Author Archives: Sydney Drug Lawyers

About Sydney Drug Lawyers
Sydney Drug Lawyers is a subsidiary of Sydney Criminal Lawyers which specialises in drug cases.

Police Boast of Another Win in the War Against Drugs

Crystal methamphetamine, also known as ‘ice’, with an estimated street value of $101 million has been seized off the coast of NSW and five men have been charged with commercial drug importation.

It has been reported that the AFP, NSW Police Force, Australian Border Force and Chinese authorities worked together for several months to intercept the 100 kilograms shipment.

Chinese authorities raided a shipping container being used to send two tonnes of steel to Sydney. The drugs were allegedly hidden inside the floor of the container. A Fijian man, an Australia, and three other men, believed to be Central Asian, have been arrested.

The Fijian and Australian have already faced court and were refused bail. They will appear in court again next month.

Police say they delayed announcing details of the bust due to ongoing inquiries, and out of respect for visiting Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, who departed Australia yesterday.

Recent drug busts

Police suggest that further arrests may occur, and have praised the co-operation between local and international law enforcement agencies.

Police say that last November, they broke up a $54 million ice operation on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, seizing three barrels containing around 90 litres of liquid methamphetamine at Palm Beach. A fishing vessel off the coast of Hervey Bay in Queensland was also intercepted. Eight people were arrested.

Since November 2015, almost 7.5 tonnes of illicit substances have been seized, worth an estimated street value of $2 billion.

Authorities attribute the busts to intelligence exchanges with other international drug agencies, which they believe is crucial to detecting and arresting offenders.

On Christmas day 2016, 500 kilograms of cocaine was seized at Brooklyn on the NSW Central Coast. Police allege the same syndicate was attempting to import another 600 kilograms of the drug into Australia, but the shipment was intercepted by the French Navy.

And just last month, six men were arrested after $300 million worth of cocaine was found in a boat moored off Jervis Bay.

Ice and Cocaine are Australia’s ‘biggest problem’

New research facilitated by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) in conjunction with university researchers, suggests that cocaine use is widespread in Sydney, and that the use of ‘ice’ is on the rise in many rural areas.

The research is based on data obtained from sampling wastewater at 51 sewage treatment plants — which service 14 million Australians — in city and ¬regional areas across the country.

Of the 13 drug types tested, NSW topped the list for cocaine with double the amount of the party drug used in Sydney compared with other capital cities.

Much of the previous research relied on self-reporting by users, police arrest data and medical and emergency department statistics to determine the extent of drug use. The move to wastewater analysis promises to paint a more accurate picture of trends in drug manufacture and usage.

Drug use is a health issue, and should not be treated as a crime

By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim

The authors of an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia have joined the chorus of health experts calling for an emphasis on harm reduction measures and government regulation when it comes to drug use, rather than trying to arrest our way out of the problem.

The peer-reviewed article, titled ‘Beyond ice: rethinking Australia’s approach to illicit drugs’, argues that drug use should be classified as a health issue, rather than a criminal law problem which is dealt with through greater investment in law enforcement and harsher penalties.

Easy access despite punitive measures

The article’s authors, Matthew Frei and Alex Wodak, cite figures which suggest that the demand for ‘ice’ has continued to rise despite the implementation of punitive measures.

The report’s findings are consistent with what many have been saying for years – that the ‘war against drugs’ has been lost.

Surveys suggest that between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of drug users who found it “easy” or “very easy” to obtain ice increased from 65% to 91%. This is despite a concerted effort by law enforcement to stop the manufacture and importation of drugs, which has contributed to drug seizures rising from 160 kg in 2011–12 to almost 1500 kg in 2012–13.

The 2014 Illicit Drug Reporting System found that the mean age for ice users is 40 years, that they are more likely than the general population to be unemployed, and that they generally engage in multiple or polydrug use. This suggests there is a strong demand for the drug amongst seasoned users.

Failure of punitive approach

The focus of the 2016 National Ice Taskforce Report was to evaluate preventative and diversionary initiatives and make recommendations, rather than criminalisation strategies.

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay acknowledged during the taskforce’s deliberations that “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem”.

“Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug trafficking and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties as part of the battle to curb the drug trade”, he stated.

“All the evidence shows, however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in preventing the supply of illegal drugs to Australian markets but that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so.”

Skewed priorities

In an attempt to address the issue of drugs, Australian governments have allocated two-thirds of spending on law enforcement, and only 21% on treatment programs, 9% on preventative programs and 2% to harm reduction measures. And importantly, these figures do not take into account the enormous amount of money spent on keeping drug offenders behind bars.

Professor Nicole Lee, from the National Drug Research Institute, told MJA InSight that “while we focus on the use of drugs, we will continue to implement ineffective strategies, such as arresting people for use and possession”, adding, “if we focus on harms, we start to implement effective strategies, including prevention, harm reduction and treatment.”

Prison populations have continued to increase as the war on drugs continues, surging by 16% over the past two years, with the rise primarily attributed to more arrests, tougher bail laws and longer sentences.

And sadly, prison has proven to be an ineffective means of breaking the cycle of crime – with 48% of NSW inmates returning to prison within just two years of release, according to 2014–15 Productivity Commission data.

The way forward

The MJA article calls upon governments to regulate drugs, citing Australia’s success in reducing tobacco consumption through regulatory measures.

Matt Noffs, CEO of the Noffs Foundation, agrees with this approach.

“We banned tobacco advertising, and we’ve done this better than any other country. We made it harder to get and harder to smoke, we made it more expensive, and all of these measures have led to a decrease in smoking and, therefore, a decrease in people being harmed by it”, he remarked.

Dr Wodak believes an important first step is to view drug use as a health and social problem, rather than something we need to punish. “People who need help don’t just need health assistance; they need social help with housing and training in employment,” he said.

Harm reduction

While conservative politicians gawk at a regulatory framework, measures such as methadone programs and injecting rooms have proven to be extremely successful in reducing the harm associated with the use of heroin.

As observed by Professor Lee, “[h]arm reduction strategies such as pill testing, needle syringe programs, early closing for venues selling alcohol and safe injecting facilities significantly reduce harms to people who use alcohol and other drugs and the community”.

The MJA article’s authors note that, “British politician Denis Healey was fond of saying ‘if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging’. It’s time Australia took his advice when responding to illicit drugs.”

‘Lost’ 34 Bags of Cannabis? Police Want to Hear from You

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Thousands of people are talking about a cheeky social media post by the NSW Police Force depicting 34 garbage bags of cannabis plants, found in bushland in a northern Sydney suburb.

Facebook post

Police published the post on Facebook after finding the cannabis over the weekend.

LOST & FOUND
Does this belong to you? Northern Beaches LAC – NSW Police Force are looking for the owner of 34 garbage bags full of cannabis found in bushland at Terrey Hills. Attend your local police station to claim ownership. We’d love to hear from you.

The post has received more than 30 thousand comments and over 6,000 shares.

A local man who regularly walks in the area said the bags appeared between Friday and Saturday. He originally thought someone had unlawfully dumped garbage, but contacted police after he looked more closely and realised it was cannabis.

Police arrived to find a mixture of mature plants and seedlings, along with some potting mix and other substances.

Ongoing investigation

The items have been seized for forensic examination. While the bags were only metres from busy Mona Vale Road, it is believed they were dumped from a quiet street behind.

NSW Drug Squad officers are appealing for anyone with information to come forward or to call Crime Stoppers.

Drugs on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Illicit drugs have been prevalent on the Northern Beaches in recent years, with large hauls of cannabis and other drugs found over the past few months.

Two men were allegedly caught doing a drug deal involving cocaine just prior to Christmas, and the subsequent search of a home in Freshwater is said to have yielded more than $55,000 in cash and small bags containing white powder.

And last November, police reported finding a hydroponic set-up, 18 cannabis plants, cocaine, amphetamines, GHB and cash at a home in Narrabeen. They charged a man with 10 offences, including four counts of possessing a prohibited drug and three counts of drug supply.

In June last, year police allegedly seized nearly 1000 cannabis plants in simultaneous raids at industrial premises at Brookvale and Cromer, with an estimated street value of $3 million.

Police Talk Tough on Drugs at Music Festivals

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

After a spate of drug-related deaths at music festivals over the past several years, police have issued a strong warning to upcoming ‘Party In the Park’ go-ers not to “even think” of bringing drugs into the music festival on Sydney’s Northern Beaches next month.

More than 5,000 people are expected to attend the festival on March 18 at Pittwater Rugby Park in Narrabeen, and police say they will be using all the resources at their disposal to ensure that attendees don’t bring drugs into the festival.

Strong police presence

Around 3,500 people were at the concert in 2016 and sniffer dogs detected 22 incidences of drug possession – amounting to less than 1% of the attendees – for cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.

The use of drug detection dogs is highly controversial, with government statistics showing that more often than not innocent people are subjected to invasive searches which give a ‘false positive’ reading – indicating the presence of drugs, but none actually being found.

It’s also concerning that the use of sniffer dogs has been linked to the deaths of several young people at music festivals – who have ‘loaded up’ on significant quantities of drugs before arriving at the venue, or upon seeing police and dogs at the venue, to avoid detection.

But police continue to claim that the dogs are highly effective, pointing to the fact that a sniffer dog operation resulted in 40 arrests at the Subsonic Music Festival in the Hunter Valley just before Christmas. Police found Amphetamines, LSD, ketamine, ecstasy and cannabis over the course the two day event.

Drug and health experts have been repeatedly calling for governments to allow pill testing at major music festivals, especially in the wake of several ‘bad batches’ of well-known party drugs coming into the market. Advocates for pill testing say it enables patrons to make informed decisions about what they decide to take, but NSW politicians have long dismissed this idea.

Getting caught with drugs

Drug offences are taken seriously in New South Wales and possession of an illegal drug can be punishable with a criminal conviction or even a prison sentence in extreme cases. Statistics suggest that criminal convictions are also recorded in most case, which can hinder people from getting a job or even travelling to some countries.

Drug supply is treated especially serious, and penalties depend on the quantity of drugs involved.

ID required.

Police also say they’ll be strictly enforcing the Party In the Park’s “over 18 policy”, advising festival goers to take ID so they can prove their age if required.

Event organisers have welcomed the strong police presence, saying it’s their desire for everyone to remain safe and enjoy the music line up which will include Angus Stone and Boy & Bear.

Organisers have also employed private security officers to complement the police patrols and have also rostered about 100 volunteers to assist the smooth running of the event. Last year’s festival was the first and it’s hoped this year’s event will become an annual feature of the music festival calendar.

Stop Arresting Drivers for Trace Amounts of Cannabis

By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim

A system of legalised medical marijuana is slowly being established in Australia. Federal government legislation came into effect in October last year, allowing those with licences to cultivate, manufacture and distribute the medicine under strict regulations.

Both the NSW and Victorian state governments are now growing crops of cannabis for medicinal purposes. And Queensland passed legislation last October that will allow doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients as of next month.

However, as people begin to legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes, they’ll find themselves in a predicament when it comes to driving, as all Australian states and territories run roadside drug testing programs that test drivers for traces of THC: the psychoactive ingredient of the plant.

A zero tolerance approach

Roadside drug testing programs have been implemented throughout the country on the pretext of road safety, the claim being that it will lead to a reduction in the number of car accidents caused by drivers under the influence of drugs.

But the reality is this type of testing has more to do with a zero tolerance approach to illicit substances, as the regime focuses on cracking down on people for using certain drugs, rather than representing an evidence-based approach to halting road fatalities.

Random breath testing for alcohol tests for driver impairment; it is a regime based on extensive evidence that certain concentrations of alcohol in the blood system lead to an increased danger. Indeed, this is why there are different gradients of prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) charges – low range, mid range and high range.

But roadside drug testing is not an evidence-based approach – a driver can be charged even if they have minute traces of residual drugs in their system, amounts so small they could not possibly impair driving.

Along with THC, police test drivers for MDMA and amphetamines, via a saliva test. And the devices they use don’t gauge drug concentrations, which means a driver could have taken the drugs days before.

The trouble in NSW

The Northern Rivers region has been the flashpoint of the NSW police blitz on roadside drug testing for years now. This is having an adverse effect on the local court system. Lismore Court is overwhelmed with cases of people who’ve been charged for driving with cannabis in their system.

In February last year, Lismore magistrate David Heilpern found Joseph Carrall not guilty of drug driving, when he accepted testimony that he hadn’t smoked any pot for nine days prior to being tested, which meant he could rely on the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’.

Australia flies in the face of the evidence

Australia is the only country in the world to have implemented a large-scale roadside drug testing program of this kind. In NSW, it began in 2007, while the first jurisdiction to introduce the program was Victoria in December 2004. In England for example, drivers are not charged unless they have a certain concentration of drugs in their system.

At the same time as Victoria was implementing the zero tolerance program, the world-renowned National Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands was recommending against this type of testing.

The institute found that zero tolerance legislation for illegal drugs – with the exception of heroin – would “produce a massive overkill… resulting in very high cost and hardly any road safety benefits.”

It illustrated this in a case-controlled study in the Tilburg police district, where was shown that 87 percent of all cannabis users did not have a concentration sufficient to significantly increase the risk of injury.

The institute concluded that this did not mean cannabis use does not have an impact on road safety, as the remaining 13 percent used more than one drug at a time, and cannabis users constituted 70 percent of this high-risk group.

The research of professor Ross Homel of Griffith University was instrumental in the introduction of random breath testing in Australia. He has expressed the view that the inclusion of cannabis in roadside drug testing is more about the “enforcement of drug laws,” than an attempt to achieve “road safety benefits.”

Cannabis impairment: a contentious issue

The impact of cannabis use on driving ability is a controversial subject. There’s much debate as to whether it poses a significant risk. There’s also contention over the amount of the substance that needs to be taken in order to constitute a threat to road safety.

Professor Homel wrote in his paper that there’s increasing evidence that people who drive under the influence of cannabis do place themselves and others at an increased risk. But he also states that cannabis use seems to increase that risk by two to three times, compared to alcohol, which increases the risk by six to fifteen times or more.

A 2002 paper titled Cannabis and Alcohol in Motor Vehicle Accidents found that “crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers” with cannabis in their systems “are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes.”

A Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs report, found that “cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving.” And while it found that its use does have “a negative impact on decision time,” it also concluded that this doesn’t mean that drivers under the influence of marijuana posed a traffic safety risk.

The committee remarked that “cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving.”

In 2015, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a driving simulator test at the University of Iowa on the effects of cannabis and alcohol on driving ability.

Researchers found that while alcohol had an effect on the number of times a car left a lane it was driving in and the speed of weaving, marijuana did not. But they did find that cannabis increased weaving, and the higher the concentration of THC in a driver’s blood, the worse this became.

Police should stop testing for cannabis

However, Australian police aren’t testing for the level of THC in a driver’s blood.

They’re often pulling people over and charging them for traces of a substance that may have been consumed days before.

Cannabis is now understood to be at the low level of the harm scale, and its medicinal benefits are acknowledged globally. And as legal medicinal use of the drug becomes a reality, the roadside drug testing regime is going to impact sick people who should not be criminalised.

Until there’s conclusive evidence that the use of cannabis is detrimental to road safety, and an evidence-based approach similar to the drink driving regime is introduced, many believe marijuana should be removed from roadside drug testing in all jurisdictions across the country.

Bad Batch of ‘Ecstacy’ Blamed for 20 Hospitalisations

By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim

A bad batch of ecstasy is believed to be responsible for up to 20 overdose deaths in Melbourne’s inner south-east. Police are concerned the batch may still be in circulation, warning party-goers in the area.

The overdoses occurred near Chapel Street in Melbourne from Friday night to Sunday morning. Police suspect the MDMA was laced with GHB or other substances, and paramedics are bracing for more hospitalisations over the summer festival season.

Police response

“There’s a definite chance of there being more,” said Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Dave Newman. “A batch of drugs like this will take a long time to dissipate, or disappear from the scene.”

He urged anyone who experiences an adverse reaction to seek medical help immediately. “Unfortunately, with the nature of this drug, you don’t know what you’re taking,” he said. “And at the moment, there’s a heightened risk.”

Police are awaiting forensic testing to determine the cause of the overdoses – whether it be a high level of purity and/or the nature of additional substances used.

A 30-year-old man was arrested early on Sunday and charged with drug supply, drug possession and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

He will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court next Monday.

Rise in ecstacy use

The use of ecstacy is reported to have risen in recent years, along with an increase in the MDMA component of the drug.

The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS), which surveys regular psychostimulant users each year, reports that nearly 60 per cent of users now take ecstasy in its purer crystal form.

Research from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre suggests that ecstacy use increased by six per cent in 2016 alone, with 93 percent of users reporting that it is either easy or very easy to obtain. The Centre reported a 70 percent increase over the past five years.

Harm reduction

Professor Michael Farrell is concerned by the risks associated with fluctuating levels of purity and dangerous fillers, arguing for the introduction of pill testing at dance parties and music festivals.

“There may be the possibility that, as we did with needle exchange programs, you make sure that the police stand back and don’t interfere with certain things with the notion that it may confer some benefit and some reduce-to-harm around some people,” he said.

The drug liberalisation group Unharm has been calling for pill testing for years.

“Drugs that should be tested in laboratories are being tested on humans and this is the result,” says the group’s Facebook page. “Like the pollies and police always say, ‘you don’t know what you’re taking’, and that’s because THEY are making it almost impossible to find out”.

NSW government’s position

Earlier this year, NSW Police Minister Troy Grant rejected the introduction of pill testing in our state, stating:

“The number one problem is that what they are proposing is some sort of quality assurance measure for an illegal drug, for drug traffickers, to be conducted by police and the New South Wales Government. Well, that’s just not going to happen”.

Public opinion

Research suggests that a majority of Australians support harm reduction measures like pill testing and needle exchange programs.

The former has been highly successful in preventing overdoses in several European countries, while the latter in the form of the medically supervised injection centre in Kings Cross has resulted in ambulance callouts for drug overdoses reducing by 80% and zero reported fatalities.

Young people are particularly supportive of pill testing; with 82% of 2,300 young Australians aged between 16 and 25 years surveyed for the Australian National Council on Drugs in 2013 being in favour of its introduction.

While Mr Grant argues that harm minimisation measures “send the wrong message”, he seems to ignore the fact young people are taking drugs regardless of the penalties – indeed, drug use is on the rise – and are ending up in hospital or even dead in the absence of a sensible, pragmatic approach.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Police Caught Using and Supplying Drugs

By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim

Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog tabled a report before state parliament on Tuesday, finding that a number of Victorian police officers have been taking illegal drugs and, in some instances, even selling them.

The officers were found to have been regularly partying on cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and ice.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) report sets out the findings of three investigations carried out by Operations Apsley, Hotham and Yarrowitch.

Officers in disrepute

The largest of the investigations, Operation Aspley, commenced in June 2015. It probed allegations that a police officer had been involved in the use, possession and supply of illegal drugs.

The investigation found significant evidence that six officers were regularly using illegal drugs, four of whom were selling them. Four of the officers ultimately tested positive to illicit substances in their system. Two of them were in direct interactions with convicted drug suppliers.

As a result of the investigation, one officer was dismissed and two resigned whilst under investigation. Another was admonished and allowed to stay on the force. Two are currently suspended, awaiting criminal proceedings.

The report’s recommendations

The IBAC identified a number of “systemic deficiencies” in Victoria police’s approach to preventing and detecting illegal drug use amongst officers.

It found that current drug testing procedures are inadequate, as only 5 percent of officers are tested per year. This means an officer is only likely to be randomly tested every 20 years.

The report recommended Victoria police undertake a comprehensive review of measures to prevent illicit drug use by police officers. The Victoria police chief commissioner is to provide the IBAC with a progress report by June 30 next year.

The three IBAC operations led to allegations being brought against eight officers, all of which have been substantiated.

Not the first time

This is certainly not the first time Victoria police has been criticised for failing to address illegal drug use within police ranks. The Herald Sun reported in October last year that the rate of drug testing had slumped in recent years, but the number of officers caught taking drugs is on the rise.

Of just 100 officers tested over a 40 month period, 18 tested positive, while eleven others had been caught in possession of illegal drugs, or had failed to account for seized substances.

In September of this year, an internal police investigation resulted in four officers being suspended for using illicit drugs and leaking information to criminals. This transpired amid claims that recreational drug use is on the rise amongst younger officers.

Earlier that same month, former police officer David Lister pleaded guilty to supplying ice and cannabis cultivation. He resigned from the force in February, after failing a drug test.

Hardly a shock

The secretary of the Victoria Police Association, Ron Iddles, denies there’s a systemic drug problem in the Victoria police force. However, he acknowledged that the findings of the IBAC report weren’t a “total shock.”

“Our members are susceptible to more pressure and stress than the average member of society,” Iddles said on Tuesday.

Drug use is indeed common amongst the general public. The National Drug Strategy Household survey 2013 found that 15 percent of the population had used an illicit drug in the past 12 months.

However, the difference between police officers and members of the general public is that police swear an oath to uphold and enforce the law. Indeed, taxpayers fork out billions of dollars per year to fund police forces across the nation – $3.4 billion a year in NSW alone. It is the job of police to detect, investigate and prosecute the very crimes that some officers are engaging in – which may be seen as hypocritical and affecting the integrity of the institution as a whole.

Police are allowed to exercise their extensive powers around the clock, whether or not they are on duty, and many see a problem with officers having the power to arrest people, use move on powers etc whilst they are using illegal drugs.

Drug use by police can compromise integrity

“Illicit drug use and police work are fundamentally incompatible,” IBAC commissioner Stephen O’Bryan said in a statement. He outlined that officers that use, possess or sell these substances “make themselves vulnerable to blackmail” and are at risk of engaging with organised criminals.

He added that police officers who commit drug offence are also vulnerable to coercion.

The costs of the punitive measures

The number of arrests for illicit drugs has increased by 70 percent Australia wide over the past decade. Over the year 2014-15, 133,926 illicit drug arrests took place, and the overwhelming majority were for cannabis.

The Australian government spends an estimated $1.7 billion on responding to illicit drugs every year, with policing comprising 64 percent of this. That’s over $1 billion spent on enforcing drug laws a year, and this doesn’t take into account the huge amount spent on imprisoning those who are sent to prison.

And yet figures released last year suggest that the drug trade in Victoria dramatically increased over the previous five years.

Police could focus on criminals with legitimate victims

It’s obvious that a lot of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on a failed approach to dealing with drugs. Not only that, a huge amount of police time is being wasted on searching and arresting people for personal possession – and most of those searches do not result in a drug find.

Damon Adams of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a former South Australian police officer who’s calling for a legalised and regulated cannabis market. In his opinion, there are a lot of officers who agree with him.

Adams believes that an enormous amount of police time is being wasted on pursuing minor drug offences, when they could be proactively going “after criminals that actually have legitimate victims.” He’s pointed out that when officers seize cannabis plants, they spend a great deal of time transporting and cataloguing them, in addition to preparing statements and everything else that goes with a prosecution.

The case for decriminalisation

Last month, the Australian Greens announced a change in their drug policy that would see the decriminalisation of illicit drugs and the legalisation of some for recreational use. The party has formally acknowledged the obvious – that Australia’s punitive approach isn’t working.

An example of a non-punitive approach is Portugal. The Portuguese decriminalised the possession of all drugs fifteen years ago.

Citizens found in possession of a permissible amount of an illicit substance receive a citation or they’re sent to see a “dissuasion panel.” Those who repeatedly appear before these panels are prescribed treatment.

As a result of the policy change, drug use in Portugal has fallen dramatically and the country has saved billions in enforcement costs.

The Greens Party No Longer Opposes Legalising Drug Possession

By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim

Portugal decriminalised the possession of small quantities of all drugs fifteen years ago. Citizens found in possession of a permissible amount of an illicit substance receive a citation or they’re sent to see a “dissuasion panel.” Those who repeatedly appear before these panels are prescribed treatment.

The rate of HIV infections in the country dropped from 1,016 in 2001 to 56 in 2012, while overdose deaths decreased from 80 to 16 over the same time period. And drug use in the country has fallen since the law came into effect, despite claims by conservatives that the laws would lead to an explosion in drug use.

The International Narcotics Control Board lauded the Portuguese model as exemplary in December last year.

Beyond prohibition

The Australian Greens announced over the weekend that they’re officially dropping their blanket opposition to the legalisation of illicit drugs from its policy platform. Greens party members voted to support the change at their national conference in Perth on Saturday.

The new policy sees a major Australian political party move into line with developments in drug law reform that are taking place across the globe.

Leader of the Australian Greens, Richard Di Natale, was behind the push for this new approach that would see the decriminalisation of illegal drugs and the legalisation of some for recreational use.

Di Natale accepts that the global war on drugs has failed and hopes the party’s policy will spark debate over the decriminalisation of drugs. The senator – a former drug and alcohol clinician – has visited Portugal and seen the benefits of their approach firsthand.

The party’s policy explicitly acknowledges that the punitive approach hasn’t stopped illicit drug use. It recognises that legal framework for recreational drugs use should be informed by the evidence of the harm a substance is likely to cause, and that education is the key when dealing with both legal and illicit drugs.

The cost of criminalisation

NSW Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, “it’s time for politicians at both the federal and state level to pull their heads out of the sand, open their minds and listen to the evidence.”

The doctor says that “the heavy-handed, punitive and prohibitionist approach on drugs has not worked at all – not for families, not for young people and not even for the taxpayer.” She adds that while vast amounts are spent on imprisoning people who use drugs, this “does nothing to reduce harm.”

The Global Commission on Drug Policy report released in June 2011, found that the criminalisation of drugs across the globe has also led to the growth of a huge criminal black market and actually increased drug consumption worldwide.

Life-saving pill testing

A key aim of the Greens’ new policy is to establish a national regulatory authority to look at ways to best reduce the harm associated with different drugs on a case-by-case basis.

“Setting up a body to develop drug policies including decriminalisation, regulation and pill testing within a health and social framework is evidence-based and the only way forward,” explained Dr Faruqi, the NSW Greens spokesperson on drugs and harm minimisation.

There has been a push for the introduction of pill testing in Australia, since a tragic spate of drug-related deaths occurred at music festivals last year. Pill testing allows festival goers to check the contents of their drugs and make informed decisions about whether they should take them.

This harm minimisation measure has been available in many European nations – like the Netherlands – for decades. And it actually works as a market regulator, as drug producers are forced to “quality assure” their products.

Legalise it

The proposed drug regulatory body could lead to the complete legalisation of the recreational use of some drugs, such as marijuana. But Di Natale made clear that harder drugs, such as heroin or ice, may not be legalised under this model.

Dr Faruqi pointed out that on November 9 this year, the US states of California, Nevada and Massachusetts voted to legalise the recreational use of cannabis. In 2012, the first states to legalise it were Colorado and Washington, while Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia followed suit in 2014.

And as Ms Faruqi put it, “the sky has not fallen in.” Indeed, in the state of Colorado legalised pot brings in millions of dollars of revenue a month, which has been used to fund schools. And there’s also been a drop in crime rates.

An end to the dogs

The NSW “Labor and Liberal parties continue their support of dangerous policies like drug sniffer dogs,” Dr Faruqi said. The NSW police drug detection dog program has a high false positive rate. Around 70 percent of people searched are found to be in possession of no illicit substances.

While the presence of sniffers dogs at festivals leads some attendees to partake in dangerous drug taking practices such as preloading – taking all their drugs before an event – and the hiding of drugs in body cavities in packages such as condoms.

Panic overdosing – also known as ‘loading up’ – can also occur when a person sees approaching police and sniffer dogs.

An Australian Greens motion was passed in the federal Senate in August this year, calling on the Turnbull government to introduce a range of evidence-based harm minimisation policies. These included the removal of sniffer dogs and the introduction of pill testing at events like music festivals.

Conservative criticisms

Of course, the Greens’ policy change has had its detractors. Australian justice minister Michael Keenan described it as “dangerous” and a “threat to the community.” Like opponents of Portugal’s move to decriminalise drug possession, Mr Keenan warned that it was giving a “green light” to drug dealers.

Federal health minister Sussan Ley declared the government would never legalise “a drug that destroys brain function,” saying they’d continue their hardline stance.

Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon said he welcomed discussion of treatments, but thought decriminalisation was going too far.

But this is to be expected from conservative elements, who see law enforcement as the only way.

Harm reduction: the Australian way

However, the Greens’ new drug policy actually hearkens back to when Australia was a world leader in the field of harm minimisation. Since 1985, reducing the risks associated with drug use has formed the basis of the nation’s National Drug Strategy.

Needle syringe programs were introduced in 1986, which contributed to our nation having some of the lowest HIV rates amongst people who inject drugs in the world. And the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre – the first of its kind in the English-speaking world- was set up in Kings Cross in May 2001.

According to Dr Faruqi, it’s high time for drug law reform in Australia, as community momentum for it has been building. “But this conversation needs to get much louder at the political level,” she concluded.

Police turn a blind eye to marijuana smokers

Victorian police turned their back on an opportunity to charge people with drug possession recently when hundreds flirted with the law by smoking marijuana in a public place.

The Cannabis Picnic at the Flagstaff Gardens in the Melbourne CBD was a peaceful demonstration calling for marijuana to be legalised, and while police were in attendance, they refrained from prosecuting cannabis smokers.

Despite criticism from conservatives, police stood by their decision not to charge attendees, saying they were just using their ‘freedom of expression’.

The Victorian Police Minister officially backed this stance, despite it being illegal to possess cannabis in Victoria.

Cannabis picnics

Cannabis picnics have been a regular event since 2010, and supporters of the
Free Cannabis Community posted photos of their smoke-filled afternoon on social media. Over the past three years alone, 20 such gatherings have taken place.

Organisers say the events seek to make a political statement and also to “overcome the negative effect of prohibition and the isolation when there is nowhere for stoners to go.”

Similar events have been held in Sydney, including to mark ‘420’ – the unofficial international day of celebrating marijuana, which occurs on the 20th of April (20/4). The stalwarts say that if you want to do things properly, then you’re not only supposed to celebrate your love of weed on the 20th day of the 4th month, but at precisely 4.20pm on that day.

420 movement

Many trace the beginnings of the 420 movement to a high school in California in 1971. A group of San Rafael High School students are reported to have met every afternoon at 4.20pm to smoke cannabis by a statue of Louis Pasteur. Eventually, the term ‘420’ became code-speak amongst teens for smoking weed, when they were in front of their parents or other disapproving ‘grown ups’.

A lot of people also believe that ‘Dead Heads’ (the name given to fans of hippy band the Grateful Dead) were instrumental in taking the concept of 420 to the world.

To mark 420 earlier this year, almost 2000 people showed up at the same venue in Victoria to get high. Police were also present at that event, but most stayed in their cars and there were no reported arrests.

Legalisation

Victoria is at the forefront of drug law reform in Australia – becoming the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis.

Given that Victorian police are already using their discretion when it comes to enforcing cannabis possession, many believe it’s only a matter of time before the drug is legalised generally.

Schoolie Faces Drug Charges in Indonesia

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

An 18-year old Australian school leaver is reported to be facing the possibility of a lengthy stint behind bars in Indonesia after allegedly being found in possession of drugs.

Security guards outside Sky Garden night club (pictured) in Bali searched the young man on entry, allegedly finding 1.46 grams of an unknown white powder in a small packet in his money belt.

The young man from Perth, known only as ‘Jamie’, was celebrating ‘Schoolies’ with a group of friends in Bali. Since his arrest, authorities have been questioning him in relation to the substance but he has vehemently denied they are his.

Jamie is reported to have been urine tested and the powder has been sent off for analysis, the results of which should be known shortly.

Bali police have stepped up their presence across the resort island this week, as Aussie school leavers flood the tourist areas for their annual high school graduation celebrations.

Among Jamie’s possessions was a key to The One Legian hotel, which offers a ten percent discount to Schoolies. The hotel’s website also advertises daily “Schoolies Parties” from November 21 to December 4, with “free marathon shots”, all you can eat barbecue, DJ, Flair show and “sexy dancer”.

Aussies Arrested for Drugs in Indonesia

It’s hard for many to believe Australians can still find themselves in trouble with drugs in countries like Indonesia, which has demonstrated time and again by dishing out harsh sentences for the Bali 9 and Shapelle Corby, that tourists are not immune from its tough stance on drugs.

Under Indonesian law, a conviction for possession of less than 5 grams of illegal drugs carries a maximum 12-year prison sentence. Anyone convicted of possessing more than 5 grams of illicit drugs faces the death penalty.

Schoolies Overseas

More Australians than ever before have headed overseas to celebrate the end of school this year – something almost unheard of a decade ago.

About 10,000 school leavers are heading to Fiji and Bali this year. And it’s certainly a viable option when you consider that the average price of a week-long stay in 4-star accommodation is only about $300, and the price of a beer is as little as $2 AUD.

By comparison, on the Gold Coast, the traditional hotspot for celebrations, the average entrance fee to a nightclub is about $17.50, while the average price of a beer is about $7.

Schoolies on the Glitter Strip

More than 20,000 teenagers have aready landed on the Gold Coast, and celebrations are in full swing.

Extra police have been bought from Brisbane to cope with the crowds. In the past several weeks, police have been educating young people on how to stay safe and look after their mates. One of the key messages has been: “Know when to take a break.”

The message appears to have worked so far – 41 people have been treated by paramedics and 11 arrested, which is much less than expected and fewer than the same time last year.

One man was caught with methamphetamines and two other young people have been admitted to hospital with suspected drug overdoses. Police believe the pair took MDMA, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Despite a brawl that erupted in Cavil Mall on Monday night involving about 12 people, police say they are fairly happy with the conduct of the 2016 schoolies crowd, with no major incidents.

However, police were concerned that a 13-year old boy snuck into celebrations on the ‘Glitter strip’ and had to be treated by paramedics for a suspected drug overdose.