DRUGS: by Richard EganNews Weekly
WA to go ahead with cannabis toleration
, June 15, 2002
The Gallop Government has decided to introduce legislation before the end of the year to allow individuals to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and individuals or households to grow up to two outdoor (that is not hydroponic) cannabis plants subject only to fines or attendance at an education session.
The decision to proceed with legislation was made by Cabinet several weeks after it received the Report of the Working Party on Drug Law Reform set up to advise the Government on how to implement a recommendation for cannabis law reform from last year's Community Drug Summit.Expensive failure
The Coalition Against Drugs (WA) believes that its campaign, and pressure from the Opposition, resulted in Cabinet's recognition that the South Australian experiment with a system of fines for cannabis cultivation had led to an expansion of organised crime and the involvement of households in networks of cannabis suppliers.
This recognition is reflected in the decision to retain criminal penalties for hydroponic cultivation and to impose the two plant limit on households not just on individuals.
However, the Coalition Against Drugs (WA) is firmly opposed to the proposal. It believes the two plant and the 30 grams limit are both too high. Two outdoor cannabis plants can yield at least 600 grams of cannabis with a street value of over $4,000.
The Report of the Working Party claims that two plants "is a viable number for people growing their own cannabis for personal use" but gives no justification for this claim.
The Report justifies the 30 grams limit for possession on the basis that street deals are carried out in one ounce lots (28 g) and to retain criminal penalties for possession of one ounce of cannabis would "unnecessarily criminalise significant numbers of users for no societal benefit".
However, 30 grams of cannabis is sufficient for 30-60 joints. Many of those purchasing one ounce deals would be reselling to others in smaller amounts.
The Report acknowledges the impossibility of reconciling the two plant limit, with its potential yield of 600 grams or more of cannabis with the limit for possession of 30 g.
Moreover, the Working Party, and apparently Cabinet, have decided to leave this discrepancy to the police and the courts to sort out.
The proposed legislation will give those served a notice the alternative of paying a fine - $100 for possession of 15 grams or less; $150 for 30 grams or less; $200 for cultivation of up to two plants - or "completing a specified cannabis education session". This system will apply to all adults. There is no limit to the number of times a person can be served with a notice.
The Coalition Against Drugs has characterised the proposal as inviting Western Australians to "embark on a life-long program of cannabis cultivation and use provided they are prepared to occasionally pay up to a $200 fine or attend an 'education' session".Ineffective
The Coalition has pointed out that those attending an education session merely to avoid a fine are unlikely to pay attention let alone change their behaviour .
The Coalition has accused the Health Minister Bob Kucera, who is responsible for the proposed legislation, of showing a reckless disregard for the health of Western Australians.
Recent reports on the health risks of cannabis use include confirmation of the following risks: memory loss, depression, loss of motivation, triggering of schizophrenia, breast cancer in males and cancer of the tongue and larynx.
The Coalition has also observed that permitting families with children to grow up to two cannabis plants is going to make cannabis more readily available to children and to undermine efforts made through the School Drug Education Program to warn children of the health risks of cannabis use.
Liberal leader Colin Barnett has said that his party will oppose the legislation and expects that drugs would become the main issue on which the next State election, due in February 2005, would be fought.