Alert: Drug law reform changes to commence

27 October 2023

The ACT Government has taken the next step in its harm minimisation approach to the use of illicit drugs with new laws coming into effect this week.

From 28 October, the personal possession of small amounts of the most commonly used illicit drugs will be decriminalised in the ACT.

People will no longer be exposed to potential prison sentences and instead may be issued a caution, a $100 fine or referred to a diversion program.

While penalties have been reduced, illicit drugs are still illegal and will be confiscated.

The changes will mean drug use is treated as a health issue and not a criminal one.

These changes will help to reduce the stigma experienced by people who use illicit drugs and encourage more people to come forward and receive support.

Drug counselling and other treatment services will be offered to people referred to the diversion program. This provides an opportunity for people to learn more about the services available to them and to access supports they may not have considered before.

The ACT Government has worked closely with the drug and alcohol sector, service providers and ACT Policing over the last twelve months to prepare for these changes.

A targeted information campaign has begun to provide people with relevant information about the law reforms. This includes businesses and venues, medical professionals, and community-based support services.

The ACT Government will continue working with the alcohol and other drug sector to deliver evidence-based and practice-informed policy that leads to better outcomes for individuals, their families, and the broader community.

Chris Gough, Executive Director from the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA), said this legislation is important for people who use drugs because it switches the focus from criminalisation to health and support.

“Drug criminalisation has serious and profound harms associated with it for people who use drugs and their families, and this legislation acknowledges these harms and takes a major step towards preventing them.”

“By allowing people who use drugs to be referred to a health service instead of being given a criminal conviction people are encouraged to seek help and treatment and also, importantly, showing that society hasn’t given up on them, but instead is understanding and supporting them to do better.”

“The ACT is signalling very clearly here that we are a progressive and forward thinking society and we expect people who have health issues to be treated with dignity and respect and not like criminals.”

While these are incremental policy changes that are not expected to lead to significant changes in patterns of drug use, the ACT Government will undertake an independent review in two years to assess the implementation and success of these new laws.

It is still illegal for a person to drive with any level of illegal substances in their system. Penalties for the supply and manufacture of illicit drugs are also not changing and ACT Policing will continue to target drug dealing and trafficking.

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