Pubdate: Tue, 5 May 1998
Source: The Australian 
Author: John Kerin


A TWO-YEAR national marijuana study has found decriminalisation has not
caused any increase in its use in Australia.

The findings of the study carried out by the Drug and Alcohol Services
Council of South Australia in conjunction with other national research
facilities for Australia's health and justice ministers was presented to a
meeting in Melbourne yesterday, but the ministers left any action on the
report up to individual jurisdictions.

The study on the social impacts of cannabis compared marijuana use patterns
and legal regimes across Australia.

It also compared the experience of those jailed under the more stringent
marijuana laws in Western Australia with those who mainly received on the
spot fines for carrying or using small amounts of marijuana in South
Australia, where the drug has been decriminalised.

"The study showed there was no evidence that the introduction of expiation
(on the spot fines) for marijuana use has led to any increase in the
prevalence or intensity and frequency of marijuana use," one of the
researchers associated with the study, DASC clinical policy director Dr
Robert Ali said last night.

He said although there had been increases across all jurisdictions in the
past decade, there was no great difference between jurisdictions where the
drug had been decriminalised and where it hadn't.

He said the study also found cost savings to the community through keeping
minor offenders out of jail. South Australia, the ACT and the Northern
Territory have Australia's most relaxed marijuana laws. In the ACT, police
can issue a warning or impose on-the-spot fines for minor offences involving
the possession of up to 25g for personal use or for the growing of up to
four plants. In South Australia, the limit is 10 plants.

ACT Health Minister Michael Moore said he had asked for the trial to be
extended to the ACT, where a similar decriminalisation model to that in
South Australia operates.

The development came as federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge yesterday
pledged $3 million to a public awareness campaign to target excessive
alcohol use. Dr Wooldridge said the campaign was likely to concentrate on
young people aged between 15 and 24.