The Minns Government is set to make big changes to New South Wales’s drug laws, by introducing an extensive pre-court diversion program for individuals in possession of small quantities of illegal substances.
It’s a move that could potentially see thousands of recreational users avoid jail time.
The Sydney Morning Herald has confirmed NSW Labor is about to unveil the changes in what will be the most substantial overhaul of drug laws in the state’s recent history.
The proposed changes, slated for introduction in parliament this week, includes a “two-strike” policy. It means individuals caught with small amounts of illicit drugs like ice, cocaine, and MDMA will have the option to receive fines and access health programs rather than being subject to criminal charges.
It is welcome news for drug advocates who have long been frustrated by NSW’s slow approach to changing its punitive stance on drug offences and signifies a change in direction from a government that previously had resisted calls for such changes.
NSW Health Minister Ryan Park emphasized that drug use and addiction are primarily health issues that are “Drug use and addiction Far better addressed through health support outside the courts and criminal justice systems”.
This is an evidence-based approach in line with community expectations. It responds directly to expert evidence, and recommendations from the Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug ice.
Under the new scheme, law enforcement will have authority to issue up to two fines of $400 to adults found with small quantities of drugs equivalent to a possession offence. But fines would be waived if individuals complete a “tailored drug and alcohol intervention.”
Former Premier Dominic Perrottet had announced plans to expand the pre-court diversion program but delayed it until after the election.
While Premier Chris Minns has expressed support for legalising cannabis, he has been resistant towards backing broader drug reform since taking office. But several senior ministers within his government are known supporters of reform and pressure from the Greens and the Legalise Cannabis Party has mounted.
Legalise Cannabis MP Jeremy Buckingham wrote to Attorney-General Michael Daley in August, urging him to expand the drug cautioning scheme and address existing provisions related to cannabis offences. Buckingham argued the reforms would improve outcomes for individuals with lower-level drug offences. He noted that the existing scheme disproportionately affected First Nations people and called for changes to rectify this.
Daley responded by expressing the view that formal involvement with the criminal justice system only increases the chances of people reoffending and that necessary health support should be offered instead of becoming entangled in the criminal justice system.
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