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Tasmania Moves Towards Cannabis Decriminalisation

In an Australian first, Tasmanian cannabis smokers will, from next year, be given up to three chances to reform their ways before they face criminal charges. John Howard reports.

It will also mean people caught with small amounts of ecstasy, heroin or cocaine for the first time will be let off without conviction if they choose to seek help instead.

The move is being described as a bold new approach and is an Australian first. The plan is that it will move illicit drug users away from the court system and into assessment, treatment and education programs.

Unveiled by the Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge and Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon, it won immediate praise from Tasmanian police and drug rehabilitation workers.

"Clearly, the solutions of old haven't worked," Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Johnston said.

Under the new plan:

People caught with cannabis for personal use will be given a choice of being charged or undergoing compulsory assessment, and then education and/or treatment.

This will apply to their second and third offences. The cautioning system for first offenders will continue and charges will apply for the fourth misdemeanor.

People caught with small amounts of hard drugs, like heroin, for the first time, will be given the option of receiving help instead of being charged. If they choose the latter option, they could face up to two year's jail.

Addicts who commit crimes like burglaries to support their habits, and are also found with drugs, will not be charged with the drug offence if they accept assessment and treatment programs. They will still face court over the non-drug related crime.

The options will extend to adults and juveniles alike, but at the discretion of the police.

Schools and courts will also encourage illicit drug users to enter the self-help programs. Repeat and violent offenders, and those suspected of dealing in drugs, will still be charged.

Police Deputy Comissioner Johnston chaired the intergovernmental committee that developed the strategy, and said he was confident it would work. He said it should free up police to catch more drug dealers.

The Premier, Jim Bacon, said " This is not a bandaid solution....it is aimed squarely at reducing illicit drug use."

ends

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