ACT decriminalises possession of small amounts of illicit drugs in Australian first
The ACT has become the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, ice, and MDMA.
The was passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly by 13 votes to six on Thursday.
The private members bill was first introduced to parliament in early 2021 by government backbencher Michael Peterson.
A 2021 inquiry into the bill to ensure it met the government’s harm reduction policy.
It will take 12 months to implement the new law, which follows the ACT’s decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use in 2019, and the introduction in Canberra of Australia’s first fixed-site drug testing clinic.
What does the law change mean?
The bill gives police the ability to fine someone caught in possession of illegal drugs rather than divert them through the criminal justice system, where they currently face up to two years in jail for the offence.
A person could also choose to attend a drug diversion program instead of facing the $100 fine.
Trafficking offences will not be changed under the bill.
The ACT government announced its in-principle support of the bill in June.
“Illicit drugs are harmful, and the ACT government will continue to take a strong stance against drug dealers. This bill does not change that view,” ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said at the time.
“The government and ACT Policing will continue to work to reduce supply and prosecute dealers and traffickers through the justice system.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said evidence showed criminalising drug use doesn’t reduce drug use and that substance abuse needed to be treated as a health issue.
“Treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community,” she said.
ACT Policing previously raised concerns that the quantity of drugs listed exceeded personal use and could be considered a trafficable quantity.
The thresholds in the bill include 0.5-grams of MDMA; 50 grams of dried cannabis; two grams of cocaine; two grams of heroin; two grams of methylamphetamine; two grams of psilocybine (found in mushrooms); and 0.002-grams of LSD.
The ACT government has also proposed a 12-month implementation period.