by Simon Benson, (03 Feb 2006) / Daily Telegraph Australia
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CANNABIS smokers may be forced to take counselling sessions on the links between marijuana and mental disorders to avoid being charged on a first offence, in a rewriting of NSW drug laws.
The Daily Telegraph has learned Premier Morris Iemma called for a review of the cannabis cautioning scheme to send a stronger message about the effects of marijuana on mental health.
But the real crackdown will be brought to bear on those caught growing high strength ( hydroponic ) cannabis - now thought to be a significant factor in rising mental health problems.
The Government is about to introduce what it claims will be the most hardline legislation in the country, with people facing 10-year jail sentences for growing as few as five hydroponic plants.
Sentences of 20 years will be made law for crops of 200 plants. A range of new offences will also apply to people who expose children to hydroponic drug houses.
Mr Iemma has undertaken a complete rewriting of cannabis laws in response to concerns from health authorities that it is a significant contributor to the mental health crisis.
'No one wants to see a young person who has made a genuine mistake, unfairly punished,' Mr Iemma said.
'But we can't downplay the health and social consequences of regular cannabis use.
'That's why I want to see whether this scheme can be used to further tackle cannabis use and its devastating impact on mental health.
'There is growing evidence of a link between long-term cannabis use and the incidence of severe mental health problems,' said Mr Iemma.
'Regular cannabis use can exacerbate mental illnesses and associated criminal activity. Experts tell us that potent, hydroponically grown cannabis is a particular problem.'
Hydro, as it is known, can be between five and seven times stronger than conventionally grown marijuana.
The cautioning scheme for people caught with 15g of marijuana was introduced in 2000 to offer police an alternative to charging offenders and clogging courts with petty offences.
It has been hailed a success for freeing up police to tackle serious crime and keeping people from attracting criminal records for minor offences.
Users are issued with a warning for the first offence and then issued with a caution on the second, requiring them to call a counselling service. But less than 14 per cent comply.
The [Australian] Government is drafting its response to a review of cannabis cautioning undertaken by the Bureau of Crime Statistics.
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spot the evidence based policy development... yeah right!
(see also Cannabis Prohibitionists Gone Mad )
The Australian Offenders face a maximum of 25 years in prison and maximum fines of $500,000 if caught with more than 2kg of cannabis or more than 19 plants - (13 Feb, 2006)