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  • Rikki Lambert

At least two Reasons not to legalise illicit drugs in Victoria

Premier Andrews (left) and Matthew Guy (right) before a 2018 pre-election debate

The Victorian government and Opposition have knocked back a proposal by MLC Fiona Patten to decriminalise the use and possession of illicit drugs on the day the sole Reason Party MP was putting the proposal to parliament.

The former sex worker and Sex Party MP emboldened by recent success on decriminalising sex work, Ms Patten implied the major parties were nervous to advance further social changes in an election year:

"They're motivating each other. No one wants to have a law and order election, or maybe they do. So they are hoping that they can wedge each other.
"This needs bipartisan support. If we look at other measures that we have pushed through this house - like safe-access zones, supervised injecting rooms, voluntary assisted dying - we started from a position where no one wanted to support it to a position where everyone supports it."

Ms Patten (right) with Greens MLC Samantha Ratnam (left) and western Victorian MLC Andy Meddick

Introducing the bill in state parliament's Legislative Council today, Ms Patten was swiftly met by opposition from both the Liberal-National Opposition and the Labor government. A government spokesperson told Flow on Wednesday afternoon:

"We have no plans to decriminalise drugs.
"We know the harmful impact illicit drug use can have on the community – that's why Victoria Police is constantly focused on targeting drug dealers and manufacturers to break up their criminal activity.
"We also have a strong focus on diversion for users through initiatives like our Drug Courts and harm minimisation programs."

Under the proposed changes, police would issue a mandatory notice and referral of drug education or treatment to those found to have used or possessed an illicit drug.

If a person complies with the notice, there will be no finding of guilt and no criminal record.

On Friday, Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy told reporters:

"We obviously don't support Fiona Patten's proposal. I'm more focused on more people getting an ambulance when they need one, not decriminalising drugs.
"We're not focused on this at all, Victoria has enough problems at the moment particularly the problems in health care, mental health, the ambulance service - decriminalising drugs is not one of my priorities."

Patrick Lawrence, chief executive of addiction, mental health and legal services hub First Step, said the bill would ensure those struggling with addiction - who were often targeted by Victoria's drug laws - received help rather than condemnation. 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is also pushing for a health-first approach, saying treatment should be the focus rather than punitive measures.


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