SECRET SOFT TURN ON HARD DRUGS
People caught with small amounts of hard drugs including heroin and
amphetamines are being let off with a caution under a controversial change
to police procedures that has been operating for seven months.
The change, introduced without announcement, lets people caught for the
first time with up to half a gram of amphetamines or heroin or up to two
tablets of ecstasy or other drugs to escape criminal penalty by going to
three counselling sessions.
The State Opposition says the change shows the State Government is soft on
WA Police Service rules were changed in January to allow small-time users
who admit their guilt, have not offended before and were not involved in
another crime when caught with the drug, to be diverted out of the justice
system and into the health system. They are charged with the drug offence
if they do not attend counselling.
Coalition deputy and National Party leader Max Trenorden attacked the new
rules, saying the State Government was sending the WA community the wrong
message about drugs.
"These are the drugs that parents worry about when their kids go to
nightclubs," he said.
"They are sending the message that it's all right to go around with small
amounts of drugs. It will encourage trafficking because people know they
can get away with it. That is a significant change to drug enforcement and
they did it without telling the population as a whole."
But Drug and Alcohol Office acting executive director Steve Allsop said the
diversion program was restricted to small numbers of people and was part of
a national initiative funded by the Federal Government and supported by all
"I think it has been shown to be effective because if somebody is referred
to compulsory treatment, it is an effective way of getting them off drugs,"
Professor Allsop said.
He rejected claims the program had been kept quiet because of fear of
public backlash, saying it had just not been launched with any fanfare.
It was an extension of a trial that began under the former Court
Government, in December 2000, and operated in Geraldton, Perth and
Mirrabooka, he said.
The trial ended and became formal police policy across the State on January
1. Legislative change was not required.
Since January 1 this year, 32 people caught with illicit drugs have been
diverted to treatment under the program. Nineteen have completed counselling.
Of those 19, all were caught with amphetamine-like substances, including
amphetamine, methylamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy).
But people caught with small amounts of cannabis or growing two plants or
fewer cannot go through the diversion program. They must opt for a fine or
one education session under controversial new laws that took effect in March.
Professor Allsop said it was too early to say if the trial had reduced
re-offending rates for drug offences, saying it would be evaluated when
more people had been through it.