Source: Advertiser, The (Australia)
Pubdate: July 29, 1998

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

"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

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.

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Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"