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Premier Jacinta Allan has acknowledged she tried cannabis “a long, long time ago”, while Treasurer Tim Pallas said he supported pivoting to a health-led response a day after the Labor government announced it was open to talks on decriminalising personal use of the drug.
But Allan appeared to tone town suggestions of a significant shift in the state’s approach to drugs on Thursday after Mental Health Minister Ingrid Stitt said the government was “amenable” to engaging with experts, the community, and the Legalise Cannabis party about allowing personal use.
Premier Jacinta Allan and Treasurer Tim Pallas in parliament.Credit: Joe Armao
“Of course we would get advice, of course we would seek advice, and in this instance advice from health experts. That’s what we have indicated in the house yesterday that we would do,” Allan said.
“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a change to government policy as a consequence of those discussions.”
The premier confirmed at a press conference she had tried the drug.
“I think we [should] come to these questions with an honest answer and not obfuscate. It was a long time ago — a long, long time ago,” Allan told reporters.
Pallas said the government had a position on cannabis, that it was dealt with criminally, and did not want to assume he could rake in revenue if the drug was taxed in a regulated legal market in the future.
“I don’t think I want to get too far ahead of myself about what revenue might be available, or indeed, might I say, whether there’s a change in policy at all,” Pallas said.
“What I would say is that it is important to deal with the crossbench in the upper house with some respect. They sought dialogue around these matters, and they’ll get it.”
He confirmed he had also used cannabis in the past and acknowledged he had a personal view that was against the government’s current policy.
“I suppose I should declare I have used, and yeah, I don’t think a criminal approach to this is best. A health-based approach should be best,” Pallas said.
“I’m not interested in starting to look at how I can effectively raise more revenue, what I’m interested in is what the best way to effectively regulate cannabis is. And indeed, whether in fact, a health-based approach would be superior.”
Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he had also smoked cannabis three times years ago when he was at university.
“I’m not proud of it, but I tried it,” he told 3AW.
The Liberal leader raised concerns about a quick move to legalisation, but said he was open to a debate about it.
“We don’t know how people are going to react to the use. And that’s why for me, the education piece is so important. People want to rush to legalisation without a proper and in-depth analysis about the risks of doing this in terms of your own health,” Pesutto said.
“I want to just emphasise … it shouldn’t be a very … misleading debate about law and order and health. It is about health, and we want to promote it.”
A Pennington Institute report found 37 per cent of people over 14 have used the drug at some point, and a 2019 survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found more people supported legalisation than not.
The recreational use of cannabis is illegal in most of Australia, although minor offences have been decriminalised and replaced with fines in South Australia, the ACT and Northern Territory.
Victorian Legalise Cannabis MPs David Ettershank and Rachel Payne.Credit: Joe Armao
In 2020, the ACT went further and allowed adults to grow up to two plants and possess small amounts of cannabis without penalty.
Legalise Cannabis MPs Rachel Payne and David Ettershank brought a bill to parliament to allow personal use, in a staged approach towards full legalisation, arguing the state wasted millions enforcing the law to the detriment of vulnerable communities.
They said Victoria could invest in health and education instead, while raising revenue if it was sold in a regulated market.
Ettershank said he had spoken to members across parliament about their experiences with cannabis. “I think it’s safe to assume that there is a lot more than two people in this parliament that have consumed cannabis,” he said.
The Greens, Legalise Cannabis and Animal Justice parties were also introducing a joint bill on Thursday to seek a pill testing trial starting at next year’s festival season.
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