AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw slams ACT drug decriminalisation push

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw on the ACT drugs proposal

A proposal to liberalise drug law in the ACT has been strongly condemned by Australia's most senior police officer.

"We think we will be busier," Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, told a parliamentary committee.

He was referring specifically to the proposal for the ACT to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of some illicit drugs.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Commissioner Kershaw said it could lead to "narco-tourism".

"It's going to mean that organised crime will want to target this community in particular, because they can move their product quite easily," he told a hearing of a Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee.

"It just makes it more difficult for us to combat the rise of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin use and they're not recreational drugs."

Under the proposal made by Labor MLA Michael Pettersson, personal use of heroin, ice and methamphetamines would remain a crime, but the penalties for those caught with two grams or less would be reduced from jail to a $100 fine.

Police would confiscate the drugs and the person would be referred to a health program. The emphasis would go from punishment to treatment.

Commissioner Kershaw's views were seized on by the Liberal senator for the ACT, Zed Seselja who said that decriminalisation of such drugs was "a reckless proposal that endangers the lives of Canberra families".

He said that Canberra would become a "magnet" for drugs gangs if the law was softer in the ACT than elsewhere.

"It's obvious. The market response if the laws are softer here than in other places is that the bikie gangs will potentially grow."

The senator said it was rare for police officers to speak out so openly but Commissioner Kershaw "has a lot of experience and he made the judgement that these drugs are destructive".

"It is clear - there is no such thing as personal use of hard drugs," the Liberal senator said.

Labor MLA Michael Pettersson. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Labor MLA Michael Pettersson. Picture: Jamila Toderas

The MLA's proposal is currently going through one of the Assembly's committees, so its final form hasn't been determined yet. It is likely to come to the full Assembly at the end of the year.

Labor backbencher Mr Pettersson's proposal is a private members bill.

He said Senator Seselja was being "disingenuous" in his criticism. The bill would allow police to deal with people caught with a drugs through a civil fine and not through the justice system. It would change the penalty for it, so that the emphasis was more on dealing the problem.

In the past, he has told the Assembly that it was time to rethink policy on drugs.

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"The community has moved on from the war on drugs, and it's time to move on from criminalisation," he said last December.

"We know the traditional 'just say no' approach hasn't worked.

"A threat of jail time or a criminal record does not deter people from taking drugs. It never has and it never will."

Mr Pettersson was also responsible for the legalisation of cannabis possession in the ACT. The law came into effect last year.

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This story 'We will be busier': Top police officer slams ACT drugs proposal first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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