NSW Cabinet is split over a proposal to effectively decriminalise small quantities of illicit drugs with drug users to be given three warnings before being charged.
The NSW government is considering the new approach, which would see penalties imposed for the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.
It’s understood Cabinet has broadly agreed to a proposal from Attorney-General Mark Speakman on Monday night in response to the inquiry into the drug ice.
The move follows recommendations for drug law reform arising from an inquiry into the use of the drug ice as well as a spate of deaths linked to drug use at music festivals.
The key recommendation was that drug users caught with illicit drugs for personal use be warned and issued with infringement notices while criminal penalties would be reserved for the fourth offence.
However the Telegraph is reporting the plan horrified Police Minister David Elliott, conservative ministers and the Nationals.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the policy had not been approved by Cabinet and would be badly received in ice-riddled rural communities.
“I know we will have more to say about it when it does, and if it does and what it looks like,” he told radio 2GB on Thursday.
“We’re not going soft on crime and we will continue to make sure when it comes to drug dealers … that they get the maximum,” he said.
The ice pandemic in the state’s central west was destroying families, businesses and the next generation, he said.
“Ill be listening to the police. I know what they want,” he said.
“I know how hard they want us to deter people from getting into drugs,” he said.
There were many country towns in NSW where the the biggest crime statistics related to drug possession, drug use and drug supply.
He believed the increased JobSeeker payments that had been made available during the pandemic had been used to buy more drugs in the region.
“The best thing we can do for our children is not to normalise drugs,” he said.
“I’ve seen families destroyed, I’ve seen communities destroyed and we cannot go soft on drugs at all and that will be my stance.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the policy change would rebalance civil rights and police powers.
“These are modest changes, far from full decriminalisation, but if they do become law they will reduce unnecessary and aggressive policing of minor drug offences,” he said.
Greens MP and drug law reform spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said the policy change would be a “game changer”.
“Young people have been harassed for too long in NSW for simply doing something that almost half of us have done in our lifetimes, and that is use an illegal drug,” she said.
“With one in six Australian adults having used an illicit drug in the past year, it’s clear that the war on drugs has failed.
“Across the world we are seeing the dominoes fall. All eight drug law reform ballots in the recent United States election passed, including full decriminalisation in Oregon.”
According to the Greens, the move away from heavy penalties would see the introduction of a fine-based system for dealing with people caught with a personal quantity of drugs.