The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) is concerned by the over-representation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system, where contact is a result of low-level cannabis offences. In particular, VALS notes the correlation between ongoing trauma resulting from colonisation, and substance use and deaths in custody, highlighting a system-wide failure to address the complex contributing factors of substance misuse in Aboriginal communities.
- VALS calls on the Victorian Government to decriminalise the use of cannabis and possession for personal use and take a community health-based approach to supporting the education, recovery and rehabilitation of affected individuals and communities.
- In the event that the use of cannabis and the possession of cannabis for personal use is not decriminalised, cautions should be utilised as a first preference. To improve access to cautions and diversion, they should be available regardless of someone’s criminal history, and the necessity for police consent to and recommendation for diversion should be removed.
- Legislation should be amended so that possession of cannabis for personal use is a summary offence only. The beneficial effect of this being that people would not need to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to be granted bail, and such an approach better reflects the gravity of the offence.
- The Victorian Drug Court’s criteria should be broadened to allow for low-level cannabis offences to be dealt with through a rehabilitation-focused approach.