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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3576..

Drugs of Dependence Amendment Bill 2003

Mr Stefaniak , pursuant to notice, presented the bill.

Title read by acting clerk.

MR STEFANIAK (10.35): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, in the early 1990s in the territory, following some reforms in South Australia, it was decided by this Assembly-I think it was the Second Assembly, but I do recall thinking it was a very good idea-that there would be infringement notices for basic cannabis offences. The basic offences included possession of cannabis-less than 25 grams-which is obviously for people's own use, and using cannabis, which included up to five plants. That has been a bit contentious because five plants can actually weigh quite a lot. Indeed, often they can weigh over 100 grams, which is the lowest trafficable quantity of cannabis. Nevertheless, the legislation had up to five plants and that was a simple offence.

I seem to recall that, initially, the penalties were very low-$100. There might have even been some $40 penalties initially, but that was fairly quickly made $100 for the three types of offences, and there it has stayed. I think there are very good reasons for increasing the penalty. One of those reasons is that, quite simply, as I indicated, $100 is a very low penalty. When you look at other infringement notice situations, you find that the minimum notice you will get for the lowest possible speeding offence-zero to 15 kilometres-is now $123. If you park near or on a pedestrian crossing, you will get a parking ticket worth $220.

I see, in fact, a bill before this house at present in relation to one of the various JACS amendments that include a list of infringement notices for motor traders ranging from about $500 up to $750. An infringement notice for only $100 is very low indeed, and I do not think that it reflects the gravity of the situation. I think that possessing and smoking cannabis is a lot more serious than a basic parking offence.

When one looks at the current act, too, it is a bit out of kilter with some of the other penalties. I am by no means criticising the other penalties; I think they are quite appropriate. However, for example, at present, if you have five cannabis plants, you will only be pinged $100 if you are taken to court or if you get a simple cannabis infringement notice. However, if you have six plants, you will be caught by proposed section 162 (3) (c) (i) which, in the case of anywhere between six and 20 cannabis plants, stipulates a fine of $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years. $100 looks a little bit out of kilter there.

What I am proposing today is not particularly severe by any stretch of the imagination. It merely raises the fine for simple possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis to $200, two penalty units. Someone caught smoking or possessing a joint of cannabis would be fined $200 instead of $100 and, for possessing up to five plants, one penalty unit of $100 for each plant. In other words, if they are picked up with one plant, they are fined $100; two

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