I am pleased to present this report on the Inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug both in Victoria and Australia. This is
despite decades of prohibition which has done little to minimise cannabis use or halt
illegal growing and supply.

Over the last 20 years, rates of cannabis use have remained steady—around 36%
(1.9 million) of Victorian adults have used cannabis in their lifetime and 11% in the
past 12 months. Cannabis users are more likely to be young people, with those aged
20 to 29 reporting the highest use in the past 12 months (24%), followed by those in
the 14 to 19 age group.

This is a foundational report and the culmination of a significant amount of work
conducted by the Committee. The Committee received 1,475 written submissions, held
28 public hearings over 7 days and spoke specifically to young people under the age
of 25 at the Committee’s Youth Forum held at Parliament House. I am grateful to all
stakeholders here in Australia and internationally who gave up their time to share their
valuable knowledge with us.

The overwhelming majority of stakeholders supported the need for cannabis law
reform. Time and time again the Committee heard that the current criminalisation
approach to cannabis in Victoria is not addressing problematic use of cannabis and
is in fact contributing to the harms experienced by vulnerable groups. There is every
reason to believe that this view permeates the wider community.

Criminal convictions from minor cannabis offences cause lifelong impacts on a person’s
ability to seek meaningful employment and often impedes access to education and
even housing.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians, young people and other minority
groups are disproportionately affected by current cannabis laws which are not
achieving their intended goals of reducing use, supply and harm.

Criminalisation contributes to stigma that deters cannabis users from seeking help for
problematic use. It also creates a significant financial and resourcing burden on the
Victorian Government and Victoria Police to enforce minor cannabis offences. What we
are doing now is just not working.

Victoria spends millions of dollars annually criminalising cannabis. But criminal
organisations are still making millions of dollars cultivating and selling cannabis in
Victoria. These funds are being funnelled into other criminal activity including the
manufacture of far more dangerous substances.

It is time that we treat the harms associated with cannabis use as a health issue rather
than a criminal justice issue.

Education and other tools that prevent the early onset of cannabis use or problematic
use could be enhanced in a regulated environment where stigma is reduced and we
allow for appropriate education that focuses on more than ‘just saying no’. However,
there is much we can do now to improve drug education and the resilience of our young
people and these opportunities are explored in detail in the report.

Moving towards a regulated and legalised cannabis market in Victoria will help reduce
criminal activity relating to the illegal cannabis trade, including access by children and
young people. Regulation would help to reduce the harms associated with consuming
a black market product by strictly regulating what is sold, where it is sold and who it is
sold to.

It would also open opportunities for better community awareness of the mental health
and other risks associated with the consumption of cannabis.

Several jurisdictions in Europe, the United States, Canada and even our neighbours in
the Australian Capital Territory have recognised this and have introduced legislation
to decriminalise or legalise cannabis to some degree. The lessons learnt from these
jurisdictions shows that appropriate regulation of adult use of cannabis can be achieved
whether that is through the decriminalisation of the use and possession of small
quantities of cannabis or a scheme that strictly regulates its sale and cultivation.

The report and its findings reflect the evidence we received for the need for reform
and outline the key considerations for the Victorian Government if it is to carefully
move to a legislated framework for the use of cannabis in Victoria. I urge the Victorian
Government to take a proactive stance in taking measures to address the harm caused
by the current prohibition on cannabis use.

Many of the issues about resourcing the alcohol and other drugs sector raised in this
Inquiry reflect the findings of the Mental Health Royal Commission’s final report, which
was tabled in 2021. This report echoes many of them and urges the government to
properly resource desperately needed alcohol and drug services. I look forward to the
Government’s implementation of those recommendations.

I would like to express my gratitude to the secretariat staff who worked on the Inquiry
and helped prepare this comprehensive report during these continually changing and
difficult times. In particular, I would like to thank the research team of Kieran Crowe and
Caitlin Connally who were also assisted by Justine Donohue, under the management of
Lilian Topic and later Matt Newington.

I would also like to thank my colleagues on the Committee for their work on the Inquiry
and in preparing the Committee’s Final Report.

Fiona Patten


To access the report from the Inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria, click here.