Newsbrief: Marijuana Reform Under Attack in Western Australia 2/11/05

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The Western Australia Labor government of Premier Geoff Gallop is under broad attack for its liberalization of the marijuana laws in the state. The state opposition coalition, the state medical association, various advocacy groups, and the federal government are all aiming arrows at the law and the state Labor Party as elections loom.

In March 2004, the huge but sparsely populated state became the second in Australia to decriminalize marijuana. Under the law adopted then, people caught in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana are ticketed and fined -- not charged with a criminal offense, but instead cited for a "Cannabis Infringement Notice." Fines range up to $100 Australian for quantities under 15 grams and $150 Australian for quantities over 15 grams but less than 30 grams. People ticketed can avoid paying the fines by instead attending a "Cannabis Education Session," where they will be warned of the dangers of the weed. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also downgraded from a "simple offense" (the equivalent of a misdemeanor) to a ticketable offense.

The law also makes growing of up to two plants a ticketable offense, but lowers the threshold for the "serious offense" (felony) of marijuana cultivation from 25 plants to 10 plants. And in a reflection of the uniquely Australian obsession with hydroponic marijuana cultivation, any number of hydroponically grown marijuana plants remains a criminal offense. The new law also created the new offense of selling hydroponic equipment for the purpose of growing marijuana.

But in the run-up to elections, the state opposition is calling for the law to be throw out and the return of zero tolerance. "Not only is the possession of cannabis no longer a criminal offence, Dr. Gallop has actually allowed people to grow cannabis in their backyard," said opposition leader Colin Barnett. The state government has been too soft on marijuana, ignoring its alleged links to mental health problems, organized crime, and hard drug use, he added. "There is increasing evidence that cannabis is often associated with mental health problems," he said. "There's evidence of cannabis associated with road trauma. It is a mind-altering substance and Dr Gallop has put the youth of Western Australia at risk by his approach of decriminalizing cannabis, allowing the cultivation of cannabis in suburban backyards."

The opposition has unveiled a plan to repeal decriminalization, but provide that people caught with less than 10 grams would be punished only by a warning. Even that retrenchment is not enough for the Western Australia branch of the Australian Medical Association. Association state president Paul Skerritt told the Western Australian newspaper last week that even first-time users should be sentenced to drug treatment. "We want a sentencing policy which corrects the problem, and that's not necessarily jail time but could be through strict court-imposed treatment regimes," Skerritt said. "Now, you get a little bit of a slap on the hand, an on-the-spot fine and therefore the Government is endorsing the totally incorrect idea that these drugs are soft," he said.

The Western Australia AMA is in conflict with the national association. AMA federal president Bill Glasson told the newspaper he supported decriminalization for personal use and did not think criminal sanctions were the correct approach.

Ironically, Western Australia cabinet ministers have attacked the opposition plan as "too soft." Letting people off with a warning is unacceptable, charged Health Minister Jim McGinty. "That's not good enough. We need to bring home to people the consequences of their cannabis use," he said. "If the Liberals are going to go back to the regime they had in place when they were in government, it is softer," he said.

Meanwhile, the conservative federal government has jumped into the fray, with Justice Minister Chris Ellison accusing the Western Australia government of fostering organized crime. "One plant harvested four times a year can produce up to eight kilograms of cannabis a year," he said. "That has a street value of around about $84,000. You can see that the potential for the development of organized crime is extremely dangerous."

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Issue #374 -- 2/11/05

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Editorial: A Cautious First Step | First North American Heroin Maintenance Study Now Underway in Vancouver | DRCNet Interview: Marijuana Policy Project Director Rob Kampia | DRCNet Book Review: "It's Just a Plant," by Ricardo Cortes (2005, Magic Propaganda Mill, $17.95 HB) | Drug War Chronicle's Phil Smith Featured in New Book -- "Under The Influence" Available as DRCNet Premium | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: Memphis Taxpayers to Pay Big Time for Police Drug Raid Killing | Newsbrief: Bush Budget Slashes Funds for Local Police, Increases DEA Funding | Newsbrief: What Meth Epidemic? National Survey Shows Amphetamine Use Unchanged from Year Earlier | Newsbrief: Death Squad Killings Spike Upward in Davao | Newsbrief: Indian Government Blinks in Face of Threatened Drug Shortage | Newsbrief: Marijuana Reform Under Attack in Western Australia | Newsbrief: Bob Marley Birthday Bash in Addis Ababa Comes Off Without a Hitch | Newsbrief: London Police Chief Ramps Up Rhetorical War on Middle-Class Cocaine Use | Web Scan: Debra Saunders, Drug War Carol, DPA Web Chat, Drug Truth Radio | This Week in History | Errata: Meth Bill Sponsor | The Reformer's Calendar

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