FFDLR Newsletter July 2022


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 Progress of Decriminalization in the ACT 
 There has been quite a bit happening over the past few months especially around the Drugs of Dependence (personal use) Amendment Bill 2021 in the ACT. This is Michael Pettersson’s private members bill concerning the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. After several amendments to the original recommendations, it is still unclear as to what the draft legislation will look like. There are some concerns around what seems to be a continued punitive approach certainly as far as fines are included. What are the consequences if people cannot pay the fine? Are they then directed into the criminal justice system? Would this be the intent of the new legislation? How would this be different to what we already have?
In response to recommendation 4 to the amendment bill the government has also put forward an amendment that will introduce a 2nd tier for threshold quantities as described below.

Recommendation 4 states: The ACT Government should review the drug possession limits in the Bill to ensure they reflect the evidence on patterns of consumption for personal use. The government has since recommended two levels of drug possession offences by defining new ‘small quantity’ thresholds, in addition to the existing ‘trafficable quantity’. This means that anything below the ‘trafficable quantity’ is deemed personal use.  However, under the new legislation, with the introduction of the ‘small quantity’ threshold it seems amounts for personal use will be significantly reduced. These amounts are often below what people would usually possess for personal use. This is of some concern to FFDLR.

The present trafficable amounts were developed following research, commissioned by the ACT Government, and carried out by the Drug Policy Modelling Program which sought evidence on typical drug consumption patterns in the ACT. It is hoped the trafficable amounts will follow this research and the ACT will maintain the present thresholds.

Nevertheless the debate and legislation that will point to moving away from criminalising those who use drugs is to be welcomed.

The Bill is likely to come to the Assembly for debate in the first sitting week at the beginning of August.


Bill and Marion at the ‘Is it time to Legalise Cannabis’ forum in Sydney, June 23
 Community Consultative Forum on ACT Drug Law Reform, 30 July 2022 (Possible Decriminalisation of Certain Illicit Drugs in the ACT) 
The ACT Churches Council is organising a forum to be held on Saturday 30 July, 2pm – 5pm at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.  You are warmly invited to attend.
The Council’s purpose is to present the details of the bill’s intent and of the subsequent developments and to give time for questions and discussion from the audience. Views on the proposed reform could then be conveyed to members of the ACT Legislative Assembly before the bill is debated, and possibly adopted, with or without amendment. This is expected to happen early August.
The Forum will be chaired by John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the ANU.
At the Forum, specialists will make brief presentations on a series of relevant topics and then answer questions.  The following people will be taking part.Kathryn Wright (Salvation Army) on drug treatment perspectivesACT Chief Magistrate, Lorraine Walker, on drugs and the courts, including the implications for the courts of the decriminalisation proposalsChris Gough, CEO CAHMA (Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy) on drug-user perspectives regarding the decriminalisation proposalsPeter Cain MLA on his reasons for dissenting from some of the recommendations of the select committeeMarion McConnell, and Bill Bush, members of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform on why Families and Friends support the reformsA representative of ACT Policing on a police perspective of the possible implications of the proposed decriminalisation reforms.Emeritus Prof Dr Bob Douglas – a health perspective
 From FFDLR Archives Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform have now been going for well over 27 years. We were banging our heads against the wall then just as we are now. It is interesting resurrecting extracts from some of our advocacy work. Some things may have changed such as the willingness of the present ACT government to support legislation to decriminalise small quantities of illicit drugs. The attitude of community too has also become more understanding as evidenced by the recent poll showing a strong majority in favour of non-law enforcement response to drug use. On the other hand the strident opposition to this modest reform by the ACT Opposition and the Police Association shows that some have still a long way to go.Back in October 1997 Brian McConnell made a submission to the Committee of officers charged with reporting to the then Standing Committee of Attorneys-General on changes to the national Model Criminal Code. After setting out three case histories of encounters that lead to death of family members, the submission continued:In short, the law and its implementation:(a) not only failed to keep drugs from our family members but probably promoted their availability;(b) multiplied the dangers inherent in drug taking;(c) impeded effective self help or intervention by others in tackling drug dependency;(d) totally or partially marginalised them from their family and the rest of the community.The circumstances of these deaths may seem remote to the tightening of laws to better cope with a big time drug bust, say, in the Northern Territory. Indeed, I reiterate, that Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform has no sympathy for such entrepreneurs in addiction and death. But we insist that whenever a review of the drug law is undertaken the following fundamental question should be asked and answered:Who is the law trying to protect?The answer to this question must guide the review process. We had understood that the law was designed to protect our family members or friends. Their deaths in the circumstances mentioned demonstrates to us a failure of the law both substantively as well as in its implementation. It is irrelevant whether or not a major drug offender is put away for 15 years, 25 years or shot or that presumptions of trafficking are adjusted this way or that way if at the end of the day the people who the law sets out to protect are not being protected by that law.It is from this perspective that Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform has reviewed the work of the Model Criminal Code Officers’ Committee on serious drug offences.Our submission was one of several that “addressed the issue of harm minimisation, proposed more radical measures such as decriminalisation of use and the provision of licit supplies of controlled drugs to dependent users.” Before ignoring it, the Committee complimented it: “The most ambitious of these submissions came from the Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (ACT) submission 16 October 1997, which subjected the Discussion Paper to detailed analysis and frequently acute criticism.”
 Police association stance on decriminalising drugs outdated 
Letter published in the Canberra Times on 14 July 2022

The president of the Australian Federal Police Association is dismayed that the ACT would consider decriminalising small amounts of drugs deemed for personal use, while at the same time, condemning the teenager who crashed into a police car while reportedly high on illicit drugs (“Australian Federal Police Association ‘dismayed’ by ACT government drug decriminalisation push“, July 12, p10).What is Caruana trying to say here? That what we are doing is working? That his law enforcement strategy is working? So don’t let’s try something different.It obviously is not working if a young person supposedly high on drugs crashed into a police car. It has long been known that punishment for the use of drugs is not achieving any positive outcomes except perhaps to keep the money flowing into the government’s coffers.It has long been advocated by researchers in the field that drug use (not drug dealing) needs to be treated as a health and social issue if improvements are to be made, not only for the lives of users and family members, but for the whole of society.To begin this, we need to decriminalise personal use of drugs to reduce the stigma that will improve family relationships and encourage people who use drugs into treatment.Recent polling showed that nearly 80 per cent of Canberrans surveyed in three local electorates support decriminalising the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs and providing a health response instead.

M McConnell
 On the other hand 
Letter published in the Canberra Times on 16 July 2022

The Australian Federal Police Association believes that laws work (“Police ‘let down’ by courts: union“, 15 July, p17). Courts just need to impose tougher penalties on those who break the laws.But laws cannot fix all societal ills. Why do people drive recklessly? Why do people take drugs? Will tougher penalties prevent the tragic consequences of reckless driving or people taking drugs?Serious penalties should apply to those who have destroyed others’ lives but we need to look beyond the toughness of the law if we want less knocks on our doors from police to advise that a loved one has died from the acts of a reckless driver or indeed from drug overdose.What is needed is improved social policies that look at reducing domestic violence, reducing long-term unemployment, increasing adult education, providing stable accommodation, and a health approach to drug dependency and mental illness and much more support for parents who struggle to raise their children.The police association and indeed our whole society needs to realise that we can do better in preventing crime and saving lives. It does not all depend on the severity of the law. Indeed research shows this often makes matters worse.

M McConnell
 Australia’s first fixed pill-testing clinic opens in Canberra 

Alex Ross-King, 19, wanted to know more about the pills she was planning to take – but didn’t know who to ask.She died of a drug overdose after drinking and taking MDMA before Sydney’s Fomo festival in 2019.It might not have happened if she’d had access to a clinic like the one that opened in Canberra on Tuesday, her mum said.

Read the full article here

Congratulations to Harm Reduction Australia for the effort they have put in to making this a reality,  and to the ACT Health Minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, for her support.

The service will be run by Directions Health Services, Pill Testing Australia, and CAHMA.

The Briefing interview with Gino Vumbaca
The ACT has always had a liberal approach to drug use. Cannabis was decriminalised in 2020. Today it opens a pill-testing facility in Canberra’s CBD.   Gino Vumbaca is president of Harm Reduction Australia. He and his team are behind the trial of the new facility which runs tests on drugs to make sure they’re safe for the user to take. He says trials at music festivals in recent years have undoubtedly saved lives. On this episode of the Briefing, the ACT’s bold move to install a pill-testing facility in Canberra’s CBD.

Listen to the interview  here