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Opponents Attempt to Reverse Decriminalization of Hard Drugs in the ACT

“In Canberra you will now pay more for parking across the lines in a shopping centre than being caught carrying ice,” Senator Michaelia Cash

The federal opposition is looking to overturn the decriminalising of hard drugs in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), but with a lack of support from Territory’s Labor-Greens government, the move looks likely to fail. 

Liberal Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Michaelia Cash introduced her Dangerous Drugs Bill on Sept. 14 in hopes of overturning the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Possession) Amendment Act of 2022.

Ms. Cash said in Parliament that the government has “created a parking fine scheme that applies to the possession of ice, heroin, cocaine, MDMA and speed, among other things.”

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“Because in Canberra you will now pay more for parking across the lines in a shopping centre than being caught carrying ice. You will pay more for stopping your car near a post box than for possession of heroin. Lawyers, police, and pharmacists explicitly warned against these laws,” said Ms. Cash. 

The drug reform will see $100 fines for the possession of small quantities of illicit drugs (1.5 grams of methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin) or have offenders attend an assessment and harm reduction session.

Current laws punish drug possession with up to an $8,000 fine and up to two years in prison. 

The government says the reform reduces the maximum prison sentence for personal possession of drugs above a small amount and does not legalise drugs or reduce penalties for drug dealers. 

Reaction to the Federal Opposition

ACT Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson started the push for the decriminalisation of cannabis in the Territory and also supports the current reform efforts. 

He told the Australian Associated Press that, “Diversion, access to treatment and rehabilitation are the best ways to reduce the harms that drugs cause in our community.”

“No amount of right-wing scaremongering will change that,” he told AAP.

Two other politicians have also spoken out against the federal opposition for interfering in ACT laws.

“If they would like to see changes in the ACT’s laws, I would encourage them to run for the Legislative Assembly at next year’s election,” ACT independent Senator David Pocock told the AAP. 

Chief Minister Andrew Barr also said the bill is just another example of the Liberal Party interfering with the Territory’s rights. 

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, a former police officer, has spoken out against the reform. 

“It’s remarkable that somehow the Labor Party believes that this is going to reduce crime in the ACT,” said Mr. Dutton on 2GB radio this week. 

“I’ve delivered death messages to parents whose kids have died of overdoses, I’ve been to countless domestic violence incidents where blokes are as high as a kite and they commit crimes they wouldn’t otherwise,” Mr. Dutton said.

He has also warned that the ACT could be transformed into a haven for drug users. 

“That’ll be the tourism attraction for people coming from all over the country—as you see in states in the United States—I mean that’s the reality of what happens there,” said Mr. Dutton.

The laws will come into effect in the ACT at the end of October.

If you need support in relation to your drug use, call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

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