The Criminal Law Committee of the NSW Bar Association decided to look at the available research on illicit drugs and the current government drug strategy in order to come to a view on whether law reform was necessary. In a detailed discussion paper, the committee considered options for reform. One possibility is decriminalisation of cannabis, a drug where the risk of harm, while real, appears modest compared with other illicit drugs and even alcohol and tobacco. That would have a significant impact, given that 12,000 offences for possess/use cannabis were dealt with in NSW courts in 2012-13. (Fact sheet: Cannabis and the law in Australia)
Ecstasy users should not be charged by police, former Labor health minister Neal Blewett said during a provocative keynote address to the peak police drug and alcohol forum in Australasia. Dr Blewett believes resources should target the most serious drug abusers, adding that cannabis laws around the country were ''chaotic'' and also needed reform. ''Already we struggle with drugs, including designer drugs scarcely on our horizon in the past,'' said Dr Blewett.
A report by a group of prominent Australians that recommends Australia rethink its criminalisation of illicit drugs has been backed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association. The report recommended that cannabis and ecstasy be decriminalised for people aged 16 and older, who are willing to be recorded on a national confidential user's register. Users would be able to purchase drugs from an approved supplier, likely a chemist.
A number of other countries have implemented changes in law that significantly reduce the extent of criminalization of marijuana use. Only in Australia and the Netherlands have there been any changes on the criminalization of the supply side and in neither of those countries is it legal to both produce and sell the drug. The relaxations so far, with the exception of the Netherlands, have not been very great i.e. have not much changed the legal risks faced by a user of marijuana. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that the changes in prevalence of use have not been substantial. This paper provides a brief review of the changes that have been tried outside the US. The emphasis is on the nature of the changes and how they have been implemented rather than on outcomes.
In Australia a vicious debate on cannabis policy started when Alex Wodak, the head of the Sydney drug and alcohol clinic at St Vincent's Hospital, suggested that marijuana be regulated like alcohol or tobacco. He proposed to sell cannabis legally in post offices in packets that warn against its effects.
Windows of opportunity for changing drug laws open infrequently and they often close without legislative change being affected. In this paper the author, who has been intimately involved in the process, describes how evidence-based recommendations to ‘decriminalize’ cannabis have recently been progressed through public debate and the political process to become law in Western Australia (WA). This paper describes some of the background to the scheme, the process by which it has become law, the main provisions of the scheme and its evaluation. It includes reflections on the role of politics and the press in the process.
Cannabis is the cutting-edge drug for reform, the only politically plausible candidate for major legal change, at least decriminalisation (removal of criminal penalties for possession) and perhaps even outright legalisation (permitting production and sale). Compared with other drugs, the harms, physiological or behavioural, are less severe and the drug is better integrated into the culture. Throughout Western Europe and in the Antipodes there is pressure for reductions in the punitiveness of the marijuana regime.