Source: Advertiser, The (Australia) Pubdate: July 29, 1998 Contact: http://www.theaustralian.com.au:80/papers/ADV.htm Author: MICHAEL FOSTER Police Commissioner, Mr Mal Hyde, wants substantial changes to the State's heroin and cannabis laws. Mr Hyde yesterday raised doubts about the cannabis expiation system and the penalty-based approach to heroin control in the wake of rising fatal overdoses, saying it was time to "challenge conventions" in this area of policing. One of the options being considered was to allow police to refer heroin addicts for treatment, rather than arresting them. Senior police also had been asked to consider the merits of targeting lower-level drug dealers and users rather than the "Mr Bigs" of the drug trade, as part of a review of police drug strategies. Mr Hyde said laws that let minor cannabis offenders escape with only fines also needed to be reviewed. Instead, he has flagged the merits of introducing cautions that allow first offenders to escape penalty. Repeat offenders would face criminal conviction 96 similar to a system adopted in Victoria. And he renewed calls for the number of marijuana plants allowed to be grown without attracting criminal conviction to be reduced from 10 to three. "Let's ask ourselves whether the way it's been handled in the past is the correct way of handling it in the future," Mr Hyde said. There have been 24 fatal heroin overdoses in SA so far this year, compared to 34 last year. Mr Hyde said police feared SA's heroin problem could be compounded by an influx of dealers and users because of crackdowns interstate 96 particularly in NSW. He also expressed concern at a 15 per cent increase over the past year in violent armed robberies 96 now averaging more than one a day 96 linked to drugs. "It's not a matter of employing enforcement to incarcerate or penalise them (addicts) in any way," Mr Hyde said. "If we upgrade our effort and apprehend more heroin users, can we in fact help break that cycle of use by bringing them into the treatment line?" No plans had yet been made "but what I'm saying (is) you're at an area where law enforcement can in fact promote the treatment process". SA could "take a leaf out of Victoria's book by looking how we deal with minor cannabis offenders". "In SA, we give them a cannabis expiation notice," Mr Hyde said. "But you've got to ask yourself: does that help in terms of treatment or anything like that? "They can simply pay their fines and that's the end of the matter." Mr Hyde said there "may be scope for a cautionary program for simple cannabis offences" combined with information and referral to drug-treatment centres. The Adelaide-based director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, Dr Steve Allsop, said there was "evidence that coerced treatment can be very effective in some cases". "If it means giving police access to training and links to health services, then that's what we should do," he said. - --- Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"