Adjourned debate on second reading. (Continued from 22 November. Page 1111.)
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to indicate Liberal opposition support for this measure. I congratulate the honourable member and Family First for bringing this important issue to our attention. It is, indeed, consistent with the Liberal Party policy that we took to the last election to support this measure. I will not outline the deleterious health effects of the consumption of cannabis. I have previously outlined that in a speech in support of the Hon. Ann Bressington’s bill, which I will loosely call the ‘hydroponics and bongs and pipes bill’, which is still on the Notice Paper. However, I strongly believe that the evidence has swung against the urban myth that has been perpetuated for some time, which is that cannabis is a so-called soft drug and does not cause people much harm.
It is true that, if someone smokes one joint, they are unlikely to run themselves into the same risk as a number of other drugs, such as methamphetamines and the like. However, in the long run, it involves serious risks. That evidence has been proved, and it is something that is now being expounded by organisations such as the AMA, which obviously relies very strongly on medical evidence.
Cannabis is not a legal substance, and that is a common misconception within our community. Certainly, the fact that possession of one plant could attract a meagre fine of $150 (now $300) does not send the message to the community that this is, in fact, an illegal and potentially very dangerous substance. That fine regime has been in place for some time, and it has only recently changed through the regulations. I note from the publication produced by the Australian National Council on Drugs entitled ‘Cannabis: answers to your questions’ that, prior to the regulations being changed, South Australia—surprise, surprise—had the most lax laws in the country in relation to possession for cannabis. So, we have gone from taking the wooden spoon award on that one and moved up slightly to being a little tougher. However, the Liberal opposition believes that this still is not a strong enough message, which is the basis for our supporting this bill.
It is well known that South Australia has a very unhealthy cottage industry of hydroponically grown cannabis. In the past three months there have been incidents of people growing it in their homes—indeed, one in my town of Bridgewater—and coming to grief because of electricity faults arising from the growing of it. Clearly, changing the law may not prevent those sorts of events occurring, but I make the point because it is well known that a number of these workshops exist around the state. They are probably cultivated by illegal groups and the people who cultivate them are placing their health at risk in a range of different ways.
Under the current regime, one offence is the same as 100 offences in the sense that it attracts only an expiation fee, so no record is kept by SAPOL in terms of being able to detect repeat offenders. In other regimes we have the police drug diversion initiative which at least puts people through counselling so they can address some of their addictions and other underlying issues, but with this particular regime the possession of one plant amounts to a slap on the wrist. When one considers the street value of one plant, we do not think it is a good message to send to the community. There is also evidence that the police have given up on continuing to use the infringement notice scheme. The number of notices has been falling over the years from a high in 2001 of close to 8 500 to 5 500 in 2003; and certainly anecdotal advice theopposition has received from hardworking members of the police force is that they do not see any point in issuing notices because there is no consequence for it.
South Australia is in the company of the ACT, the Northern Territory and Western Australia in having such a scheme. In New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria possession attracts criminal penalties, although those states do have systems of formal cautions and diversionary programs for first offenders. Given the late hour of the evening and the length of the agenda, I indicate the opposition’s support for this bill.