The Labor government of Western Australia Premier Geoff Gallop announced a sea change in the state's approach to drugs this week. Delivering its long-awaited response to the state's Community Drug Summit held in August, the government announced it was accepting 44 out of 45 recommendations, including the decriminalization of possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana and prescription heroin trials. The drug summit had been a key election pledge of the Gallop government.
The government rejected a recommendation for safe injection rooms, arguing that the state did not have heroin users in sufficient concentrations to make the sites cost-effective. "Drug use is spread throughout the community," said Gallop. "We don't have the same extent of the problem that they get in Victoria and New South Wales," he explained.
And the heroin prescription trials will not happen as long as Prime Minister John Howard is around. He will be around for awhile. Howard, an avowed foe of such harm reduction measures, was elected to a new term earlier this month, running largely on an anti-immigrant platform.
"The fact of the matter is the federal government needs to give its endorsement and John Howard has made it clear he is not going to allow any heroin trials in Australia," said Gallop as he announced the new policies. "The notion of the heroin trials should be part of our armory, and we should keep it on the agenda, but the fact of the matter is we in Western Australia can't do it."
Under the state's new marijuana policy, people caught with up to two plants or less than 25 grams will face only civil penalties, such as fines, and will not enter the criminal justice system. Western Australia will join South Australia, which decriminalized in 1987, and Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland in the last four years have also instituted ticketing instead of arresting marijuana offenders caught with less than 50 grams.
The community drug summit recommendations also called for increased emphasis on prevention and treatment. The government responded with a 10% increase in the drug budget and the establishment of a new Drug and Alcohol Office within the state health department.