Status - introduced to parliament
Drug abuse can have a devastating impact on individuals, their families and the broader community.
The Statutes Amendment (Drug Offences) Bill 2018 has been introduced into Parliament, and proposes a number of changes to crackdown on drug offenders. This includes increased penalties for cannabis possession in line with community expectations, and limiting the number of drug diversions before a person must be charged with an offence.
If passed, this Bill will change the Controlled Substances Act 1984 and the Sentencing Act 2017.
Drug diversion programs
Under the current law, police must allow a person who has been detected for a simple drug possession offence to participate in an intervention program as an alternative to entering the justice system.
If the person meets the requirements of the intervention program, they do not need to face court. There is currently no limit to the number of times an offender can participate in a drug diversion program.
If passed, this Bill will limit the number of times someone can enter a drug diversion program to 2 in a 4 year period. This change aims to prevent repeat drug offenders from using intervention programs to avoid court and serious penalties, while providing alternative treatment options for first and second time offenders who are seriously trying to rehabilitate.
The Bill recognises the harmful effects of ongoing cannabis use by increasing the maximum penalty for cannabis possession from $500 to $2,000.
If passed, police will still be able issue an expiation notice to a person caught with cannabis instead of prosecuting. An expiation notice allows the person to pay a fee instead of going through the court system.
Increasing penalties for serious drug offenders
Under current drug laws a person can be charged with either a basic offence or an aggravated offence, which attracts harsher penalties. For example, someone who manufactures drugs for sale can have their charges upgraded to an aggravated offence if they are making the drugs for a criminal organisation.
The Bill proposes that the court takes a person’s relevant criminal history into account when choosing a penalty, with ‘serious drug offenders’ facing the same tough penalties that apply to aggravated offences.
A person is considered a serious drug offender if they have 3 previous convictions in the past 10 years for drug offences, or 2 previous convictions in the past 10 years that involve commercial quantities of drugs or that involve children or school zones.
In addition, maximum fines have doubled from $500,000 to $1 million for people who traffic and manufacture large commercial amounts of controlled drugs and controlled plants.
Under the current law, someone who sells a controlled drug and is charged with a basic offence faces a maximum penalty of $50,000 or 10 years in prison, regardless of how many past drug convictions they have. Under the proposed changes, people with several drug convictions can face harsher penalties up to $75,000 or 15 years imprisonment, in line with penalties for an aggravated offence.
Increasing protections for children
If the Bill passes, a person will no longer be able to receive a suspended sentence or home detention order if they are charged with a drug offence that involves children or that occurs within a school zone. This includes anyone who sells or gives drugs to children.
The Bill also requires the court to consider whether a child was present where drugs were manufactured when choosing a penalty. This would apply in cases where drugs are made at a house where children live or are present.