Proposed Changes to NSW Drug Laws
The Greens have introduced the Cannabis Legislation Bill 2020 which proposes to legalise the possession, consumption, personal cultivation, sale and purchase of cannabis for people over the age of 18.
Currently the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985, prohibits the possession and supply of illicit drugs, including cannabis.
However, in NSW the ‘Cannabis Cautioning Scheme’ gives NSW police officers the discretion, in certain circumstances, to formally caution adult offenders detected for minor cannabis offences, instead of formally charging the person.
Similarly, under the Young Offenders Act 1997, police can give young people who commit minor drug offences a warning, caution or conference, in order to divert them from the criminal justice system.
The Bill, introduced into parliament by NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, proposes to make several changes to the current laws.
Fundamentally, the bill proposes to decriminalise cannabis use. This means possessing cannabis and cultivating cannabis for personal use would be legal for persons over 18 years of age. The bill allows for personal cultivation of cannabis plants, allowing up to a maximum of 6 plants for a two-person household or 12 plants for a household with more than two people.
The Act would create several offences, designed to protect minors. The offences aim at limiting the access minors have to cannabis by prohibiting the sale or other supply of cannabis and cannabis products to minors. The act also creates an offence of exposing minors to cannabis emissions.
The Bill also stipulates a licensing scheme for those who wish to produce or distribute cannabis and creates an authority to regulate the cannabis industry in NSW.
Why change the law?
Proponents for the changes suggest, that those who are caught with small amounts of cannabis should be spared the prospect of a criminal conviction and the consequences of the criminal law. Instead, they advocate for a public health approach, which creates an inclusive environment to support treatment for drug use issues.
In the second reading speech, Ms Faehrmann highlighted some key reasons in favour of this approach. She highlighted that more than 1 in 3 Australians over the age of 14 will use cannabis over their lifetime. Despite current prohibitions, it is evident the criminal justice system has not deterred people from using cannabis. Instead, people are currently using cannabis in an environment which is unregulated and where they are not provided information about the adverse health effects.
This Bill proposes to ensure cannabis products are labelled with information and health warnings, in the same way alcohol and tobacco are. The Bill also provides for a cannabis authority which would regulate the cannabis industry in NSW, including the ways in which cannabis is produced.
The Greens also suggest that legalising cannabis will have positive effects for the economy. They highlight the significant cost to the government of cannabis prohibition, including significant costs in policing and NSW courts services. They suggest the cannabis industry would also create jobs in retail, distribution, research and development as well as education and training.
Will the laws be changed?
The Bill is expected to be debated in parliament later this year. The Bill will need to receive the support of the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
While the Liberal party has considered changing drug laws to provide for lower penalties for low-level drug possession, Gladys Berejiklian has stated her government will not support the decriminalisation of drugs. It remains to be seen if the Bill will get enough support to pass.