NORML is opposed to instant fines, as it is still prohibition under another name, but easier for the police to administer (i.e., catch more people). Instant fines will do nothing to solve problems associated with the billion-dollar cannabis black market, as it will still be illegal to buy and sell cannabis. Organised crime will continue to dominate the market.
The South Australian experience shows that under this system more people could be busted than with the current total prohibition. Arrests there climbed as police used the convenient new law to hassle more people. Poor people, who bear the brunt of drug law enforcement, can ill afford to pay huge fines.
In recent years the Police have floated the idea of introducing instant fines for possession of cannabis. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark also backed this idea in the past, although in a recent letter to Stephen McIntyre she said that she’s aware this system is not without its flaws.
While NORML support law reform, we have misgivings about instant fines. There are several important points:
- It would only apply to less than one gram. That’s about 2 joints. These are the people currently cautioned and let go by the police, because they know its a waste of their time, and the courts are throwing out cases involving these amounts. So while these people are now getting away with it, under this scheme they would get a fine and everyone else would still get arrested. We also don’t know how much the fines will be.
- The fines don’t seem to apply to cultivation, so this scheme will do nothing to address the black market.
- The attitude of the cops will be the key to the success (if any) of this scheme. In Sth Australia, the police write fines for as many people as they can, which has resulted in an increase from 7,000 arrests to 21,000 fines. Because of repeat targetting, 2/3 can’t pay the fine, so 14,000 end up back in court and with a conviction. In Canberra by contrast, the cops have got better things to do, and hand out about 400 fines per year.
Here are cannabis laws for the Australian states:
All states have a Caution scheme, meaning anyone caught for the first time receives a warning.
In 1986, legislation was introduced into the SA Parliament, and passed into law in 1987, which de-criminalised the personal use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis, whereby anyone found to be cultivating up to 10 plants or in possession of up to 100 gms for their own use would receive an Expiation Notice and a fine from $50 to $100. If the fine is paid on the due date, no criminal conviction is recorded.
In 1993, similar legislation was introduced in the ACT whereby anyone found to be cultivating up to 5 plants or in possession of up to 25gms for their use would receive an on-the-spot fine of up to $100, again, the payment of which avoided a criminal conviction.
In 1996, the personal use, possession and cultivation was effectively decriminalised in the Northern Territory with the introduction of an on-the-spot fine system for amounts up to 50gms.