It’s been 12 months since the ACT decriminalised cannabis use, and pressure is building for NSW to follow suit.
State Labor MP Rose Jackson, an advocate for cannabis reform, recently took to social media to argue in favour of decriminalisation. Though this view isn’t widely supported by other state politicians, Jackson argued that the figures back her up:
“Despite the fact that there were warnings about adverse health outcomes, there’s been no increase in hospitalisations in the last 12 months,” she said.
“Despite the fact there were warnings about increased illicit drug use, cannabis use is stable in the ACT, and in fact the only change is a 90% drop in cannabis offenses.”
“This reform has been absolutely successful in the ACT, and it’s time NSW got its act together and decriminalised cannabis in this state.”
Last year, the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise personal possession of cannabis. Under the new laws, any adult in the territory is able to grow up to two cannabis plants (or four per household), and be in possession of up to 50 grams of dry cannabis (or 150 of wet cannabis).
The move was met with criticism by conservative MPs, notably Attorney-General Christian Porter, who said he hoped Federal Police would ignore the new laws, and continue penalising those found in possession of cannabis.
Cannabis Decriminalisation A Success, Despite Criticism
However, decriminalisation has since proved a success in the ACT.
In previous years, almost half of the drug arrests in Canberra were for cannabis, three-quarters of which were consumers not dealers – tying up significant police and court resources. Jackson argues that this means more “police resources to deal with real community safety issues.”
A paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy backs up this claim, finding that “decriminalisation has succeeded in reducing enforcement and other costs without increasing the problems associated with cannabis use.”
Mark Davis, principal of Sydney City Crime, has also expressed frustration with the State’s drug laws, arguing that overzealous policing has “corrupted our legal system, and tied up the court system, over petty drug convictions.”
Internationally, over 33 countries have now decriminalised or legalised cannabis – with Joe Biden set to decriminalise the drug across the United States.
However, in NSW the Berejiklian Government has refused to back calls for the state to follow suit – ignoring advice from their own experts.
NSW Governemnt Ignores Own Expert Advice
Last year, a special inquiry commissioned by the NSW Government found criminalisation of drug use had caused “disproportionate harm” to users, was “not effective” in curbing drug use.
“[B]y stigmatising people who use and possess illicit drugs as criminals, we are marginalising them and raising significant barriers that discourage them from seeking help,” commissioner Dan Howard wrote in his forward to the report.
“This makes it much harder for our health system and other agencies of social support to identify and help them. It is clear from the evidence that this dynamic is causing our society harm that significantly outweighs any benefit from the limited deterrent of treating people who use or possess drugs as criminals.”
In remarks that closely mirrored a recent coroner’s report, the commission also recommended pill testing and the abolishment of drug dogs, finding that “the risk to health and life caused by deploying drug detection dogs” at music festivals was “not justified”.
However, in her response to the report Gladys Berejiklian ruled out decriminalising drug use, saying her government “will not be going down that path”.
While the Government has ruled out decriminalisation, it’s worth noting that NSW already uses forms of depenalisation for drug possession.
The cannabis cautioning system, which has been in place since 2000, allows police to issue a warning for people caught with small amounts of cannabis. Similarly, those charged for possession can apply for a Section 10, which allows offenders to plead guilty but avoid having a conviction recorded.