Submission to the inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee Inquiry into the use of Cannabis in Victoria (2020). VALS’ submission highlights the disproportionate impacts of criminalisation of cannabis use and possession of cannabis for personal use on our criminal legal service clients.
Addressing low-level drug offences through the criminal justice system comes at an enormous financial, social and health cost to the community and continues to fail in reducing the harm of cannabis disorders in affected community members. Changes to the Bail Act mean that someone charged with possession of cannabis (an indictable offence) is remanded unless they are able to demonstrate exceptional circumstances, despite the fact the finding of guilt in relation to the charge is unlikely to result in a term of imprisonment.
VALS is particularly concerned by the over-representation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system, where contact is a result of low-level cannabis offences. In particular, VALS notes the correlation between ongoing trauma resulting from colonisation, and substance use and deaths in custody, highlighting a system-wide failure to address the complex contributing factors of substance misuse in Aboriginal communities. Rehabilitation from drug disorders is an individual journey that commonly includes relapse as part of recovery. Addressing public health and safety concerns through the criminal justice system only contributes to the underlying causes and perpetuates disadvantage and further contact with the criminal justice system.
VALS calls on the Victorian Government to decriminalise the use of cannabis and possession for personal use and take a community health-based approach to supporting the education, recovery and rehabilitation of affected individuals and communities.
As outlined in this submission, there are alternative approaches to addressing the misuse of cannabis through a culturally-responsive, community health approach that addresses health, mental health, and social impacts of cannabis use on people who use cannabis, their families and their carers.