NSW drug law overhaul would allow six marijuana plants for personal use

<span>Photograph: Abir Sultan/AAP</span>
Photograph: Abir Sultan/AAP

People would be allowed to grow six marijuana plants for personal use and give their friends pot as a gift under a proposed law being introduced to the New South Wales parliament on Wednesday, as the government comes under more pressure to enact drug reform.

The legislation would also allow people to carry up to 50g of cannabis, in a change that Legalise Cannabis MP Jeremy Buckingham hopes would reduce the number of Aboriginal people caught under laws he believes are racist.

Government data obtained by Guardian Australia reveals Aboriginal people were 10 times more likely to have a marijuana-related interaction with police than non-Indigenous people.

“It is clear that cannabis prohibition is a racist law,” Buckingham said. “It is clear it being used to target young Aboriginal Australians.”

The data revealed through questions on notice to the parliament shows that, between 2020 and 2022, there were 54,174 people caught by police with cannabis.

Of those, 19,232 were Aboriginal people. While First Nations people accounted for more than 35% of all interactions over the three years, just 3.5% of the NSW population is Aboriginal.

Buckingham said the statistics showed the “laws are being used against First Nations people”.

“In a lot of instances, this is a ‘crime’ that is the first interaction First Nations people have with police,” he said.

Under the proposed changes, adults would be allowed to grow up to six plants at home, either indoors or outdoors, and could give other adults their harvest as long as it was not sold.

Buckingham will introduce the bill during the final sitting week of the year, with the intention for it to be referred to a committee for further consideration before the government’s promised drug summit.

The government went to the election promising to hold a drug summit at which reforms would be discussed but the premier, Chris Minns, has repeatedly refused to outline a timeframe other than saying it will happen in 2024.

Earlier in the year the government announced people who were caught with small quantities of illicit drugs for personal use could be issued with fines that they could work off by seeking help as part of a drug law overhaul.

Advocates have welcomed the introduction of the diversion scheme but said the changes do not go far enough, with a group of people who took part in NSW’s last drug summit in 1999 to gather at parliament on Wednesday to call for urgent reform.

The long-serving former Labor premier Bob Carr and the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, were among those scheduled to attend, 25 years after they took part in the event which resulted in the creation of the state’s safe injecting room.

“At the beginning of the drug summit the catch cry was courage,” Carr said. “I still believe that courage is vital in this difficult area of drug policy.”

The Uniting church, which runs the safe injecting room in Kings Cross, is calling on Minns’ government to announce a date for its own drug summit after the event at parliament on Wednesday.

Uniting’s head of advocacy, Emma Maiden, said the decriminalisation of drugs in NSW would have a “profound impact” on reducing First Nations incarceration rates and remove the stigma for drug users around seeking help.

The ACT recently passed laws reducing the penalties for people possessing small amounts of drugs including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine for personal use.

Maiden called on the government to emulate the 1999 summit by shutting down parliament for five days and inviting all MPs to attend.

“We’re just hope that nothing’s ruled out,” she said. “We don’t want possible solutions taken off the table.”