Victoria’s cannabis inquiry - and you. - Unharm

It’s time for the ‘rubber to hit the road’ to cannabis reform in Victoria.

Victoria’s cannabis inquiry – and you.

Laura Woods
12.8.21

With the release of a new report that recommends reform, Victorians are one step closer to a future where cannabis use is legal and safe. But before this dream can become a reality, there are a few barriers in the way. Here’s what you need to know …

Roadmap for reform

Fiona Patten, Leader of the Reason Party, chaired the two-year inquiry. When we caught up with Fiona, she explained the inquiry was intended to show the government ‘what a regulated industry might look like’. 

Patten kickstarted the inquiry in 2019 but the Victorian Legislative Council, controlled by the Labor government, defined the terms: to consider best ways to prevent young people from accessing cannabis, implement stronger health education campaigns and evaluate the social impact of criminal activity related to the illegal cannabis trade.

Despite the limitations imposed by the government, the final report laid out sensible and achievable models of reform, with a heavy emphasis on improving the health and wellbeing of those who use cannabis.

The inquiry received more than 1400 submissions. A majority of the health and legal experts favoured decriminalisation of personal cannabis use. 360Edge used their submission to draw attention to the failing prohibition approach. According to Director Dr Nicole Lee, this approach is ‘causing more harm than the drugs themselves’.

Other advocacy groups such as Harm Reduction Victoria hoped to highlight the significant harms caused by criminalisation of cannabis. Harm Reduction Victoria’s Stephanie Tzanetis explained  that criminalising cannabis use only ‘disincentives help-seeking behaviour’. This can have a ripple effect on ‘undermining the equitable opportunity to achieve the social determinants of health’. 

The inquiry also heard from ACT MPs who explained how personal use including cultivation of cannabis has been decriminalised there since early 2020. 

Intervention by government MPs

But in a frustrating turn of events, the Victorian Government’s so-called progressive social agenda regressed in a last-minute intervention. When the report was in its final stages, three Labor MPs weaponised their majority power to ‘water down’ the recommendations. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that cannabis should be legalised for personal use, the report concluded with calls for ‘further investigation’. Multiple recommendations got axed, including one to remove all minor cannabis convictions from people’s criminal record. 

The Victorian Government is required to provide an official response within 6 months. If recent events are anything to go by, it’s possible the Government will put cannabis law reform on the back burner.

Where to from here?

We asked Patten what steps people can take to ensure that this report leads to positive action. She told us it’s now time for the ‘rubber to hit the road’ in advocacy and government lobbying. 

‘We have to give politicians the confidence to make a change. I encourage everyone to send a letter to your MP telling them your personal stories. People have to come out of the closet and people have to talk about it. 

Share the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t be afraid to share your negative stories where people are not able to get help because of the stigma.’

Fiona Patten, MP

Cannabis is the most widely consumed drug in Victoria. At least 35% of Victorians have used it in their lifetime, a figure consistent with nationwide rates. That means there are hundreds of thousands of people with the kinds of stories that can help make change. 

Attitudes are shifting worldwide. The evidence for change is clear and convincing. Now it’s up to people like you to blaze a new path.

Share your story

If you have your own lived experience with cannabis to share and are passionate about this issue – we’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out more about how you can share your story.

Image Credit:
Zane Bolen