NSW is considering changes to drug possession laws. How much difference would it make?

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The NSW government is considering a shift to their current drug policy on small amounts of illicit substances for personal use. If passed, those possessing small amounts of illicit drugs would be given a warning on the first occasion, and only face a criminal conviction if they were caught a fourth time. But how significant would this be? The Feed spoke to experts to find out.

The NSW government is proposing a new law to shift how the state deals with people in possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

Initial reports suggested the NSW government were looking to decriminalise personal drug use, however, the government quickly said they wouldn't go down this path after last year's inquiry into ice addiction.

On Thursday, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said her position was "black and white" when it came to the topic of decriminalisation.

"You'll remember last summer we resisted a lot of pressure to test drugs at festivals and we did not even go down that path. I do not and my government does not and we will not be decriminalising drugs. Drugs are a scourge on our community."

This proposed plan would involve a warning only - and no fine - for someone caught with drugs for personal use. If caught a second and third time, fines would be issued. It wouldn't be until the fourth time around that they'd receive a criminal conviction.

However, former NSW premier Kristina Keneally has raised concerns.

"I'm not yet convinced that what I see is the right way forward," Keneally told 2GB.

"I would strongly urge the cabinet to slow down and listen to some experts."

So The Feed talked to a few.

Some indicated it's a positive step, citing that one in six Australians have taken illicit drugs in the last year. While others believe there should be a bigger focus on police powers when it comes to stop and search.

How radical is this change?

Professor Maree Teesson is the Director of the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney.

She says the news of changes in NSW's drug policy is "incredibly positive".

"They're far from full decriminalisation and because they're modest and because they measured, if they do become law, then they've got the real potential to reduce the impact of minor drug offenses on the lives of young people," Prof Teesson told The Feed.

However, Benjamin Mostyn, who specialises in drug law and policy at the University of New South Wales, doesn't believe the proposed changes to drug possession is a radical shift from what's already been in operation.

"In January 2019, the New South Wales government passed laws that allowed police to give a fine for all drug possession," Mostyn told The Feed.

That paved the way for people to be fined up to $400 for drug possession.

He said that handing out a warning for first possession instead of a fine "is not a massive radical reform."

Mostyn isn't opposed to the reform itself. He says, any law reform that will see non-violent drug offenders out of the criminal justice system should be applauded.

"The primary problem with this reform is that it still allows police to stop and search people," he said.

Last month, The Guardian reported data obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre found that the NSW police undertook 96 strip-searches on children on suspicions of drug possession. The youngest strip-searched was an 11-year-old Indigenous girl.

And of those searched the data showed that Indigenous children were disproportionately targeted making 21 per cent of those searched.

And generally, the data found Indigenous people from all age groups were targeted at higher rates than non-Indigenous people

"We're still going to see sniffer dogs, we're still going to see strip searches, we're still probably going to see unlawful strip searches of underage girls like we've seen at music festivals in the past," Mostyn said.

"So it still allows police to have a huge amount of power over people who may or may not possess drugs."

The proposed change in NSW would set it apart - somewhat - from other states and territories in directives on dealing with a first offence.

From January this year, the ACT became the only state or territory in the country that allows residents over the age of 18 to have access to cannabis for personal use.

If you live in the ACT you're allowed to possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis, and 150 grams of fresh cannabis. Residents in the ACT are also allowed to grow up to two plants of cannabis in their homes, with a maximum of four plants per household.

For the possession of other illicit drugs, the ACT has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

While every other state and territory in Australia, illicit drug possession carries penalties of fines ranging in the thousands and the possibility of time in prison.

How does Australia's drug policy compare to other countries?

Mostyn believes Australia is behind countries like the United States, which has had a history of mass incarceration on minor non-violent drug offenses.

"They've gone way past decriminalisation, and now [are] regulating the supply of cannabis in 15 states," he said.

Prof Teesson sees the proposed NSW move as an opportunity to get in line with the changes happening overseas when it comes to drug policy.

"We're definitely seeing these changes and the reduction in law enforcement and policing responses to minor drug offenses definitely reducing around the world," she said.

"So a policing and law enforcement response to drugs is reducing and harm reduction and treatment where required response is increasing."

But Mostyn doesn't believe a change will occur until stop and searches on suspicion of drugs is no longer a police power.

"So until the law is changed police and are not allowed to stop and search people simply for suspicion of drug possession, I think we're going to continue to see over-representation of Indigenous people...stopped and searched at much higher rates," he said.