Western Australia Health
Minister Bob Kucera announced Sunday that the government would implement
a system of "prohibition with civil penalties" for people caught smoking
or possessing small amounts of marijuana. Under the Labor government
proposal, cannabis would remain illegal, but people possessing less than
30 grams or two plants would be charged with a civil infringement, cited
and fined. But police would retain the discretion to file criminal
charges if they thought the law was being "flouted."
The measure drew praise from
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation state president Jason Meotti, who
told the Western Australian that the move reflected growing acceptance
of cannabis use in the state. But he did not address the discretion
provision and he argued that removing the stigma could help those dependent
on cannabis to seek help. "By taking it out of the criminal realm,
people with cannabis use problems may actually seek help, particularly
those who hold significant positions who may have been reluctant to come
forward in the past," he said.
If Meotti was sanguine, the
Labor proposal has already drawn fire from the Green Party, whose five
members of parliament (MLCs) are crucial to getting it passed. MLC
Chrissie Sharp said Monday that she would work to amend the discretion
language, charging it would lead to corruption and uneven enforcement of
the law. "If you have a policy of decriminalization, it should be
clear and policed automatically, not left up to somebody's discretion,"
Dr. Sharp told the West Australian.
Even law enforcement officials
who support the plan -- albeit with some misgivings about appearing to
condone marijuana use -- have raised concerns about the discretion issue.
"There is a risk with this sort of legalization, making it [cannabis use]
seem like acceptable conduct," Western Australia Police Union president
Michael Dean said. "I understand why they are changing the laws because
it will free up police resources to focus on suppliers," he told the West
Australian. "But I am concerned that the discretionary powers they
plan to create could create confusion if the police service does not have
The Labor proposal, which
Kucera said would now be drafted and in place before the end of the year,
is based on two years of meetings, studies and discussions throughout the
state. It follows the recommendations of the recent report of the
Working Party on Drug Law Reform (http://www.wa.gov.au/drugwestaus/),
which in turn was based on the state's Community Drug Summit. The
government cannabis provisions include:
"The reality is that cannabis
is the most widely used drug in Australia," said Kucera. "Although
only a minority of Australians would be considered to be dependent users,
39% of all Australians aged 14 and over have used cannabis at some point
in their lives. The proposal put forward by the Working Party on
Drug Law Reform offers a new way forward. Research has shown that
people with minor cannabis convictions can have problems with employment,
difficulty in obtaining accommodation, travel problems and an increased
risk of future contact with the criminal justice system. But research
also shows that applying civil, instead of criminal, penalties for the
personal use of cannabis does not lead to an increased proportion of the
population using the drug."
People in possession of less
than 30 grams or two placed may, at police discretion, be charged with
a civil infringement and fined or charged with criminal possession.
The stash gets confiscated in either case.
Thresholds for triggering distribution
charges have been lowered. Under current law, possession of more
than 100 grams or 25 plants is considered presumptive of dealing; under
the Labor proposal, the threshold would be lowered to 100 grams or 10 plants.
Civil fines will range up to
$200 and must be paid within 28 days. (Reformers have complained
that under a similar ticketing scheme in South Australia, more people,
especially the poor and the young, are ending up jailed for nonpayment
of fines than were ever jailed for marijuana possession.)
Hydroponic grow operations,
no matter how small, are not included.
Hashish and hash oil are not
With the opposition Liberal
Party having declared against the civil penalty scheme, Labor will need
the votes of Green Party members to obtain a majority in parliament.
Now, as the issue of discretion to file criminal charges takes center stage,
the struggle to determine whether the new cannabis law will be a half-step
forward or a quarter-step forward begins.
-- END --
Issue #239, 5/31/02
Editorial: Skating on the Edge of Propriety | New DRCNet/StopTheDrugWar.org Merchandise Out -- Discounted Purchase Available | DEA Forges Alliance With Women Legislators Group to Wage War on Club Drugs, Terror | DEA Raids Another California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Even as Advocates Gear Up for Day of Action Next Friday | FBI Ends Drug War Role to Concentrate on Terror War | Western Australia to Cite, Not Arrest, Marijuana Users Under State Government Plan | National Drug Intelligence Center Gives Partial Response to DRCNet FOIA Request on "Drug Menace" Web Sites | Report Charges Taft Administration Subverts Election in Ohio, Allies with PDFA and CADCA in Effort to Defeat Initiative | Newsbrief: Seven Up Pulls "Prison Rape" Commercial Under Threat of Boycott | Newsbrief: Feds Use RICO Against Virginia Oxycontin Doctor | Newsbrief: US 9th Circuit Rules Religious Marijuana Use on Federal Lands Okay | Newsbrief: Cannabis Cafe Vows to Open in England, Another in Scotland | Newsbrief: Tennessee Town Pays for Drug Raid Killing | Newsbrief: Oakland Rogue Cops Go on Trial | Newsbrief: Will Foster Arrested on Minor Parole Violation in California, May Face Return to Oklahoma Prison | Newsbrief: Swaziland Row Over Rasta Royals | Newsbrief: Marijuana Advocate Sues Over Hawaii Aerial Eradication Program | Newsbrief: Ed Thompson Does Weedstock, Says Legalize It | Newsbrief: British Magazine "The New Statesman" Calls for Drug Legalization | Newsbrief: Weird Scenes Inside the Pretoria Ford Plant | The Reformer's Calendar
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