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