The Weatherill Government has thrown its weight behind the actions of police who raided the home of a medicinal cannabis provider last week, saying it was their duty to “enforce the law as it stands”.
Police Minister Peter Malinauskas.
The raid on 44-year-old Hillier woman Jenny Hallam’s home last Wednesday has escalated a public debate about the legal status of medical cannabis in SA, with her lawyer Heather Stokes suggesting police could exercise discretion about targeting people who grow the drug for altruistic purposes.
InDaily revealed last month that SAPOL is represented on a Government working group to examine regulatory or legislative changes that could see the medical marijuana industry establish a commercial hub in Adelaide, after entreaties from the Australian Cannabis Corporation last year.
But Police Minister Peter Malinauskas told InDaily that in the meantime “police do not have the liberty of choosing which laws they enforce and which ones they don’t”.
“It’s very much the Government’s expectation that SAPOL enforce the law as it stands,” he said.
“That’s their sovereign responsibility… no Government should ever seek to intervene in the operation of SAPOL.”
Asked if it presented a conflict for SAPOL to be represented on the working group while simultaneously charged with targeting growers and distributors under existing law, he said: “To be honest, no.”
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that police are in a position to be able to provide a view around the development of amendments to legislation,” he said.
“They’re an important stakeholder; it’s their job to enforce the law and it’s only natural that their views are sought and provided and when it comes to development of and changes to legislation – and particularly of a criminal nature.”
In response to a series of questions from InDaily – including how long police had been aware of Hallam’s operations – SAPOL said in a written statement that “police from the Barossa [Local Service Area] can confirm that the investigation was undertaken as a result of receiving current independent information which led them to search [Hallam’s] home”.
“Investigations are still continuing,” the statement said.
Hallam’s lawyer Heather Stokes said she “believed” police had been aware of Hallam’s cannabis operation for some time, adding that “the timing of it is interesting”.
“They told her they didn’t have a choice because there was a complaint,” Stokes told InDaily.
“The individual officers were very apologetic… she got the impression they didn’t want to be there.”
Stokes said she was “prepared to accept that this is SAPOL carrying out its duties as they are in black and white” but called on authorities to provide evidence of an independent complaint against Hallam.
She said “at the very least” police should be issued a directive not to charge medicinal cannabis providers while the law was under review, saying the “recalcitrant” state Government was “dragging its feet”.
“They did this in Canada 10 years ago, they’ve done it in half of western Europe and half the states on America… the science generally is in,” she said.
“Will we please wake up and smell the roses… or smell the cannabis?
“The least they should be doing is giving an amnesty to people like Jenny, but really they’re dragging their heels.”
Malinauskas, asked if he considered the raid to be a political statement, replied: “No… I would certainly hope not.”
“My expectation is just as it is the case it’s appropriate for politicians not to intervene in operational matters, it’s equally important that the police don’t intervene in political matters,” he said.
“It’s a separation that’s operated well in SA for a long period of time – I think it’s worthy of preserving.
“I have total confidence that SAPOL are committed to that separation as much as the Government is.”
The Greens and some sections of the media have demanded the Government now expedite changes to the law to regulate the medicinal use of marijuana.
The Government is considering legal changes after the Commonwealth last year paved the way for state-based regulation of medical cannabis, with SA Health currently seeking stakeholder feedback.
But Malinauskas insisted “the law is the law, until it gets changed”.
“The Government is in the process of undertaking an evidence-based analysis of the merits of amendments to existing policy [and] we await the outcomes of the taskforce,” he said.
“If the Government and the parliament choose to change the law then SAPOL will police these amendments accordingly.
“It is very much the expectation of the Government for SAPOL to enforce the law as it stands.”
Asked whether he had a personal view about the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical use, the minister said he was “keen to see the outcome of the working group”.
Questions about the police action were initially put in writing to Innovation Minister Kyam Maher, who is co-ordinating the working group, but were referred to Malinauskas as Police Minister.