Pubdate: Tue 7 July, 1998
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Author: Nicole Brady


Welfare agencies yesterday applauded the joint bid by police and the State
Government to divert drug users out of the courts and into health and
rehabilitation networks.

Workers said it was sensible to keep those dabbling in small amounts of
cannabis away from the criminal justice system, thus avoiding the social
stigma of a possible conviction.

They also congratulated the police for initiating a trial in the
Broadmeadows district that would channel first-time offenders caught with
small quantities of hard drugs _ such as heroin _ into treatment and support

Mr Paul McDonald, executive officer of the State Government's recently
established Youth Substance Abuse Service for users aged 12 to 21, said the
``tremendous'' new approach by the police was leading the way towards a new
strategy to counter drug abuse.

``We are now for the first time starting to see the use of illicit drugs by
young people and young adults and adults in a light that is more relevant to
their needs rather than to the failing concepts of a drug law enforcement
approach,'' he said.

Mr Bernie Geary, of Jesuit Social Services, said the initiative would
involve police as positive agents. Mr Geary, who was a member of the
Premier's Drug Advisory Council, said the idea was gratifying.

Many of the recommendations in the Drug Advisory Council's 1996 report were
adopted, but the Government refused to implement calls to decriminalise the
possession of small quantities of marijuana and to issue police cautions to
first-time users of other drugs.

Mr Geary said the new system would give young people experimenting with
drugs a chance to think about what they were doing.

``It runs against the dynamics of some of the fairly negative stuff that's
been coming from church leaders and politicians over the past month or so,''
Mr Geary said.

``This, in fact, is giving the community the right message, saying that
these young people who are dabblers are not criminals, and we need to be
setting something positive up around them that needs to revolve around
concern for their health and giving information to them.''

Mr Geary believed the Broadmeadows pilot program for those caught with small
quantities of harder drugs would be equally successful. He hoped it would be
extended across the state.

A spokesman for the Salvation Army, Mr John Dalziel, said the corps was
happy to endorse the extension of the cannabis trial and supported the pilot

``We see it as an extension of harm minimisation that we've been endorsing
for decades,'' Mr Dalziel said.

But he stressed that the Salvation Army maintained its opposition to
decriminalisation of any drugs and did not consider the new approach to be a
step in that direction.

``We see it as a way of informing victims of drug abuse when they start
(taking drugs) rather than further down the track.''

A youth worker with Open Family, Mr Les Twentyman, said the move was the
first step in combating the social and economic costs of drug abuse. He said
the pilot initiative would lead to a safer community.

``Once people realise we're losing more than 700 kids a year in Australia
through this drug (heroin) and spending billions of dollars on crime and
policing and the cost of violence, this will be seen as the only approach,''
Mr Twentyman said.

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Checked-by: "Rolf Ernst"