Before the election, the Liberals promised to increase penalties for drug offences, including quadrupling the fine for cannabis possession from $500 to $2000. It also promised a review of all penalties under the Controlled Substances Act – a policy which led to the new Government introducing draft legislation last month.
The proposed amendments would have increased penalties for cannabis possession, including introducing a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.
InDaily can reveal that Cabinet decided this week to drop jail terms for cannabis possession from the Bill, in response to widespread opposition and the likelihood that it would have faced a difficult path through Parliament.
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said today the decision to remove imprisonment from the Bill was a “direct response to community concerns raised over recent weeks, and concerns from other Members of Parliament in both houses”.
“When developing these changes, our intent was to align with the recommendations of the Deputy State Coroner in his inquest into the tragic death of Lewis McPherson, by increasing cannabis penalties to match other drugs,” Chapman said.
“However, based on the feedback we have received since these changes were introduced, it is clear that this is not in line with the views of a significant portion of the community.
“We have listened to the community and our colleagues and are removing the proposed penalty of imprisonment for these simple cannabis offences.”
The move, she said, is also designed to ensure a swift passage of the Bill through Parliament, to “ensure the other key aspects are operational to be able to target high-end commercial producers and sellers, and organised crime syndicates”.
Chapman said other measures to strengthen drug laws would remain in the Bill, including increasing fines for cannabis possession to $2000, limiting drug diversions, and increasing penalties for serious offenders.
Labor had argued that a jail term for cannabis possession was a disproportionate punishment, especially for young offenders.
The Law Society has raised serious issues with the Bill, including the proposal to introduce jail terms for cannabis possession.
In its submission to the Government on the proposed changes, it says “insufficient evidence-based justification has been provided for increasing penalties or limiting drug diversions. The Bill, in our view, fails to sufficiently recognise that drug addiction is a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue”.
Acting Shadow Attorney-General Susan Close described Chapman’s announcement as a “humiliating backflip”.
“It is clear she has been rolled by her Cabinet in the face of public backlash against this change,” Close said.
“Now, after being forced into dropping the penalty of prison time for cannabis possession, Ms Chapman quietly announces it on a Friday afternoon.
“Labor supports increasing penalties for drug trafficking and manufacturing, but facing jail time for a first time cannabis possession offence is disproportionate.”
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