Drug Law Reform

Overview

There have been a number of inquiries, reviews and commissioned investigations in Western Australia (WA) concerned with the adequacy of existing policies and potential reforms to manage problems attributable to the use of alcohol and other drugs.

Some of these reviews had a broad ambit, encompassing a range of issues, such as policies, prevention programs, licensing and regulation, treatment services and policing and drug laws, whereas others have been topic specific, as cannabis law reform.

There was a broad review undertaken by a Select Committee, concerned with the operation of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, which tabled reports in the WA Parliament in late 1997 and August 1998.

There have also been a number of reviews specifically concerned with the framework and provisions of the State’s criminal laws in relation to cannabis –

  • Working Party on Drug Law Reform (2001 – 2004)
  • Statutory Review of Cannabis Control Act 2003 (2007)

Select Committee Into Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (1997 – 1998)

The Select Committee was established by the Legislative Committee in June 1997. It was chaired by Chris Baker MLA.

A major stimulus for establishing the Select Committee had been a marked increase in accidental heroin related deaths (HRDs) in WA. Whereas there had been an average of 22 HRDs per year in the 1980s, the number of HRDs escalated throughout the 1990s, to a peak of 81 by 1999.

Against this backdrop of deep community concern, the inquiry was established to identify policies and options to manage the use of heroin and other illicit drugs by examining (1) the adequacy of existing legal sanctions in ameliorating the use of illicit drugs, and (2) the capacity of educational, health and community service support services to assist those affected by the use of illicit drugs 

Its two reports and Appendices were tabled in the WA Parliament in November 1997 and August 1998 – 

  • Taking the profit out of drug trafficking: An agenda for legal and administrative reforms in WA to protect the community from illicit drugs (November 1997)
  • Finding the right balance: Working together as a community to prevent harm from illicit drugs and to help individuals and families in need (August 1998)

To view or download PDF versions of each of these reports –

  • Interim report  – November 1997 [1.2MB]
  • Final report – August 1998 [1.4MB]
  • Final report – Appendices – August 1998  [987k]

Working Party on Drug Law Reform (2001 – 2004)

The Working Party on Drug Law Reform (WPDLR), was chaired by John Prior, then a practising Barrister and Solicitor. It was established by the Minister for Health in December 2001 following the WA Drug Summit held in August 2001.

The WPDLR was established to consult with stakeholders, investigate schemes elsewhere and configure options for the establishment of CIN scheme for minor cannabis offences in WA to expiate offences instead of being charged by the police, as had been recommended by the Drug Summit in August 2001.

The WPDLR produced two reports –

Implementation of a scheme of prohibition with civil penalties for the personal use of cannabis and other matter – Report 1

The first report of the WPDLR was published in March 2002 .

The WPDLR’s first term of reference related to cannabis law reform to provide a model for the implementation of a scheme in WA for minor cannabis offenders to be issued with infringement notices, as outlined in recommendation 39 of the Drug Summit.

The first report, Implementation of a scheme of prohibition with civil penalties for the personal use of cannabis and other matters.

Note: The cannabis infringement notice (CIN) scheme commenced on 22 March 2004. 

The report also included consideration of the feasibility of other reforms involving aspects of cannabis laws in WA. Most of the recommendations of the WPDLR with respect to establishing an infringement notice scheme were accepted and were used to create the Cannabis Control Bill 2003, which was introduced into the WA Parliament in March 2003.

Click here to view or download a PDF version [1.3MB] of the first report.

Law enforcement measures to reduce harms associated with injecting drug use in Western Australia – Report 2

The second report of the WPDLR was published in February 2004.

The WPDLR’s second term of reference was related to recommendation 40 of the Drug Summit and was concerned with improvements in legislative and administrative arrangements to better support key principles of harm reduction. Although this review was not concerned with cannabis law, it has been included here for convenience.

Click here to view or download a PDF version [926k] of the second report.

Statutory review of the CIN scheme (2007)

The statutory review examined the first three years operation of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 (CCA). Section 26 of the CCA included a provision for a review of the CIN scheme –

26. Review of Act

(1) The Minister is to carry out a review of the operation and effectiveness of this Act as soon as is practicable after the expiration of 3 years from its commencement, and in the course of that review the Minister is to consider and have regard to —

(a) whether there is a need for the Act to continue; and
(b) any other matters that appear to the Minister to be relevant to the operation and effectiveness of this Act.

A detailed and comprehensive review was undertaken and published as separate parts, which were tabled in the WA Parliament in November 2007 – 

  • Technical report [1.3MB]
  • Executive summary [236k]
  • Supplementary tables and figures [784k]
  • Appendices [2.5MB]

Review of the CIR scheme (2012)

There are no requirements for a statutory review of the operation of CIR reform, in either the Cannabis Law Reform Act 2010, nor in Part IIIA (setting out the cannabis intervention scheme) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981.

At this time the only information about the operation of the CIR scheme has been a media statement of 7 December 2012, released by the then Minister for Police and the Minister for Mental Health, concerning the first 12 months of the scheme.

The Liberal-National Government’s tougher cannabis laws have resulted in a 12-fold increase in the number of people attending mandatory cannabis education sessions compared to the rate of attendance under the previous legislation.

Police Minister Liza Harvey said a 12-month review of the laws showed the number and rate of individuals attending a cannabis intervention session (CIS) was about 12 times greater (63 per cent) than the rate of attendance at cannabis education sessions (five per cent) under the previous scheme.

Mrs Harvey said under the laws, which came into effect on August 1, 2011, people caught in possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis, or in possession of a smoking implement containing traces of cannabis, were required to attend the sessions.

“This data presents a positive picture of the work done by both WA Police and the Drug and Alcohol Office to ensure that the provision of these sessions is both accessible and effective,” she said.

In a 12-month period 1,442 individuals were issued with cannabis intervention requirements (CIRs) which mandated their attendance at a CIS.

Of those, 903 (63 per cent) successfully completed a CIS; 503 (35 per cent) were not expiated; and the remainder of the CIRs were withdrawn.

“I look forward to the continuation of this scheme and further analysis of the figures, in particular the impact they have on recidivism,” Mrs Harvey said.

Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said the review revealed 86 per cent of participants found the CIS treatment mostly or very useful.

“The vast majority of those who attend a CIS are reporting the session helped to increase their knowledge about health, social and legal issues, and about treatment options,” Mrs Morton said.

“Three-quarters of those surveyed said they were given referrals to other services, and just over half intended to get further treatment which is a great outcome for these people.”

The text of the media statement may be viewed or downloaded here, from an archive of media statements of the Barnet government.