Victoria: INQUIRY INTO DRUG LAW REFORM
The Australian Sex Party’s Fiona Patten MP pushed for a broad ranging inquiry into the state’s drug laws back in November 2015. Submissions are now being accepted and we urge you to make your own. The Eros Association will be making a submission to this important inquiry too, but it is important that businesses and individuals also make submissions. The inquiry will be heard by the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee. The following is from the Inquiry into Drug Law Reform website.
On 11 November 2015, the Legislative Council issues the attached terms of reference for the Inquiry into Illicit and Synthetic Drugs and Prescription Medication.
The Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee has since refined the terms of reference and amended the inquiry title to the Inquiry into Drug Law Reform.
The Committee will inquire into, consider and report, no later than 9 March 2018 on (THESE ARE THE TERMS OF REFERENCE):
- The effectiveness of laws, procedures and regulations relating to illicit and synthetic drugs and the misuse of prescription medication in minimising drug-related health, social and economic harm; and
- The practice of other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions and their approach to drug law reform and how other positive reforms could be adopted into Victorian law.
Making a submission doesn’t have to be hard or complex. Remember that every voice counts, even if you only have something minor to add. Many make one page submissions to inquiries focusing only on their personal anecdotes. These submissions are an important part of the overall process as they add the voice of the greater public to the discussion, which is often lacking.
The Victorian Government website provides an FAQ on how to make a submission. You MUST address the Terms of Reference for the inquiry. Be concise, make your point clearly and ensure that it addresses the Terms. Include any reference material you might cite, or include a bibliography.
If you’ve got some good evidence you want to share, share it. If you’ve got a relevant anecdote, share that. Make a submission, even if it’s short!
The Eros Association have made a number of submissions to governments across Australia on drug issues. Some key issues we have followed over the issues are:
- Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS)
- E-Cigarettes and nicotine
- Cannabis legalisation
Evidence is on the side of the Eros Association for reform on these issues, but opponents are well resourced and have an established presence in the current policy framework. We will outline our position on these issues.
Novel Psychoactive Substances
Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales have all passed ‘blanket bans’ on psychoactive substances, in an attempt to stop the trade of NPS. The goal of these policies is to protect the health and safety of the community and individuals. There are now several Australian jurisdictions with this legislation in place along with numerous overseas allies, including the UK and Ireland.
The definitions used in the laws are:
Psychoactive effect, in relation to a person who is consuming or has consumed a psychoactive substance, means:
(a) Stimulation or depression of the central nervous system of the person, resulting in hallucinations or a significant disturbance in, or significant change to, motor function, thinking, behaviour, perception, awareness or mood, or
(b) Causing a state of dependence, including physical or psychological addiction.
Psychoactive substance means any substance (other than a substance to which this Part does not apply) that, when consumed by a person, has the capacity to induce a psychoactive effect.
If these policies worked at protecting community and individual health and safety then we should be seeing a drop in harm associated with NPS and a drop in availability and demand. These are an example of seen-to-be-doing-something-but-not-actually-doing-anything legislation that seems incredibly popular around the complex issue of drug law and policy.
It appears that prohibition of NPS leads to worse outcomes for the community and individual. Consumers do not seem to take drug laws very seriously in the first place (as evidenced by the popularity of illicit substances across Australia) and often consumers express confusion over what is legal and what is not. Newly prohibited substances seem to be diverted to the black market, away from a market scenario where both traders and consumers have been begging for a regulated, legal outcome for a number of years.
Members of the Victorian Government have indicated that they would like to see a ‘blanket ban’ introduced in Victoria. This may occur before the inquiry has presented any results, but the government must be reminded that their duty is to health and safety and there is no proof that more prohibition will lead to improved outcomes.
It is unlikely that a solution will be reached for this issue while our drug policy is still defined by prohibition. But steps can be made in the right direction.
These steps include:
- An acknowledgement that prohibition does not necessarily improve community health and safety.
- A percentage of the population will always pursue altered states and they deserve the same protections as any other member of society.
- Much of the demand for NPS is derived from a demand for ‘traditional’ drugs popular in Australia, especially cannabis, MDMA and cocaine.
- Risks can be mitigated through effective, evidence informed education programs and well managed regulatory systems.
New Zealand found a temporary solution by creating a regulatory regime in which products could be tested and allowed for sale on strictly controlled market. The regulatory regime has been stunted due to political and financial issues. The scheme still exists in law, but has been stunted. Victoria has an opportunity to learn from this experience. There are many aspects of the NZ legislation that could be used in Victoria, if legislators would be willing to look toward effective outcomes rather than creating novel prohibition legislation.
E-cigarettes and nicotine
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recently made a decision on a proposal to change the scheduling of nicotine to allow it to be sold for use in personal vaporisers (e-cigarettes). Unfortunately and perhaps predictably, the TGA decided against any change to the current regulation of nicotine.
The sale and use of personal vaporisers have also been heavily restricted in Victoria. The laws will be implemented in mid-2017 and restrict the use of vaporisers from anywhere that smoking is also restricted. The display of components of vaporisers will also be heavily restricted, making it difficult for retailers to effectively sell product and difficult for consumers to know their options.
Personal vaporisers which contain nicotine seem to be an effective method for reducing or ceasing the use of smoked tobacco. Many vapers have taken to the internet to share their anecdotal success stories and current available evidence seems to back them up, with organisations like the UK’s Royal College of Physicians stating that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
Victoria is not required to follow the TGA’s scheduling and it is possible for Victoria to schedule nicotine in a way that allows it to be sold for use in vaporisers. This wouldn’t require big or particularly controversial changes, but it would mean that many current vapers and smokers would be able to legally access nicotine for their vaporisers and reduce their intake of smoked tobacco.
The legalisation of the recreational market for cannabis in Victoria would provide many benefits.
Victorians already consume cannabis, despite its prohibition. Evidence overseas suggests that a change in law is unlikely to lead to a large uptake in the use of cannabis, with small numbers in older demographics more likely than younger demographics to use cannabis for a ‘honeymoon’ period after a change in law. Millions of dollars are lost to the black market due to cannabis sales. Legalisation would mean new jobs and a new source of tax revenue. This revenue could be allocated toward drug education programs and Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) treatment programs, which already deal with a number of drug issues, despite being often under-resourced.
- One in three Australians have tried cannabis
- One in ten Australians are regular users of cannabis
- Around 20 Victorians are charged every day for possession of cannabis
Hundreds of thousands of Australians choose to break the law daily, despite the threat of everything from ‘drug diversion’ programs to jail sentences. We know that the risks associated with cannabis are less than those associated with other popular legal psychoactive substances and we can see the detrimental effects that the policy of prohibition has on many lives.
Regulation of the market for cannabis isn’t about ‘sending a signal’ to people who most likely aren’t interested that they should go and use cannabis. Most people who want to use cannabis do so regardless of prohibition. Regulation is about signaling to the hundreds of thousands of people who make that choice that they will no longer be considered criminals for using cannabis and that their money is much better spent in a legal, regulated market than disappearing underground.
Eight states in the US have legalised recreational cannabis and 28 states have a medical cannabis initiative. Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise cannabis across the nation in 2013. There are a number of places to look for alternatives to prohibition, with a wide range of different regulatory options being trialed. There is plenty of information available online regarding these different models of regulation. Depending on the time you have to commit and your own expertise, you can quote as many or few of these as you like.
Submissions Close Friday 17th March
So get them in! Visit the Inquiry into Drug Law Reform website, make sure you address the Terms of Reference and make your voice heard.