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Deja Vu
25 May, 2009  

From Justinian’s grab bag of hard copy delights we pull out a fabulous 1994 survey of councillors of the NSW Law Society, who had recently passed a motion calling for the decriminalisation of the personal use of marijuana. “Have you ever smoked pot?” we boldly asked members of the council. We got some heady answers

Reefer madness

From Justinian, January 1994

LAST August the Council of the Law Society of NSW passed a motion recommending that the personal use of marijuana be “decriminalised”.

The council effectively endorsed an earlier submission by the Law Council of Australia to a parliamentary committee looking at drugs, crime and society.

Actually, the Law Council submission went in a bit harder and recommended that the personal use of cannabis should be “lawful”.

Basically, the Law Society and the Law Council support the view that the present policy of prohibition, which relies almost exclusively on increasing penalties for drug offences, and ever increasing inroads into fundamental civil rights, is inadequate as a strategy to curb criminal activity.

Since this resolution was passed in Sydney, the criminal law committee of the Law Society has suggested taking the policy further and wants the society to support “the decriminalisation of all offences relating to the personal use of cannabis and, further, all criminal sanctions (including but not limited to, the recording of criminal convictions) in relation to any person or persons who grow cannabis for personal use, be abolished”.

When you look at the members of the Law Society council, who were in office in August when the policy was adopted, it is hard to fathom how they could have arrived at their decision.

Of the 19 councillors we spoke to, only four admitted to every having had a puff, and like President Clinton there seems to have been extraordinarily little inhaling.

As part of our exclusive survey of councillors Justinian asked them about their personal experience with marijuana and whether they have ever inhaled the drug:
“That’s an easy one for me” said Allens partner Phillip King. “I’ve never touched the stuff. I don’t even smoke tobacco.”

Malleson’s David Fairlie, the current president, admitted he was pretty boring: “I can say I haven’t. I can say that truthfully,” he assured us.

Ex-president John Marsden, the most out-spoken Sydney lawyer on marijuana law reform, was troubled and offended by our line of questioning: “Of course not,” he answered. “Really and truly, it’s against the law… How could I possibly break the law? If it was legal, maybe I would. I was at uni at the wrong time,” he went on.

Expressing some incredulity that other councillors may have admitted to the odd toke, Marsden warned us to be careful. “They may get in trouble with the police,” he advised in his best Police Board voice.

John Nelson, the immediate past president, became green around the gills”: “Once when I was out of imagethe jurisdiction I tried it and it made me sick.”

Civil liberties exponent Patrick Fair voted in favour of decriminalisation for good policy reasons. Or was it just nostalgia? Asked whether he smoked “happy tobaccy”, he said: “past tense yes, present tense no.”

Norman Lyall (pic) from Ebsworth & Ebsworth has never smoked pot. “But I’ve walked past hotels and smelt it,” he said. But how does Norman know what it smells like, we wondered?

Henry David York’s John Currie would have known all about it once upon a time although he doesn’t smoke dope anymore. “But on two occasions when I was a university student I did,” he remembered. Justinian asked whether he had inhaled. “I may have on one occasion. That may sound like a fairly virginal answer, but it’s true.”

David Castle of Baker Gosling was away when the vote was cast and has no strong views on decriminalisation. “I’m a different generation. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me, but if they did I think I’d say no. I’m a violent anti-smoker and I think I’d consider it as another type of poison,” he said.

Ron Heinrich voted for the motion, but not for personal reasons. “I don’t, and I never have,” was his answer to our enquiry.

Maurie Stack has never tried it, and is strongly opposed to decriminalisation. “Those who advocated it… where does that argument end?” he asked.

Margaret Hole supports the council’s decision but has never let “Mary Jane” touch her lips. “But I have six children and I’m sure that all, bar one have. It’s inevitable, isn’t it?”

Charles Xuereb would not say how he voted. He has never indulged but said this should in no way indicate his position at the council when the vote was cast.

Elaine Mary Mooney of Walker Gibbs & King also had no comment to make about decisions of the council. Asked whether she smoked marijuana, she came to a careful conclusion: “No comment.”

Bennett Slade of the Redfern Legal Centre rose above this chorus of denial” “Of course,” he said. “I have and I do. Everybody should have a little smoke every now and then and calm down.”

Geoffrey Hughes was concerned with the dangers that marijuana posed for human health. “I have consulted with a certain doctor who regards it as a very dangerous drug. The likelihood of lung cancer developing from it hasn’t received the publicity it deserves,” he told us. Justinian suggested that tobacco too has this unfortunate side-effect. “Tobacco is not a hallucinatory drug – it doesn’t bend the mind like cannabis does.”

According to Hughes: “These civil liberties people know not what they’re doing at times.” He requested the council to record that he had voted against the resolutions.

The Commonwealth Bank’s Phillip Chown does not recall having smoked marijuana but strongly supports decriminalisation. Which bank?

Jennifer English of Hickson, Lakeman & Holcombe is very concerned that smoking marijuana leads to drug abuse. Our reporter understood this to mean she did not partake: “That’s not to say my children haven’t. If it’s decriminalised you’ve got a stoush to get them off it, like cigarettes and alcohol.”

Roger Clisdell doesn’t smoke himself and is opposed to legislation, but he supports decriminalisation along the lines of South Australia and the ACT. “I don’t think there’s any need to punish anyone for something that’s nothing worse than a traffic violation,” he said.

Some councillors were not at all happy with the decision and thought it was an issue worthy of a referendum polling all NSW solicitors. “My jury’s still out,” said Robbert Foxx of Foxx OO’Briien Maaker Soomervillle, insisting that we spell his name correctly. “It’s a very important matter – more important that the recent fusion debate.”

A motion supporting a referendum on this issue was moved at the annual convention of regional presidents on October 28. The Bankstown & District Law Society suggested:

“That the Law Society of NSW withdraw its support for the decriminalisation of cannabis and conduct a plebiscite of its members before making further public comment on the subject of cannabis.”

It was resoundingly defeated.

Speaking in favour of the NSW Law Society’s support of decriminalisation were regional presidents from the dope growing capitals of NSW – Ian Geddes of Griffith and Allan Cowley of Lismore.

Bong on, man.