Criminal Legislation Amendment Bill

About this Item
SpeakersNile Reverend The Hon Fred; Jones The Hon Richard; Shaw The Hon Jeffrey
BusinessBill, In Committee, Amendment

In Committee

Schedule 1

Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [10.43], by leave: I move amendments Nos 1 and 2 circulated in my name in globo:

No. 1 Page 12, Schedule 1.5 [2] line 15. Omit "(other than cannabis leaf)".

No. 2 Page 12, Schedule 1.5 [3] line 21. Omit "(other than cannabis leaf)".

As I foreshadowed during the second reading debate, I raise a point of policy and principle about whether it is wise to start to distinguish specific drugs amongst the category of prohibited drugs. Item [3] of schedule 1.5 to this bill is to be inserted into the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 No. 226. These measures have the positive effect of increasing the penalties for those of or above the age of 18 who supply, or who knowingly take part in the supply of, an amount of a prohibited drug, other than cannabis leaf, to a person under the age of 16 years. I make the same point about new subsections 2A and 2B of section 25.

I ask why the distinction should be made between a prohibited drug and the words "cannabis leaf" appearing in brackets. By implication that is saying there are prohibited drugs but cannabis leaf is not as harmful or serious so it is to be excluded. The term "prohibited drug" has previously covered all those prohibited drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana or cannabis, and so on. It is a bad precedent to make this exception. I realise these amendments are not decriminalising or legalising marijuana, but it suggests that marijuana is not as serious as the other drugs. Young people are far more inclined to be offered marijuana as the initial drug than heroin or other drugs.

The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [10.47]: I accept that Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is sincere in his wish to make sure that cannabis remains totally prohibited and its use remains a crime. One day legislation may be brought before this House to make tobacco and alcohol use a crime as well. I understand that he wishes to prohibit all these things.

Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: I did not say that.

The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: You did not say that but you have said previously in another debate that you would not yet want to make alcohol illegal, but at one point you may wish to make alcohol illegal. I understand where Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is coming from and it may have merit amongst a minority. It is my view that if people wish to have a tipple, as a few people did this evening in a celebratory farewell party, that is fine as long as no-one drives a car and kills someone or themselves. It is okay to smoke tobacco as long the smokers pick up the health costs and do not influence anyone else. Likewise, cannabis has reached a level of acceptance in the community, in spite of those who wish to oppose it. I agree that all drugs have a degree of harmfulness, and I accept that science shows that also. But a large number of young people, for good or for worse, smoke cannabis leaf. In fact, 70 per cent of students at Byron Bay High School smoke cannabis leaf and, if that percentage is correct, it is extraordinarily high. There is time now to differentiate between drugs, and we must accept that some drugs are much more harmful than others.

Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: It is not the use, it is the supply.

The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Yes, I understand it is supplying, but a boyfriend may be supplying a drug to a student girlfriend some years younger, and they can get into terrible trouble for that. Regrettably that will happen anyway. One must draw the line at the really hard drugs and ensure that we get rid of the white powders which are causing the most damage in the community. This is particularly true of Kings Cross, where there is corruption, death and an enormous drug-related crime wave. I understand the stance taken by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, but I will not be supporting the amendments. I think distinctions should be drawn.

The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [10.48]: I thank Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile for his courtesy in giving honourable members advance notice of his amendments. The Government cannot accept the amendments. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is quite correct in saying that nothing in this bill changes the existing law with respect to cannabis; it does not change the offences with respect to the use or sale of cannabis. However, it does create a new offence of selling drugs to children, and, in particular, it defines those drugs as being hard drugs - excluding cannabis. The Government takes the view that it is unnecessary to include cannabis in this new offence. There are reasonable grounds - medical and other evidence - to distinguish cannabis from other drugs. For example, it has been suggested to me that no deaths have been caused from cannabis use. On that ground alone, a reasonable and rational case can be made for making this distinction from other drugs.

I place on record the way the courts have dealt with cannabis as distinct from other prohibited drugs. The New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal has stated from time to time that cannabis is at the bottom rung regarding the potential danger of prohibited drugs. This is also the case when considering the maximum penalties attributed to the supply of cannabis as opposed to other prohibited drugs under the Act. In ascending order of severity, the judgments of the courts referred to cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, heroin and cocaine. The Court of Criminal Appeal in Western Australia, in a case decided in 1989, referred to a hierarchy of sentencing relating to the likely deleterious effects of the drug. That case concerned the drug ecstasy and the court based its conclusion on the view that ecstasy was
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more serious than cannabis resin and its derivatives, but less serious than LSD, cocaine or heroin. The submission related to a comparison of ecstasy with other prohibited drugs. We appreciate the obvious sincerity of the member moving the amendments, but the amendments are unnecessary and undesirable for this new crime.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported from Committee without amendment and passed through remaining stages.