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Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Small Amounts of Drugs Including Heroin, Cocaine

The social experiment of decriminalizing drugs and providing a health-based program instead of locking up drug users is taking hold in Australia’s capital.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT)—home of capital city Canberra—passed legislation on October 20 to decriminalize small amounts of drugs, according to an announcement. It’s the first jurisdiction to do so in Australia.

Introduced by Michael Pettersson of Labor, the Drugs of Dependence Amendment Bill 2022 decriminalizes very limited amounts of drug. You will receive warnings and small fines as well as a program to divert drugs from your hands.

It was passed by 13 votes to 6. A 12-month transitional period will start in October 2023.

“From late October 2023, the possession of small amounts of certain illicit drugs will be decriminalised,” the announcement reads. “This means people will no longer be exposed to potential prison sentences and instead may be issued a $100 fine or referred to an illicit drug diversion program. A maximum of $160 will be levied against the accused if it proceeds to court. The penalty can also be reduced by 50 units or two years imprisonment.

“This reform will reduce the stigma and fear for people who are using drugs to access health services,” the announcement continues. “By diverting people to a drug diversion program, people who use drugs will be offered the health services and support they need while providing a pathway away from the criminal justice system.”

Canberrans are no longer likely to be sentenced to prison. Instead they will be given a slap in the face: a caution or a fine equaling AU$100, which is about $63 USD. Or they will be referred for an illicit drug diversion programme.

The government will implement supervision arrangements and provide training for frontline police officers over the next twelve months. It also plans to develop communications with the police, alcohol and drugs sector academics, as well as people who have lived experience and police.

The following maximum limits are applicable to specific drugs: cocaine at 1.5g, heroin at 2.5g, MDMA and methamphetamines at 3.0g, MDMA at 3.0g, MDMA at 3.0g, MDMA at 1.5g, methamphetamines at 1.5g, methamphetamines at 1.5g, MDMA at 3g, MDMA extract at 3g, MDMA at 3g, MDMA at 3.5g, MDMA at 3.6g, methamphetamines at 2.

Officials from the ACT who supported this bill believed that a health-focused approach towards addiction was more effective than locking them away.

“The ACT has led the nation with a progressive approach to reducing the harm caused by illicit drugs with a focus on diversion, access to treatment and rehabilitation and reducing the stigma attached to drug use,” ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said. “This sensible reform is based on the expert advice that a health-focused, harm-reduction approach delivers the best outcome for people using drugs.”

The Guardian reports that the deputy leader of the Canberra Liberals, Jeremy Hanson, slammed the law, calling it “radical.” 

“It wasn’t taken to the community. It’s going to lead to more crime. It’s going to lead to more carnage on our roads,” he told ABC. “It’s not going to change the number of people going into the criminal justice system, and it’s not going to fix the problem that we have now, which is not enough people being able to access treatment.”

Pettersson claimed that those who abuse meth often are the ones actually using it. Most people needAccess to health care services.

“People that use recreational drugs are taking a risk, and certain drugs cause more harm than others,” he said. “If people are using a substance like methamphetamine, we need to make sure that we do not continue to criminalise them and make it even easier for them to come forward and access the support that they might need.”

The ACT has decriminalized marijuana for almost 30 years.

In America’s capital Washington, D.C., psilocybin, ayahuasca, and mescaline are decriminalized, and efforts to decriminalize all drugs are ongoing.