Moves by the Labor government in New South Wales to introduce a ‘two-strike’ pre-court diversionary scheme for personal drug use have been broadly welcomed by campaigners, but there are concerns the changes don’t go far enough. 

Under the proposals, to be introduced in parliament this week, people caught with small quantities of illicit drugs such as ice, cocaine and MDMA would be given the option of receiving a fine or accessing health programs rather than facing criminal charges.

Police would be able to issue up to two A$400 fines to adults caught with small quantities of drugs equivalent to a possession offence, but the fine would be wiped if they completed a “tailored drug and alcohol intervention”.

Greens MP and spokesperson for drug law reform and harm reduction Cate Faehrmann

Health minister Ryan Park said the proposals were a direct response to Professor Dan Howard’s Special Commission of Inquiry into ice, which in 2020 recommended the complete decriminalisation of drug possession in the state, as well as the introduction of pill testing at music festivals and the abolition of drug dogs.

But Greens MP and spokesperson for drug law reform and harm reduction Cate Faehrmann said the continuing use of police discretion meant the new policy would replicate the racial bias evident in the existing Cannabis Cautioning Scheme.

“The Ice Inquiry Commissioner specifically recommended that police discretion be removed from the process,” she said.

“This is because evidence from the existing Cannabis Cautioning Scheme shows that only one in 10 First Nations adults were diverted from court under the scheme, compared to more than one in four non-Aboriginal adults.”

While welcoming the “very small step” in “ensuring drug use is treated as a health issue… rather than a criminal one”, Faehrmann insisted it doesn’t go far enough.

“This new, expanded scheme must be matched with a scaling back of police operations which deliberately target individuals on the suspicion they may be carrying drugs for personal use,” she said.

“This means scrapping sniffer dog operations at train stations, in pubs, clubs, on the streets and at music festivals.

“The Greens will continue to push for the removal of all penalties, including fines, for personal drug use and possession.

“We will continue to push the government to introduce a taxed and regulated market for cannabis, like many other jurisdictions around the world are doing, and to reform our unfair drug-driving laws that discriminate against people who use medicinal cannabis.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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