Marching boldly backward into the 20th Century, the Liberal-National state government in Western Australia announced Sunday that it will put into place more repressive marijuana laws as of August 1. Western Australia had effectively decriminalized the possession of up to 30 grams of pot under the previous Labor government, with violators ticketed and fined between $100 and $200.
Under the new law, the personal use amount will shrink to 10 grams, and people caught with those small amounts will not be ticketed, but referred to court and will receive a Cannabis Intervention Requirement to attend a mandatory counseling session. People possessing more than 10 grams will face up to two years in prison or a $2,000 fine. Persons possessing more than 100 grams (less than a quarter-pound) will be charged with the Australian equivalent of possession with intent to distribute and could face up to two years in prison or a $20,000 fine.
But wait, there's more: Under Labor, the possession of up to two pot plants was treated as a ticketable offense, while under the new law, violators will face up to two years in prison. The new law also criminalizes pot paraphernalia sales, with fines of up to $10,000 for sales to adults and a prison sentence of up to two years or a fine of up to $24,000 for sales to minors.
The Liberal-National government had complained that under the existing system, 95% of those ticketed chose to pay "the equivalent of a parking ticket" instead of attending educational sessions. "Hardly anybody ever turned up, so it just didn't work," Johnson said, adding that nearly a third of those who chose to be fined never paid up.
The Liberal-National state government has made its fight against illegal drugs a signature issue, and Johnson was in fine form Sunday. Johnson said to expect more drug initiatives in the near future. The rising number of methamphetamine labs in Western Australia is a hot issue, but it was all about marijuana Sunday.
"The amount of toxicity in cannabis is enormous these days and it's very damaging to people's brains," he said. "It can cause schizophrenia and create terrible mental health problems. The heady days of growing, rolling and smoking your own that was allowed under the previous Labor government are over," he said. "Under the new scheme, anyone caught will have no option but to attend a one-on-one intensive Cannabis Intervention Session within 28 days of the offense or face prosecution through the courts."
But opposition Labor Party police issues spokeswoman Margaret Quirk told the Sydney Morning Herald the government's move toward more repressive pot policies was misguided and an effort to deflect criticism over harder drugs.
"The only reason the government is making a big fuss of these laws now is it's under increasing pressure in relation to the growing amphetamine problem," she said, adding that drug labs were exploding in the Perth suburbs." The new pot laws were a "nice, symbolic thing for the government to do to show they're tough on drugs" but it was much harder to get on top of the amphetamine problem, she said. "It's all about the smoke and mirrors, it's not about really targeting our laws where they're needed," Quirk said.
Labor wasn't alone in criticizing the new law. The Australian Lawyers Alliance quickly stepped up to rip into it.
"There is nothing novel about this approach," Alliance spokesman for Western Australia Tom Percy told Western Australia Today. "It will take no toll against crime. We're fighting an old war, lost a long time ago. To say you plan to fight drugs by increasing penalties is like going into a nuclear war armed with medieval weapons. It makes no difference and is nothing more than a political stunt. It's hardly a serious act that will have the drug overlords quaking in their boots," he said. "A public campaign will be far more successful than increasing the penalties."
For a few years in the past decade, Western Australia was looked to as an example of how to implement progressive marijuana law reforms. Not any more, at least not until the current state government is replaced.