have a criminal record. They also believe that if you have a son or a daughter that has used cannabis, they should have a criminal record as well. It is absolutely immoral. They do not respect personal autonomy, bodily autonomy. They do not respect the personal consumption rights of adults. They think that they know best and that they can tell people what to do with the threat of criminal sanctions whilst at the same time we have alcohol and tobacco, the harms of which are orders of magnitude higher than cannabis.

How many people in Australia have died of cannabis in our history? No-one has died from cannabis in our history. It is absolutely outrageous that in 2023 we are still debating this and still debating whether or not people can choose to consume a natural plant. It is absolutely wrong. It is absolutely wrong. And I am proud to belong to a party that for 22 years now has supported a free market in cannabis for adults.

The government and the opposition were talking about harm prevention. No-one disagrees that cannabis causes harm; everyone knows that it causes harm. What we are talking about here is whether prohibition makes that harm worse, and it absolutely does. It gives people a criminal record. Minister Stitt spoke about some of the problems with bronchitis and breathing issues. These are problems directly caused by prohibition stopping innovation in the market. If we look at innovation in markets that have legalised cannabis, they switch to edibles, which you do not inhale and you do not smoke. Smoking is the biggest problem with cannabis. Yes, everyone agrees inhaling the smoke from organic materials is a bad idea, mostly. They have edibles. They have dry-herb vapes. They have many other mechanisms for reducing the harm, but these are all prohibited in this state. It just blows me away.

However, one of the biggest problems, and this bill does not address it – but I urge the government, for goodness sake, to stop handing over all of these markets to organised crime. We have the cannabis market controlled by organised crime in this state. We have the vaping market. We have the tobacco market. I do not place that blame on the state government; that is more of a federal problem. But certainly with vaping we could do a lot. We are seeing at the moment arson attacks all over the city. We are in the middle of yet another gang war in the state, and it is caused by prohibition yet again. We have to take bold action on this, and if the major parties will not do it, then maybe we need to get rid of them and get parties that will. But I hope that they will take some action. They need to move forward on taking these things out of the black market and regulating them in such a way that adults can get by and make these decisions themselves.

Jacinta ERMACORA (Western Victoria) (14:57): I too wish to thank my parliamentary colleagues from Legalise Cannabis Victoria, Ms Payne and Mr Ettershank, for the work that they have done in preparing this private members bill. I deeply appreciate the way that they are constructively challenging our thinking on a variety of complex subjects associated with hemp and cannabis. I have learned a lot this year. It has been great.

Our approach to this takes a harm minimisation, equity and illicit market disruption approach. And listening as a government, we must weigh up potential benefits with potential risks, and we do this seriously. Issues such as this need consultation at many levels and a great deal of work, particularly when they involve significant change. The Victorian government shares the members’ views about innovative drug policy that supports harm minimisation, and we have a history when it comes to alcohol and drug policy reform of proudly taking a harm minimisation approach. Our record includes establishing the first medically supervised injecting service in our state, decriminalising public drunkenness, new and innovative research into production of hemp in our state and the launch of the medicinal cannabis trials, which were quite recent.

The trial of the medically supervised injecting centre began in North Richmond in 2017, and this was a brave step to take a safety-first, medical approach to addressing the decades of harm caused by drugs in the City of Yarra. This government wanted to stop people from dying of overdoses. The medically supervised injecting centres provide controlled, safe and hygienic environments for individuals to inject drugs. The centres are staffed by trained medical professionals who are equipped to respond to overdoses and other medical emergencies that may arise from drug use.

Today, the centre continues to provide sterile injection equipment and disposal facilities. They are designed to be non-judgmental and welcoming environments that provide access to additional healthcare services, drug treatment and other support services. Since opening in June 2018 the facility has safely managed more than 6750 overdoses and saved 63 lives. This has taken critical pressure off local hospitals and critically made a 55 per cent reduction in ambulance call-outs in that area. Ambulances are therefore freed up to be called out elsewhere, potentially saving more lives. I am aware that St Vincent’s Hospital, which services the area, has experienced since the opening of this facility a decline in presentations relating to drug overdoses and related issues. Other hospitals have not – not in the same area – so this is very important. We were unafraid to go in and investigate, do the research and find out how this could work effectively, undertake a trial, and measure the trial and the results of the trial. Now we have locked it in, and proudly so, because people’s lives are being saved, communities are becoming safer and the outcomes are far better for the broader community.

Another area that we have been leaning in on regarding reform is Victoria’s public intoxication reforms. They are a direct result of tireless advocacy from First Nations communities and the family, particularly, of Aunty Tanya Day. In my speech in the next few minutes I will talk about Aboriginal people who have passed on, as well as key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and coroners reports, including into Aunty Tanya’s tragic and avoidable passing. We know a police cell is not the place for someone who is intoxicated to recover. This new approach includes outreach services to support people with transport to a safe place if needed. The government has recognised the disproportionate and distressing influence of Victoria’s previous laws on public drunkenness especially on the Aboriginal community. The findings of the commission were tragically reinforced by the inquest into the death of Tanya Day, which occurred in 2017.

Tanya Day’s death was a tragic story in itself and also a very sad example of generational trauma and the same archaic system existing for too long. Ms Day’s uncle, the late Mr Harrison Day, had his death examined by the royal commission. Mr Day died in custody in 1982 from an epileptic fit in an Echuca police cell after he was arrested for an unpaid $10 fine for public drunkenness. The Allan government has moved resolutely to decriminalise public drunkenness, opting instead for a health-centred approach because we know now that that approach works. This is to ensure care and support for publicly intoxicated individuals in our communities. Dedicated services are becoming available in the areas of the state where the data tells us that there is the greatest need and are centrally coordinated by statewide advice, referral and dispatch. Those are two examples where significant reform has been followed through by this government. I think our curiosity and interest in the concept of the decriminalisation of cannabis is definitely there, and we definitely need to strengthen our knowledge base and the research base to appreciate the issues in the space.

As a further example of what we have been doing in this space, this government took the pioneering step of legalising medicinal cannabis in 2016. This set a benchmark for further advancements in this field across Australia. The government supported David Ettershank’s motion to consider how the needs of medicinal cannabis patients can be more fairly and appropriately managed by employers. We recognised that patients using medicinal cannabis often faced challenges in balancing their medical need with other aspects of their daily lives, such as maintaining regular employment.

We are also committed to aligning Victoria’s occupational health and safety regulations with current medicinal guidelines and therapies while also balancing workplace safety. It is critical to emphasise that no employee should be impaired while on the job, whether due to a legal or illegal substance. Workplace drug testing is an essential tool for mitigating risks and hazards in certain work environments. However, such measures should not disproportionately affect those using medicinal cannabis, provided they are not impaired while working. No individual in Victoria prescribed medicinal cannabis should be forced to make the difficult choice between taking their prescription medicine or going to work, provided they are unimpaired.

This government acknowledges the importance of drug testing in the workplace, especially in industries where risks are high, as a measure for employers to fulfil their OH&S responsibilities. We also stand in favour of investigating ways to accommodate the specific needs of medicinal cannabis patients within these work environments. As a result, a closed-circuit medicinal cannabis trial will enable trial participants to drive in a controlled environment after taking their prescribed medicinal cannabis – this without fear of breaking the law, while participating in valuable research to inform Victoria’s approach to drug driving and medicinal cannabis into the future.

This government is also continuing to support the hemp industry through research and investment. We are co-investing with AgriFutures and industry in the national industrial hemp variety trial and hosting the Victorian trial at Hamilton. Last year this government passed the Agriculture Legislation Amendment Act 2022 to support the cultivation of hemp crops for subsequent industrial use, and I acknowledge the important research that was undertaken by the Industrial Hemp Taskforce established by this Labor government. The taskforce engaged directly with industry stakeholders, participants and research organisations to gain a thorough understanding of the industry, exploring its challenges and opportunities and how Victoria can maximise hemp’s economic potential.

Agriculture Victoria has co-invested with AgriFutures and the industry in the national industrial hemp variety trial and hosts the Victorian trial, as I said, in Hamilton in south-west Victoria. As outlined in the AgriFutures emerging industries report Industrial Hemp Variety Trials: Results from the Hamilton Smart Farm Trial for the 2021–22 Growing Season, the trial included the evaluation of six hemp varieties provided by industry and sown at three sowing times. The varieties selected for inclusion in the trial ranged in origin, sex expression, end use, maturity, height and yield potential. Initial results are encouraging, and the trial will be repeated for growers to have confidence in achieving the same results or better in different seasons.

In conclusion, I acknowledge again the contribution made by Legalise Cannabis Victoria and the work that my colleagues are doing. There is no question that this government is open to being challenged and open to learning and open to doing research and conducting a considered and careful process before, as our record shows, making changes. I again thank you for the challenge. Whilst we are unable to support the bill at this time in its current form, I think you can see that we are very happy to listen, to learn and to consider all proposals from the Legalise Cannabis Party.

Nick McGOWAN (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:11): I want to thank both members of the Legalise Cannabis Party for their contributions and their effort. I am sure you know where I am going to come from on this particular matter, nonetheless I admire the fact that you are trying to come up with a solution and that you have put something forward. I congratulate you both on that and the work you will continue to do regardless of what I say, and that sometimes may be a good thing.

In November this year, in fact on 1 November, although I think it was some three weeks ago, I became the first ever Victorian MP to be tested at my workplace here at Parliament. On the steps of Parliament I took a test. I gave a urine test on the steps of Parliament – done properly, done legally, lawfully.

Jaclyn Symes: Don’t elaborate; that’s enough. That’ll do for now.

Nick McGOWAN: I learned more than I needed to know about – but I will stop there. I will take the minister’s advice on this occasion. I gave a hair sample, which was a little concerning, because I did naively think they would sort of pluck a hair, and when they got the scissors out and they took it close to the crown and took a sizeable chunk of hair it was more than I was anticipating they might take.

Jaclyn Symes: You’ve got a bit, though.

Nick McGOWAN: Yes, I am lucky I am blessed with hair – what I did not get in looks I got in hair – so that was sensational. And then I also gave some saliva. I had to give saliva. I gave all that evidence and handed it over to the drug detection agency. They are a private provider and they reached out to me after my motion in this place some months ago now, and I thank them for their magnificent work but also their generous and constructive approach. They do testing in the workplace in Victoria. I have no association with them, for the public record, but nonetheless they reached out to me and I accepted their offer. Although the journalist that covered this at the time was somewhat excited at the prospect that maybe because the testing went back some time he might receive a positive test from me on any particular substance. Sad to say for him, it was not quite the story he had wished for. It was negative on all fronts, and I am happy to make those records public to anyone who wishes to see them.

A member interjected.

Nick McGOWAN: You can help me with that. I have made clear previously my concerns particularly about illicit and unprescribed drug taking – and I make that very distinct distinction – and in my view it has no place in the workplace, much less in our local communities. Perhaps where we do agree is that our current cannabis policies have failed us, and they continue to fail us. They are not stopping Victorians from using cannabis for recreational purposes, and that worries me immensely. But it does not necessarily follow hence that we should legalise cannabis for such. The only metric we should use to decide whether we should legalise cannabis or not is whether it is harmful to users and whether legalising it will increase or decrease its usage. To me that is pretty much it in a nutshell.

Let us talk about the harm it causes. The Australian Medical Association, the peak professional body for doctors in Australia, is categorical in its rejection of this bill. The submission by the AMA to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 inquiry lists out the potential immediate and long-term impacts of cannabis use.

Let us look at the potential immediate impacts. Here are some of the things that a cannabis user can or may experience: reduced brain function, anxiety or panic attacks, paranoia, memory loss. Now, these things are not frivolous. As the AMA submission also presents, in 2021 cannabis was present – and we need to be very careful in how we present the information – in 4.5 per cent of drug-induced deaths. Present – that does not mean it causes. I do not want anyone to think otherwise, but nonetheless the fact that it was present says something.

There were 29.2 cannabidiol-related hospitalisations per 100,000 Australians in 2021, with two in three requiring overnight hospitalisation. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2021–22 weed was the third most common drug of concern that people received treatment for. A 2023 systematic review found an increase in acute cannabis poisoning post-legislation in the US, Canada and Thailand. I have been to Thailand. I have spent quite some time with people there. One of the things that concerns me most, to take up Mr Limbrick’s speech on this matter, particularly in Thailand is that one of the experiences they found was that when they legalised it – although ironically they have not, but that is a quirk, so let us say for general purposes they have – overnight they turned all those people who were operating illegally, the underworld figures – perhaps I will stick to that characterisation – into legitimate businesses. It was a multimillion, multibillion dollar business overnight. So if ever we went down this path, one of the biggest challenges aside from the health challenge is: how do you prevent some of the most criminal, perhaps less desirable, characters in our communities from profiting from that immediately? It is a huge challenge, and I am not quite sure what the answer to that is.

I referred earlier to a systematic review. It is important to note that that is not a single finding; it is based on 30 studies, and they were subject across three different countries. They looked at the cannabis use and found that poisoning increased after legislation that gave them those changes took effect. The long-term effects were quite pronounced. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare they include physical dependence; upper respiratory tract cancers; chronic bronchitis; cardiovascular system damage; mental health conditions, including depression; and poor adolescent psychosocial development. Moreover, as per the prominent work cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their website – they cite a study which says – somewhere near 10 per cent of people are likely to become addicted when they use cannabis. That is a concern. Now, they are a reputable organisation, as I know you know, but even if it is half that, even if it is 5 per cent – let us halve it; they say it is 10 – in this country the last survey they did showed use is going up, clearly. We heard a third before, but even if it is in the order of 2 million or 2.5 million Australians, that is still a lot of Australians who then become addicted, and so that concerns me greatly.

The submission to the Senate inquiry from the Drug Advisory Council Australia cites the most recent extensive study on this – that is the systematic study I have referred to – and its 65 other findings and studies it relies upon. We are told that in order to fix a problem with our vulnerable people, our vulnerable young people in particular, legalising cannabis is a pathway to correct that situation, but what we know is that is consistently not the case.

I want to take up a further point here in respect to diversion programs, because the question we have to ask ourselves is: why are these young people not being diverted? Why are they instead being criminalised? On that I have some sympathy. The Australian Institute of Criminology in 2021 reported that there are not nearly enough drug education and treatment services to divert people to. That is quite alarming. These findings were confirmed by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in 2019. In fact they found there was a declining trend across Australia because of the lack of services to refer people to.

No-one is helping young people or Indigenous Australians by legalising cannabis use and possession, something that will no doubt lead to a further decline in their physical and mental health and lead to an addiction problem. If we really want to help young people and Indigenous Australians, we should try talking about its harms, we should try investing in diversion programs and we should ensure that anyone who needs assistance and help can safely and easily access it without stigma.

I am doing my bit; I have undertaken my drug tests. I do not do that glibly either, because there is a serious point here, and it is not about outing people. It is actually about raising awareness, as you have done today, and actually then also providing support and assistance to those who might need it. You know, some people are just fine, but some are not. So it is them that we ought to look to assist.

I thank you for your efforts, but nonetheless at least for me I clearly do not approve of illicit drug taking. I clearly will not be supporting the bill, but nonetheless I thank you for the work you continue to do to look for a constructive solution to some of the problems, including detaining people, because that is clearly not going to work necessarily for them either.

Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:20): I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of the Greens and support this bill, which essentially allows for the personal use and possession of cannabis. The Greens have long been supporters of the green. We have been advocating in this place for over a decade for legal weed, and in supporting this bill we will continue to call for a realistic and evidence-based approach to drug law reform that treats drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. It is frankly unfair that a young person could end up with a criminal record for possessing cannabis, and it is also unacceptable that First Nations people around Australia are more likely to be pursued through the courts for possession of a small quantity of cannabis than non-Aboriginal people.

We are really lagging behind much of the world here when it comes to the conversation on legalising cannabis and cannabis reform. Many other countries have realised that prohibition causes more harm than it prevents, and they have consequently changed their laws. Our current tough-on-drugs approach disproportionately affects socially disadvantaged people. Thousands of vulnerable people who use drugs are needlessly dragged through the criminal justice system with great damage to their lives. To be blunt, a law and order, ‘Just say no’ approach does not work here. We need to be clear eyed and acknowledge that people in Victoria smoke weed. That is what they do. We have rightly legalised it for medicinal purposes, but we should be going further, decriminalising it and legalising it for personal use too. This allows for community education and harm reduction, and it disempowers the black market trade that has been spoken about here today.

More than a third of people over 14 years of age have used cannabis at least once in their life, and out in the community the majority of people agree that possession of cannabis should not be a crime. I am talking about almost 80 per cent of Australians – that is significant. As a step beyond this bill, the Greens position is that cannabis should be legalised and its sale should be regulated and then taxed. For example, our Parliamentary Budget Office costing from last year revealed that such a plan could raise $1.21 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. These funds could then be invested into, say, drug and alcohol detox and treatment services, which have been frankly chronically underfunded for years. It is high time that Victoria got smarter on drugs. This bill would be an excellent first step towards sensible drug policy in our state, so I say: yes, we cannabis.

Sheena WATT (Northern Metropolitan) (15:23): Thank you very much for the opportunity to come today and speak on the bill and give commentary on the issue at hand. The truth is that cannabis use has been a major area of policy reform that this government has undertaken both in the realms of harm minimisation and of course medical usage where needed and appropriate. I take my time today to give thanks to Mr Ettershank and Ms Payne for their continued advocacy on this issue and the work that they do here in this place. It is clear this bill was crafted with the best of courage and consideration, and their continued efforts must be acknowledged. I also would say that I acknowledge some very important motivations that these members have in bringing forward this bill, and their commitment to harm minimisation, equity and illicit drug market discouragement have led to a policy area both in and out of this place. I would just say that while the Victorian government does not have current plans to decriminalise the personal possession and use of cannabis in our state, we do in fact share the members’ views about innovative drug policy that supports harm minimisation.

When it comes to alcohol and drug reform and policy, the Allan Labor government takes a harm minimisation approach. There are a range of initiatives, reforms and services that I would like to bring to the attention of those in the chamber today, but these matters can of course be complicated and bring up many emotions and mixed experiences in our community. We are certainly a government that is looking beyond the divisive and sensationalist rhetoric that some have kicked about in this place, and now we want to consider really thoughtful and effective policies that improve health and social outcomes for Victorians and the Victorian community.

We were, as I said, the first jurisdiction in the country to legalise the use of medicinal cannabis as I understand. We have established the life-saving injecting service in North Richmond and more recently we have debated over many hours and many, many times here in this chamber the decriminalisation of public drunkenness. We are leading the nation. We have listened to the experts. The Allan Labor government is listening to the experts and just will not accept voices that entrench further stigma around this issue. We are here to help Victorians reduce the harm felt by drug use through all of our different programs, and we are almighty proud of it.

Now I will take a moment to go to what it is that we have done, which is investing more than $2.5 billion in drug and alcohol treatment, supporting harm minimisation initiatives that sit alongside really substantial legislative reform achievements over our last nine years. And the more than $370 million that has been allocated in the 2023–24 state budget allows us to continue to do the life-saving and life-changing services and initiatives that continue to save lives. I am thinking particularly of the operations of the medically supervised injecting room in North Richmond. This service allows the community to have access to vital programs that prevent excessive harm and is a service that I am really proud has found a home in the Northern Metropolitan Region. As members of this place would know, legislation was passed earlier this year to make this important service a continuing feature of our health system, and I recall that debate here with much interest. And there are the public intoxication reforms that, as I mentioned, have been debated in this place many, many times. I think that they all go to the greater question of alcohol and other drug reform in our state and the advocacy that had to take place off the back of the really tragic and unfortunate death of Aunty Tanya Day, a completely avoidable death.

Change is happening, and it is a clear reflection of the Allan Labor government’s commitment to communities and particularly to First Nations communities. I am thinking first and foremost about the centres that I have visited throughout the state supported by the Aboriginal community controlled organisations, the model that is squarely prioritising the health of First Nations Victorians – services like withdrawal centres and rehab and others that really do place a cultural model of care first and foremost in the health system. There are many, many others I could talk about, but I will take a moment also to reflect on the workers that make all of these centres work for those people who need them most. There are our paramedics and other health professionals as well, and I say thank you to them.

I will take a moment to reflect on the activism, the advocacy and the tireless policy work that has led to the fact that we are having a debate in our Parliament about drug and alcohol reform, and that is quite incredible. Many of these reforms have been led by people from the public health community, people that I have had the pleasure of working alongside for many, many years, and so for those good folks I reflect on their good deeds and good works over many, many years and thank them for continuing to show up for our community.

But when it comes to cannabis reform, our position was clearly articulated earlier in remarks from Minister Stitt. The truth is that we have led Australia when it comes to medical use and will continue to do so, undertaking these reforms that the government has proudly got on with. We have been able to see these changes deliver their intended outcomes safely and for the benefit of the Victorian community and Victorian people. The integral legislation that was passed in 2015 has resulted in safe access to medicinal cannabis for Victorians in need of it. These reforms mean that no Victorian needs to face the difficult choice of breaking the law or watching their loved ones suffer. I have heard time and time again some of the stories of these folks, and I am just entirely moved by their incredible advocacy, strength and courage to share their family stories and share stories of hurt and harm and yet bring that to the point of public law reform, which is just actually incredible.

While the rest of the nation has indeed followed us, at the time, I have got to say, this was some really bold work. It was expert informed and nation leading, which can only be done under a Labor government. This government took a really carefully considered approach to this reform to ensure that it achieved its desired outcomes and provided Victorians with a pathway to safely use cannabis for its therapeutic and medicinal benefits. The steps we have taken to ensure that Victorians can feel safe and secure while also being able to access the medicines and remedial treatments are quite an incredible achievement for us and our state. I know that it happened because of advocates like those beside me, Mr Ettershank and Ms Payne, but also advocates out there in communities – advocates drawn to be the face of reform because of their family story and their long and abiding passion for change.

There is so much else that we could consider, and I would like to take a moment to reflect with you in this chamber on the recently passed legislation to allow for proper safety and research trials to help us better understand to what degree it is safe for somebody to drive a vehicle after consuming cannabis. I have got to say, that was quite an eye-opening debate for me and, I imagine, for others in the chamber. The truth is that what we know from that is that medicinal cannabis can be detected in a roadside presence test regardless of impairment, so it was really good to hear that debate in the chamber about a closed-circuit medicinal cannabis trial which will indeed enable participants to drive in this controlled environment after taking their prescribed medicinal cannabis without fear of breaking the law and while participating in much-valued research to inform our approach to drug driving and medicinal cannabis in the future.

There are of course many, many challenges with balancing individual health and driving needs against road safety, and we are committed to establishing this evidence-based policy position on medicinal cannabis and safe driving. The closed-circuit track trial will provide valuable information while also mitigating possible risks to all road users on the public road network, ensuring that Victorians can feel safe at all times when making decisions around these issues. When I think about this trial and how it is that we will face, with the debate before us, a very real issue about driving impairment, this is a really valuable addition to the public debate around the legalising of cannabis. I thank the chamber for their very heartfelt contributions to that debate earlier, and I would just say that there is of course a lot of work to be done in that trial, and good luck to all the researchers and the eminent experts that will inform that work. It will be conducted, as I said, in a controlled driving environment that is separated from our public roads, and safety considerations for all participants and research staff will be an absolute priority.

There is a track record that we can take the time here in this chamber to reflect upon. Many of us have been around for these debates now for a couple of years, some in fact for even longer, and so to those that came before I thank you for the nation-leading work that you have done in getting us to this point where we continue to push our nation as the state leader amongst our other state parties. We are investing in and have a track record of a commitment to drug use harm reduction, and that is of course coupled with our nation-leading legislative reform related to medicinal use and access. We very much acknowledge, as I have said, that there is so much more to do. I think the work that came about in our recent sitting on the trial is just one example of that – to ensure that further reforms are safe and appropriate for the Victorian community. I look forward to continuing this work in the chamber and indeed beyond.

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:35): It is a real pleasure to join this important debate, and I think we need to get real. We need to get real that this government’s policy of harm maximisation when it comes to cannabis must end. The Andrews Labor government – the Allan government – has fought a war on drugs. The drugs won. The drugs won a long time ago, yet this government is committed to its forever war. I like Ms Watt, especially when it comes to issues of incarceration. She talked briefly about deaths in custody. You better believe Ms Watt is real. Nonetheless, the government’s talking points for this debate contain the most extraordinary and inane piffle, paragraphs and paragraphs about totally extraneous and irrelevant matters.

Tom McIntosh: What does that mean?

Matthew BACH: Extraneous and irrelevant? They are basically synonyms. I only needed one; I did the second for emphasis, Macca. Here on cannabis in Victoria the Allan Labor government, which likes to say that it cares about social justice, for example – I believe in justice justice, they talk a lot about social justice; okay, fine, we will use the language of the left – herds together the poorest and most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the state and piles them into prisons in huge numbers simply for the personal use of cannabis.

If the police came around to my house, just say, and they found me and my good lady wife – this is an entirely hypothetical example – enjoying a spliff out the back, everybody knows someone like me would never ever in a million years be shunted into the justice system, yet in this state today hundreds and hundreds of people are languishing in jail, some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our state, purely because they have used drugs. They have not dealt drugs. That is a dreadful thing; that is a dreadful crime. They have not been engaged in drug trafficking. That is an awful thing. They are poor and desperate people who have used drugs themselves and then, under the ongoing totally cruel and inhumane policies of this government, have been herded together and funnelled into jail.

There are many ways to skin a cat. Whether this exact bill is the right way, others can comment upon. But we need to agree at least upon a baseline here. Certainly part of that baseline should be that we do not want to see more drug use in our community. We want to see less drug use, yet the policies of this government, of harm maximisation, are actually leading to more drug-related harm. I agree entirely with some the comments of my friend and colleague Mr McGowan about diversion. This is something Mr Ettershank has spoken about in this place before. I remember an excellent question without notice Mr Ettershank posed to one relevant government minister about diversion programs. The government, in its speaking points, likes to talk about diversion. When we were in government many years ago we funded diversion programs as well – not enough of course.

Georgie Crozier: I put a school in youth justice.

Matthew BACH: There was a school, Parkville College, as Ms Crozier notes. But people are not getting diverted, so we need to look at doing things differently. I think we need to look at doing things very differently. There is an ongoing discussion, I understand that, and if my information is correct, we may not indeed come to a vote on this matter. But I am really, really pleased that an important debate has been brought forward.

I want to acknowledge that it is entirely possible on this important question for intelligent people of goodwill to have different views. There are many people who are connected to our side of politics who fervently believe that the sort of measure being put forward by the cannabis party is not the right way to go. I understand and respect that. There are other heroes on our side of politics who believe very strongly in further cannabis legalisation. I am talking about people like Milton Friedman. I was interested in some of the comments of the new Argentinian president, an interesting character, Javier Milei. He has a rather strong view on the criminalisation of people who are engaged in the personal use of drugs.

As I say, there are many ways to skin a cat. What I am most concerned about is the huge number of people who are currently languishing in our jails. I am concerned about that first and foremost, because as I said before, I think too many of us who would not find ourselves incarcerated in a pink fit just cannot fathom the crushing blow that it is to be incarcerated, especially for poor and vulnerable and disadvantaged people. I said in my first speech in this place that we needed to look at every possible means to get people out of prisons who are not a danger to others. So as a Liberal, I really struggle with the idea that somebody might be doing something that I may not like but nonetheless is not causing direct harm to others, and yet this Labor government herds these poor and vulnerable people together and throws them in jail often for years at a time.

I did not get much love with Javier Milei, so how about Donald Trump? Interesting political figures have done really interesting things on drug law form. The best thing Donald Trump did – and he did do some good things – was to seek to change clearly racist laws that led to very different punishments for people who used crack cocaine and powdered cocaine. Overwhelmingly, poor black guys, in America, use crack cocaine. What had occurred over many years was that ridiculous mandatory minimum penalties were in place for the personal use of crack cocaine, but the posh stockbroker down the road who uses powdered cocaine – well, of course he was let off with a slap on the wrist. I would simply urge all members around this place to continue to look in good faith at these really important issues. I think it is a great thing that Ms Payne and Mr Ettershank have brought forward this bill, which may not receive the consent of the house today. Nonetheless for members to come to this important debate recognising that around the chamber there are different parties – I actually think is entirely legitimate and sound, when thinking about the values of our different parties, to have different views on this question.

I do not doubt, noting Ms Watt’s previous beautiful, powerful contributions about the impact of prison, especially the impact of prison on Indigenous people, that right around this chamber we can find unanimity on that question. We want fewer poor and vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our prisons – we want fewer people full stop – but obviously we know that the organs of the state tend to incarcerate poor and vulnerable and disadvantaged people at a far greater rate than people like you and me. It is beholden upon us, I think, to look in good faith at any measure that we can that will not of course then lead to other adverse outcomes, as I believe significant drug law reform would not lead to other adverse outcomes. As Ms Payne said when introducing the bill, we have seen in other jurisdictions that this kind of reform can be done very badly, but it also can be done very well, so of course there is need for care as we move forward.

As I say, I dare say this bill will not receive the support of the house today, but cannabis law reform and drug law reform are so critical. I do not think anyone in this chamber – there are so many people of goodwill right across this chamber – would support poor and vulnerable people being thrown in jail simply for using drugs themselves. Not dealing – that is a dreadful crime. Not trafficking – that is dreadful – but just using drugs themselves. Yet today, in huge numbers, that is what is happening. We need to look to do big and bold things to stop that.

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (15:44): It is my pleasure to speak on Legalise Cannabis Victoria’s bill to regulate the personal use of cannabis for adults. Cannabis prohibition has failed, and we all know that. In 2023 how can we still be arresting and charging people for the possession and consumption of a relatively benign plant? We are criminalising tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Victorians who are doing nothing to harm other people, as Dr Bach so eloquently stated.

These are the most recent stats we have. In 2021 in this state there were almost 9000 people charged with cannabis use and possession – nothing commercial, just personal use. And that accounts for 92 ‍per cent of all cannabis offences in Victoria during that period.

Worse, in the three years to June 2019, which is the latest we have got stats for, 11,498 people were sentenced in Victoria for simple possession, and I think this is relevant to Ms Crozier’s point: 10 per cent of those people, almost 1500 of those people, were jailed, were incarcerated, for personal use or possession – for a victimless crime. It beggars belief. And the cost to the taxpayer of policing this plant is astronomical. About $1.1 billion annually is spent simply on imprisonment. When you include the cost of policing and prosecution to court, legal aid and community corrections, you are looking at a bill of around $1.7 billion per annum.

But it is the human cost of drug criminalisation that is truly breathtaking. We know that the harms associated with ending up in the criminal justice system are very harmful indeed, and again, Ms Watt has made a very elegant contribution on this point. Research tells us that First Nations people and others from disadvantaged communities are at greater risk of harm from the criminalisation of cannabis. Vulnerable young people caught up in the criminal justice system can suffer lifelong consequences, and for what? An approach that has never worked, is out of step with community expectations and has done nothing – nothing whatsoever – to curb the illicit market.

Seventy-eight per cent of Victorians believe that possession of cannabis should not be a crime. We are not talking on the margins here. I have spoken to parents of teenagers and young adults who want to see cannabis regulated because their kids are able to access illicit cannabis so easily. It is easier for many to simply buy cannabis than a packet of cigarettes, and buying cannabis through the illicit market exposes them to the real gateway: dealers who will happily sell them dangerous drugs. When I was working in Shepparton a few years back I was told that acquiring an evening’s worth of cannabis was more expensive than a comparable quality of methamphetamine – it was cheaper to buy ice. Let us not have someone seeking cannabis be offered that option by organised crime. Let us take cannabis, with its low harm profile – and we can talk about that profile in a minute – out of the hands of drug dealers and out of the hands of organised crime. Our own Parliamentary Budget Office calculates that this illicit market right here in Victoria is worth $1200 million a year based on an annual consumption of 85 tonnes – 85 tonnes of illicit cannabis. To put that in some perspective, 85 tonnes is more than the weight of a 767 airliner. This illicit market exists for only one reason. The one reason only is that the state says it is illegal. If we simply legalise cannabis, that illicit market withers and dies. And sure, there are going to be a lot of really disappointed outlaw bikie gangs, but really, is their happiness such a priority for this place?

There has to be a better way, and there is. Leading economies around the world are decriminalising and regulating cannabis consumption. They are investing in harm prevention, in health education and in social justice reform. We have seen the benefits that people are deriving from cannabis as a lawful medicine for a range of serious medical conditions. There is good evidence that the harms associated with cannabis have been misrepresented and overstated historically. Cannabis is not for everyone. Many people just do not like it, but a lot of people, including me and Ms Payne, do.

When we have these bogies sort of thrown up about the impact of cannabis in various jurisdictions, the one thing they tend to lack is currency and context – sorry, that is two things. Ms Crozier was quoting some stats from the US, where there is a laissez-faire, totally deregulated cannabis market, and comparing it to what we are talking about here, which is a very modest and simple change. You are comparing apples with oranges.

I agree that there are real issues associated with this. It is not a health product, but at the same time people like to, for example, throw up the case of psychosis. For those who are familiar with the work of a former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, he has just concluded part of an international study which has indicated that cannabis neither causes nor exacerbates psychosis. I know that is an uncomfortable reality, but that is what the latest research says.

We know that the responsible regulation of cannabis in Victoria can and will reduce harm. We know it will save the state money through a reduction in law enforcement costs and will free up police resources to concentrate on crimes that actually have victims. Regulation is taking place around the world, and it is happening over the border. The ACT has legalised the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis, and the sky, miraculously, has not fallen in. However, arrests for low-level cannabis offences have plunged by 90 per cent since those reforms. There has also been no detectable increase in consumption and no increase in adverse public health outcomes. To pick up Mr McGowan’s point on increased use, even in those jurisdictions in America that I referred to where there has been pretty much of a laissez faire legalisation process, the average increase in consumption, after we allow for what is called interstate cannabis tourism, is less than 2 per cent, a negligible increase.

Our bill is very similar to the ACT’s, but it is better. We seek to address some of the anomalies in that legislation. For example, in the ACT it is legal to grow a plant but it is illegal to have a seed. Ain’t that a chicken and egg kind of conundrum? Perhaps that is the sort of situation that good legislation would address. What we are seeking is modest, intelligent reform, and what better time than now? Seriously, how long are we going to drag this out? After 95 years of prohibition do we really think that another year of failed policy is going to nail it? Do we hear the police say to us, ‘Just give us another year or two and we can knock this one on the head’?

The 2020–25 Victoria Police drug strategy mentions cannabis twice. Firstly, it notes that it is dominated by organised crime – surprise, surprise; and secondly, that it is associated with fires in illicit grow houses. That is it. That is the totality of the police strategy on cannabis. Most of the cops I talk to say that this law is an embarrassment and a waste of scarce police resources. The New South Wales police association, testifying before a Senate inquiry earlier this year, has even gone so far as to call for cannabis legalisation. They actually oppose decriminalisation and would like to see legislation combined with health education and an evaluation of the reform process. Think of the money we could save and all the harm we could spare ordinary Victorians, in particular our young people. Victoria needs to regulate cannabis. It is as simple as that.

We are appreciative of the government’s support and particularly encouraged to hear Minister Stitt’s commitment to a process of expert analysis and community engagement to progress cannabis law reform. That is the approach we ourselves have been advocating to the government: an intelligent debate, a public engagement and expert analysis. We thank the government for that commitment and look forward to working with them on cannabis regulation in the new year.

Other Australian states have taken steps in this direction, other jurisdictions around the world are taking giant leaps. If we in Victoria are truly this country’s most progressive state, then it is time to actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk. On behalf of LCV, let me express our appreciation to the Animal Justice Party, the Greens and the Libertarians for their words of support on this important bill; likewise to the other members who have contributed so thoughtfully. To the three-quarters of a million cannabis consumers in Victoria, our purpose as Legalise Cannabis Victoria MPs in this Parliament is clear. We are making progress, and we will be bringing this reform back to Parliament and pursuing the reform process with undiminished vigour in 2024. Today is a big step, and we will not rest until justice for cannabis consumers has been achieved. I commend the bill to the house.

Lee TARLAMIS (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:55): I move:

That debate on this bill be adjourned until the next day of meeting.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned until next day of meeting.