By Alfa · Jul 26, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    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
    other States.

    "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.

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