New Liberal government backflips on war on drugs. As part of the Liberal government’s election campaign, the promised to declare a war on drugs. This is as progressive countries around the world relax cannabis laws as declaring war does not work.
New Liberal government backflips on war on drugs
And, the Liberal government now runs South Australia and is true to its word. But, at what cost. Decriminalisation of cannabis possession came into effect in 1987 in the state. The government recently announced jail terms and quadrupling fines for illegal cannabis possession. This is not a popular move in a state where cannabis possession has been a minor offence for 32 years. The bill is having trouble gaining traction. Currently the most common offence is a fine of $125 for possessing less than 25 grams of cannabis. But, the government intends to hike the top penalty of $500 to a massive $2000 with jail terms of up to two years.
Current fines too soft
Previously Chapman likened the current fines as being too soft and like getting caught for jaywalking. She said her government’s laws were deliberate. The aim is to reduce people’s chance of help when caught as an alternative to receiving a harsher penalty. She endorses people having two chances, but that should be enough. The third time they should face harsher penalties.
While the government dropped jail terms for cannabis possession, fines will still quadruple. Other reforms in the bill will go to parliament. Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the government was not backing down on other reforms. These include increasing fines for those caught with cannabis for personal use. People can also go into a drug diversion program twice in four years. She said they removed jail terms from the bill because of a lack of support.
The ABC in Adelaide held a poll on its social media page to gauge the mood of the people. Only 723 people supported stronger penalties while 18,000 supported decriminalisation.
Fines are revenue raising, not a deterrent
Labor and the Greens opposed jail terms, and so did the medical and legal fraternity. The South Australian Law Society said the government proposals would clog up an already busy legal system. Medical experts said higher fines would not deter cannabis use. Both agreed cannabis use needed to be treated as a health issue not as a crime. They said that higher fines would directly attack people from a low socio-economic background and the homeless.
Deputy Labor leader Dr Susan Close said her party had not supported the bill. Labor does not support jailing people for possessing cannabis. She said the community does not want to see people jailed for possessing or smoking cannabis. It was more important to go after those behind organised crime. However, Labor does support higher fines.
Greens MLC Tammy Franks agreed and said she was glad the Liberals had dropped the idea of jailing people. She said it was an overreaction but not the only one in the bill. She said quadrupling fines was not based on any evidence and will not deter people. Ms Franks said this was just a revenue raising exercise and would be put to the test in the Upper House.
Deputy coroner recommends increasing cannabis fines
Increasing fines was a recommendation by the deputy coroner in 2017. Anthony Schapel made this recommendation in his findings into the 2012 murder of Lewis McPherson. Murderer Liam Humbles had come to police attention before the murder. Schapel questioned police about why they did not arrest Humbles. The police said the amount he had amounted to possession for personal use. They issued him with a diversion notice under SA law. There was no evidence he was dealing cannabis.
Before these new drug laws, they will be debated in the Upper House. It was due for a second reading in the Lower House on July 28, but it is currently adjourned.
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