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Police Raid Another Medical Marijuana Producer

Police have raided another medicinal cannabis producer, who gives away her products free to help patients suffering from chronic pain and seizures. On January 4, South Australia police raided the home of Jenny Hallam and seized products and equipment related to the production of cannabis oil.

Ms Hallam is said to have been producing the medicine for two years and been supplying about 200 patients nationwide.

The 44-year-old’s criminal defence lawyer said her client would be appearing in court at a later date.

The lawyer questioned whether Ms Hallam committed a crime, as her client produces the product for people who need it, she doesn’t grow the cannabis she uses to make the oil, and nor does she sell her product.

A spokeswoman for SA police confirmed the home of a 44-year-old woman in the northern Adelaide suburb of Hillier had been raided and said police had seized “a quantity of chemicals and other substances from the address which will be forensically analysed.”

Concerned parents

Since the raid, parents of dozens of sick children have spoken out about the effect it’s going to have on their kids.

Steve Peek from Brisbane has an eight-year-old daughter Suli who relies on medicinal cannabis to control her seizures. He told the ABC that he’d contacted the SA police who told him they had “done the wrong thing but they had no choice because a complaint had been made.”

The police suggested Mr Peek contact the South Australian ombudsman about the matter.

An unlikely advocate

Since the raid, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has stepped up as an unexpected advocate for medical marijuana. She announced on Sunday that she’d been in contact with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for an amnesty for producers and users of medicinal cannabis.

Ms Hanson declared on her Facebook page that she has been a long-time advocate of the medicine, “due to its effective relief for so many ailments, conventional drugs can’t offer.”

Ms Hanson is not the only conservative politician to have thrown their weight behind legalised medicinal cannabis. A turning point for many was when then-prime minister Tony Abbott supplied a letter supporting medical marijuana for radio presenter Alan Jones to read on air in September 2014.

Legalising medical marijuana

In February last year, federal parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 allowing for the legal cultivation, manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana.

Under the new system – which came into effect on October 30 last year – businesses can apply for a licence to grow the plant for medicinal purposes. However, many in the community are asking what current medicinal cannabis patients are meant to do while they wait for the legalised products to be rolled out.

The raid on a Newcastle medicinal cannabis dispensary

Last week’s raid follows a similar incident in December when NSW police raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Newcastle. Two hundred and fifteen plants were seized from a hydroponic operation run by a local group called the Church of Ubuntu.

Co-founder of the church Karen Burge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers at the time that they’d been supplying small plants for cancer patients and parents of children with epilepsy to grow at home.

The church was one of the largest suppliers in the country with 2,000 patients.
Ms Burge added that the authorities were well aware of their two year long operation as they’d contacted premier Mike Baird about it in early 2015.

The Hemp party weighs in

Secretary of the Australian Hemp party Andrew Kavasilas said that the raid on Jenny Hallam’s house was terrible. But he expects the police will continue carrying out operations like these.

“It seems this is a sign of the time. This is obviously going to happen more and more over the next ten to twenty years,” Kavasilas told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Because that’s how long medical cannabis will take to get up and going.”

Kavasilas said a situation will arise where more and more courts and police are going to be wasting their time in pursuing medicinal cannabis producers. “You’ll find that courts find no criminal activity, no criminal intent. So by and large, the criminal justice system doesn’t apply to them and they’ll be treated with leniency,” he outlined.

According to Kavasilas there are around 1,000 medical marijuana supply outlets around the country, and more than 100,000 patients using the medicine at the moment. He added that the laws that have been changed and the amendment of the Narcotics Act has done “nothing to address” these patients concerns.

Advocates call for immediate access

Medicinal cannabis advocates in Queensland are calling on the government to legalise the medicine immediately. In October last year, legislation was passed before state parliament that will allow Queensland doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients as of March.

But advocates are saying the wait could actually cost lives.

While in NSW, the state government is conducting several medicinal cannabis trials on chemotherapy patients and children with epilepsy. But again, advocates point out that these programs are slowing down access to the products for patients who need them now.

Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, has questioned why certain trials need to be carried out when a 2012 study identified 82 favourable controlled trials had been held around the world, and only nine unfavourable ones.

However, the doctor has also pointed out that there is a need for continued trials into areas that haven’t been thoroughly researched as yet.

The federal government’s medical marijuana adviser

Questions have also been raised over the appointment of doctor Andrew Southcott to the chair of the new Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis. The former Liberal MP has previously said the drug is “not safe.”

In 2011, when Southcott was the opposition’s spokesperson on primary healthcare, he criticised the “normalisation” of the plant, in response to a Food Standards Australia New Zealand review of the use of hemp as food.

Interim measures

The answer to the current medicinal marijuana access problem is interim measures, according to Kavasilas. He believes the government should sit down with advocates like the HEMP party and discuss what measures could be taken now.

Then the government could take these guidelines to the United Nations and explain that this “is what Australia intends to do in the interim while companies materialise and produce these medical cannabis products,” Kavasilas said

“Bearing in mind that years or decades of medical research in the future may just show that conventional raw cannabis products are far superior to pharmaceutical ones,” he concluded.

Another Preventable Drug-Related Death Occurs at NYE Bush Rave

One man died and two others were on life support after they took an unidentified drug at a New Year’s Eve rave on a remote Mount Lindesay property on the Queensland and New South Wales border.

Queensland police were called out to the YewbuNYE rave at around 10.20 am on Sunday morning due to reports that people were acting erratically after having taken an unknown substance.

Police located five people with adverse reactions and paramedics were called out to the two-day event.

The toll of the unidentified drug

Daniel Towson from the Queensland Ambulance Service told the ABC that one man in his 20s went into cardiac arrest when they arrived. And “they were unable to resuscitate him at the scene after working on him for a very long time.”

Two others were airlifted to the Gold Coast University Hospital and were still in a critical condition on Monday evening. And the last two men who were suffering a bad reaction refused treatment and rushed into the bush. Police were searching for them at the time.

Police confirmed on Monday afternoon that the deceased was 26-year-old Nimbin man Jake Monahan, while the two that have been hospitalised are a 29-year-old Clothiers Creek man and a 25-year-old Nimbin man.

“Demonically possessed”

Up to 500 people were attending the YewbuNYE rave party over the weekend. DJ Zee Nagual, who played at the event on New Year’s Eve, said he’d noticed bizarre behaviour from dozens of revellers.

The DJ said that as he was leaving the event he saw a group of four partygoers acting out of control and looking like they were “demonically possessed.” And others at the festival reported seeing a man thrashing and clawing at the ground.

The police response

Police responded to the incident by setting up roadside drug testing sites on either side of the event. Senior Constable Scott Tragis said five positive drug tests had been returned just after setting up operations.

On Monday, Queensland police announced they were waiting to interview the organisers of the event. They also said that the toxicology test results could take up to anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

The incident on the Gold Coast

A similar incident occurred in October last year when paramedics were called out to treat 21 drug-affected people who were acting erratically on the Gold Coast.

After overdosing on what they thought was ecstasy, 16 people were hospitalised, two of whom were place in an induced coma.

Initial reports indicated that the substance was the so-called zombie drug flakka. But after 27-year-old Victorian football player Ricki Stephens died, toxicology results revealed that he’d taken a cocktail of MDMA and a New Psychoactive Substance, known as NBOMe.

New substances sold as ecstasy

Canberra emergency physician Dr David Caldicott told Sydney Criminal Lawyers at the time that NBOMe is a drug that’s been linked to poisoning, heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.

Caldicott – one of Australia’s leading harm reduction experts – believes there’s a very real danger with a drug like NBOMe being mixed with MDMA, as people expecting the effects of ecstasy will be confronted with a very different experience.

“If they’re all in the same pill that is absolutely something we need to know,” he said, because what happened on the Gold Coast “could be replicated in anyone of the music festivals all over Australia.”

And sadly, this may be what actually happened on the border of Queensland and New South Wales last weekend.

Calls for pill testing

Sunday’s tragic death prompted Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, to publicly call for pill testing at events like music festivals.

“We should have the courage to test things, like we tested the legal syringe program in the late 1980s, methadone, car seat belts, a whole range of harm reduction measures,” Dr Wodak told the ABC.

Wodak – along with Caldicott and Unharm’s Will Tregoning – announced plans early last year to introduce pill testing trials at NSW music festivals.

This was in response to a tragic spate of six deaths attributed to drug overdoses at festivals around the state over the twelve month period beginning November 2014.

It’s been available in Europe for decades

Per capita Australian adults lead the world in the use of the drug ecstasy, according to UNODC data. But in the Netherlands – where party drug use is also prevalent – stories about people dying are less common.

This is because European nations like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria have had official pill testing services for decades. And the European Union has actually produced pill testing best practice guidelines.

Five reasons to implement pill testing

Writing in the Conversation Professor Alison Ritter of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, listed five reasons why Australia should be implementing a pill testing program.

The first is that it works as a quality control system for the black market. If substances are identified as particularly dangerous – such as the case with NBOMe on the Gold Coast – they will eventually not be found within the contents of drugs being produced.

And overtime the contents of the drugs being produced begins correspond to what’s expected within them.

While the third reason was that research has shown pill testing changes consumers’ behaviour. In Austria, 50 percent of those who had their drugs tested said it had affected their consumption choices.

Another reason is that pill testing services create an opportunity for drug users to come into contact with counsellors who can discuss their substance use with them. And they also allow researchers to capture information about what kinds of drugs are available on the market.

The response of NSW authorities

However, NSW premier Mike Baird dismissed pill testing plans as “ridiculous” in February last year. He told reporters that “we are not going to be condoning in any way what illegal drug dealers are doing.”

While last month, NSW police were slammed for seizing seven pill testing kits during a raid of a shop in the Sydney inner west suburb of Newtown. The testing kits are not illegal under NSW law, but the police took them along with other drug equipment they were seizing.

It’s high time

Drug use is going to continue. Over fifty years of the war on drugs has proven that. The general public has been calling for a system of pill testing that will prevent the deaths of the nation’s young for some time now. And the system has proven effective in Europe for decades.

It’s only the authorities that are preventing this life-saving harm reduction method, which if in place could have prevented the tragic death at last weekend’s bush rave.

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.

Beware – Ecstacy Pills May Contain Deadly Additives

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

On the same weekend that Victorian Footballer Riki Stephens took the drug that would kill him less than a week later, 16 others on the Gold Coast were hospitalised after reactions to what they thought was ecstasy.

Police originally suspected they had all taken the so-called zombie drug ‘flakka’, but subsequent toxicology reports told a different story, indicating the presence of a synthetic drug known as ‘N-BOMe’.

N-BOMe is also known as ‘N-Bomb’, ‘Tripstasy’, ‘green Mitsubishi’, ‘yellow Ferrari’ and ‘pink superman’. The drug has been linked to the death of young Australians Rye Hunt, whose body washed up on the shores of Rio earlier this year, and Henry Kwan, a Sydney student who jumped to his death from a third-floor balcony.

Party season has begun

Just two weeks after Riki Stephens’ family turned off his life support system, several people collapsed at the Horror Mansion Halloween Party at Moore Park in Sydney.

One patient was making bizarre facial expressions as he was strapped to a stretcher and wheeled into a waiting ambulance. NSW police went on to arrest more than 20 people for drug possession, with the drug GHB being suspected.

As we sit on the brink of summer – the season for schoolies, Christmas parties and music festivals around Australia – police, paramedics and hospital emergency department staff are gearing up for what they fear is going to be one of the deadliest seasons for drug overdoses in Australian history.

Along with the prevalence of flakka, NBOMe and GHB, emergency service workers are also bracing themselves for dealing with the adverse effects of super strength ecstasy pills, and the drug Fentanyl, which is said to be far more potent than heroin.

Police expect all of these drugs to flood the Australian black market this summer.

Failure of ‘zero tolerance’ approaches

In recent years, loading up on ecstacy pills is suspected to have claimed the lives of a number of music festival go-ers, including Sylvia Choi and Georgina Bartter.

Loading up, or pre loading, is where people take all of their drugs at once in order to avoid detection by police or sniffer dogs. It can be particularly dangerous where drugs are high in purity or contain other forms of drugs.

Those who deal first-hand with the frightening effects of drug overdoses argue that Australia’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use is naïve and dangerous, putting young lives at risk.

John Rogerson, the Chief Executive of the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, says Australians have an insatiable appetite when it comes to illicit substances, and that ‘tough on drugs’ approaches do nothing to deter demand.

Studies suggest that we are world-leaders in drug consumption – the highest users of ecstasy, the third biggest amphetamine users, and second biggest opioid users per capita.

Mr Rogerson highlights the fact that the recent National Ice Taskforce Report found that the majority of people who taking illicit drugs, do so for recreational purposes.

“And that’s why we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” he says.

Putting others at risk

Another important consideration is the safety of those exposed to adverse reactions: police officers, paramedics, hospital workers and innocent bystanders who might be the unwitting victims of the violent behaviour at the hands of those affected by drugs like NBOMe and ice.

Only last year, a Hunter Valley man engaged in a random and frenzied attack on a hospital security guard after taking NBOMe. The man couldn’t remember anything after snorting the drug, but collapsed and was taken to hospital where he leapt off a stretcher, over a railing and punched a security guard.

Pill testing

Considering the prevalence of deadly additives and fluctuating purity levels, many are calling upon the government to allow for the introduction of pill testing at festivals and other venues where drugs are going to be taken regardless of what the law says.

Pill testing allows drug users to receive information about the make-up and, in some cases, purity level of their drugs within half an hour, allowing them to make an informed decision as to whether to take the drug and, if so, how much of it to take.

Emergency room doctor and harm minimisation advocate Dr David Caldicott says, “Pill testing reduces consumption by 60 per cent at the point of consumption.”

Pill testing has been highly successful in reducing overdoses in several European countries, where it has been reported that users are unlikely to take drugs in cases where they are advised they contain deadly additives. Testing booths have the added benefit of facilitating education about the dangers of drug use, and studies suggests they have led to a drop in ‘bad batches’ of drugs on the market.

But despite 82% of respondents in a government survey supporting pill testing, Premier Mike Baird has so far rejected calls for the harm minimisation measure to be introduced in NSW.

Dob in a Dealer or Go to Prison

Queensland paramedics were called out to treat 21 drug-affected people on the Gold Coast over the weekend of October 15-16.

Sixteen people – who’d overdosed on a drug they believed was ecstasy – were hospitalised, two of whom were put into induced comas.

Crime watchdog joins police

Amidst cries of an epidemic of the so-called zombie-drug flakka, Queensland’s crime watchdog announced it was teaming up with Queensland police in their pursuit of drug traffickers and suppliers.

Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is now utilising its coercive powers to help police detect the suppliers of “a dangerous drug which has caused people to hallucinate and act violently.”

“The timing of it, and that separate groups were impacted, is consistent with an organised crime distribution model,” Kathleen Florian, the CCCs executive director of crime told the ABC.

This is despite the fact that novel psychoactive substances (NPS), such as flakka, are often purchased over the dark web, using cryptocurrencies and sent through the post in small amounts.

Two men have since been charged with drug supply.

The CCCs coercive powers

But what of the CCCs coercive powers? Well, what they mean is that people who’ve been hospitalised after taking drugs can be forced to give evidence about who they got them from.

And if these individuals don’t comply, they can be charged and face the prospect of prison time.

“The idea that the solution is coercive questioning is just disgraceful,” said Canberra emergency physician Dr David Caldicott. “Because there is no place for coercion in drug treatment and management at all.”

He feared people will stop “dropping off their mates at hospitals,” when they’re having an adverse reaction to drugs, because they’ll “be afraid to seek help.”

The “limited amount of collaboration between consumers and any authority: health or law enforcement,” will be driven “further underground,” Caldicott told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

The long-time harm minimisation advocate says he’s sure no one involved in the healthcare profession in Queensland has been consulted on the issue.

NBOMe

Tragically, Ricki Stephens was pronounced dead last Friday. He was one of the two individuals put into an induced coma after being taking to hospital suffering an overdose.

The 27-year-old Victorian football player thought he was taking an ecstasy pill. But toxicology results indicate he’d taken a cocktail of MDMA and an NPS, known as NBOMe.

NBOMe has been linked to the death of Tasmanian backpacker Rye Hunt, as it is believed he took the drug before dying in Rio Di Janeiro in May this year.

In June 2013, Henry Kwan jumped from a third-floor balcony in the Sydney suburb of Killara whist under the effects of NBOMe.

His friend was cleared of a charge of supplying the synthetic drug, because it wasn’t illegal in Australia at the time.

NBOMe is often described as a synthetic LSD, but it is not. It can produce similar hallucinations, but it’s considered to be a much more dangerous drug.

According to Dr Caldicott, it is a mistake to equate the two drugs, as there’s never been a death attributed LSD, but it’s a different matter for NBOMe.

Dr Caldicott is an expert on the drug, which has caused poisoning, heart attack, strokes and kidney failure.

Novel psychoactive substances

NPS’s have been flooding the market for at least half a decade now. They’re produced in a number of countries, including India and China.

They often mimic the effects of illicit drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA – and are being produced because the more traditional drugs are illegal.

Although they’re much more common in Europe and the States, a lot of Australian drug consumers are now taking NPS, sometimes unwittingly.

But it’s hard to gauge how many people are taking the drugs, because it’s difficult to detect synthetic substances and new ones are being produced all the time. As soon as health professionals become aware of the makeup of one, another substance becomes available.

NPS’s weren’t illegal when they first entered the Australian market. The government would identify a new synthetic substance and then ban it.

Then a chemist overseas would alter a molecule of the substance, and a new product would be legally presented on the market.

In recent years, Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia have enacted ‘blanket bans’ on possessing or selling any substance that has a psychoactive effect.

But in some states, authorities still have to identify each individual substance before it can be outlawed.

So while at lot of attention has been focused on “new” drugs such as flakka and NBOMe, they’ve already been around for quite a few years, which is a long time on the NPS circuit.

Dr Caldicott says he first detected flakka – or alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone – in Canberra fifteen months ago.

It could happen again

A real danger, in Caldicott’s view, is that if a drug like NBOMe is mixed with MDMA in the same pill, people who are expecting the effects of ecstasy are going to have a very different experience.

“If they’re all in the same pill that is absolutely something we need to know,” he said, because what just happened on the Gold Coast “could be replicated in anyone of the music festivals all over Australia.”

And this is where Queensland law enforcement has got it all wrong with its focus on further criminalising personal drug use and threatening people with imprisonment for not informing on a supplier, who could be a friend, partner or even a family member.

The need for pill testing

There are alternatives that could save the lives of young people who are going to continue to take drugs regardless of what the law says, and that is drug checking, or pill testing as it’s more commonly known in Australia.

More than a decade ago, the Australian Medical Association passed a resolution backing the practice of drug checking, and in March of this year, the Australian Drug Summit produced the Canberra Declaration, which also called for pill testing.

“When you’ve got the entirety of specialists in Australia saying one thing and a group of politicians and their law enforcement colleagues deciding to do something else,” Dr Caldicott said, “that’s disgraceful.”

According to the doctor, drug checking shouldn’t just be relegated to music festivals. As in the Netherlands, people should be able to take their drugs to have them tested at centres in their local area.

The New Zealand model

But there have been other alternatives to dealing with novel psychoactive substances. Take the much lauded and shortly lived New Zealand NPS regulated market.

It came into effect on July 18, 2013 after legislation was passed that created an interim regulated marketplace with 150 licensed retailers selling NPS’s.

The products were subject to recall, based on any adverse reports to the NZ Poisons Centre, and during the time it ran, no deaths were reported.

But on May 8, 2014 the NZ Parliament revoked the interim licences, stating that NPS’s must be proven safe before being made legal.

Queensland Legalises Medical Cannabis

Queensland doctors will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients from March next year, under new legislation that passed by the state parliament on Wednesday night.

The Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016 – which passed unanimously – establishes laws described as the most flexible in the country.

Accessing medicinal cannabis

Under the new laws, patients can access cannabis in two ways.

Specialist doctors, such as oncologists and paediatric neurologists can prescribe medical marijuana to patients directly, without the need for additional approval from Queensland Health.

Other doctors, including GPs, will be able to prescribe the medicine with certain conditions after applying to the health department for permission.

“Ground breaking” laws

Queensland health minister Cameron Dick said the bill will change “the paradigm for seriously ill patients” who are currently forced to obtain cannabis products illegally.

The minster said the legislation provides access to “both synthetic and botanically derived” medicinal cannabis.

Mr Dick said patients can access the drugs prior to the enactment of the new laws in March, under changes made to the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation last year.

Currently, one patient in Queensland is legally using medicinal cannabis – a teenager from the Brisbane suburb of Loganholme was given approval earlier this year to treat a brain tumour.

No local supply

However, no medicinal cannabis products are currently produced legally in Queensland, and civil libertarians are calling for a local industry to be established.

Michael Cope, spokesperson for the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, told the ABC that medical marijuana products are only manufactured in a few overseas countries. He said the products are extremely difficult to obtain and very expensive.

Criticism of the legislation

But some medicinal cannabis advocates are critical of the reforms.

Deb Lynch, secretary of the Medical Cannabis Users Association of Australia (M.C.U.A), told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that while the legislation is a good first step, “it doesn’t go far enough.”

According to Ms Lynch, the application process for doctors who want to prescribe the medicine is so rigorous that few will be approved.

Doctors who apply will have to prove they have a thorough knowledge of medical marijuana treatments. Doctors will also need to be available for follow up visits three months after the initial consultation to provide a report on the patient and the medicine.

This situation will lead to private patients being able to find a doctor who can supply the medication, while public patients will have a lot of difficulty obtaining the drugs.

“They’re just going to drive patients underground again, to either home grow and risk prosecution themselves or to the black market,” Ms Lynch said, adding there needs to be an amnesty for current patients.

The application process also places full responsibility onto doctors for any side effects resulting from cannabis medications.

While Ms Lynch thinks this is a good idea, she questions why the government is specifically isolating cannabis for such stringent regulations and not all pharmaceutical drugs.

Current producers of medical marijuana

And as for those who are illegally producing medicinal marijuana products for patients currently using it, the new legislation could mean an end to business, or worse.

“They could end up in gaol for decades, myself included, because I actually make ointments I send to other scleroderma patients,” said Ms Lynch, who suffers from scleroderma herself. “So I risk going to gaol for 15 to 20 years for helping others.”

Queensland’s medicinal cannabis trials

As of July this year, parents of children with severe drug-resistant epilepsy in Queensland have been able to register for medicinal cannabis trials that are set to begin before the end of the year.

A research team from Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane will lead the trials, which will involve the use of Epidiolex – a liquid form of pure cannabidiol (CBD) – produced by UK-based pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals.

Ms Lynch questions why the trials are limited to just one form of medicinal cannabis, as “CBD medicines overseas haven’t been as successful as the ones we are getting here now illegally.”

CBD is one of 113 active cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant, all of which act on receptors in the brain.

Children suffering severe seizures need access to other cannabinoids, such as THCA, CBN and THC, Ms Lynch believes. “They’re seizing and they’re just not stopping,” she said. “It’s the THC that’s actually bringing them out of it.”

Medical marijuana developments around Australia

Marijuana reform is not just isolated to Queensland – it’s been a big year for the plant across Australia.

In February this year, federal parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 allowing for the legal cultivation, manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana.

A national regulatory body will be established to oversee the market that will provide medicinal cannabis to patients with a valid prescription.

Both the NSW and Victorian state governments have already begun cultivating cannabis crops.

Victoria was the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis in April.

The Victorian Access to Medicinal Cannabis Act 2016 allows for the manufacture, supply and access to medical marijuana, but it will be restricted to children suffering severe epilepsy for the time being.

The Tasmanian state government announced in April that specialist doctors would be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with chronic illnesses starting next year.

However on Tuesday, Tasmanian parliament voted down a Greens’ motion to establish a register of medicinal cannabis users who would be quarantined from persecution prior to the establishment of the state’s Controlled Access Scheme.

In NSW, doctors have been able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with a range conditions since August 1.

Under amendments to the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods regulations, patients who have exhausted other standard treatment options for illnesses – such as arthritis, epilepsy and schizophrenia – can access the medicine if they receive approval from a NSW Health panel of experts.

And on August 31, the Therapeutic Goods Administration published their formal decision that legalises the medicinal use of the plant as of November this year.

NSW Cop Who Hated Drugs, Now Fights for Cannabis Reform

As a former NSW police officer with 35 years of service – eight years in the drug squad – Lou Haslam is no stranger to the dangers of certain illegal drugs: health problems, committing crime to support the habit, and even family violence.

For years, Haslam saw drugs as the enemy – especially during his time as head of the Tamworth drug squad.

He preached relentlessly to police force detectives and new recruits about the long-term effects of drugs including cannabis, how THC can build up in the body like lead, and how long-term cannabis use can cause psychosis and lead to drug-induced schizophrenia.

So no one was more surprised than Haslam’s family and former colleagues to hear that he was persuading his own son to use marijuana.

But the circumstances leading up to that decision were tragic – Haslam’s youngest son Daniel, in his late teens, was fighting a bitter battle against bowel cancer.

The chemotherapy affected him horribly, making him feel sick and causing painful ulcers in his mouth, right down his throat. Daniel struggled to speak, to keep food down, and the chemo killed what little appetite he had.

And then, just when Daniel was starting to recover, it would be time for his next round of chemo.

Marijuana helped ease the side effects

One night, a friend suggested Daniel try marijuana. Given his father’s history and strong stance against the drug, Daniel was understandably reluctant. However, as a concerned father, Haslam was desperate for anything that would help his son. He encouraged Daniel to take the drug.

After that first joint, Haslam witnessed first-hand the almost miraculous effect of the drug on his son’s symptoms. Marijuana helped control the nausea and vomiting, and increased his son’s appetite. Heartened by the results, Daniel began to try cannabis oil in a bid to slow down the progression of the cancer in its later stages.

“The results were sensational, said the former detective. “We’d give him a smoke just before and just after chemo clinic. That first night he asked for steak and eggs!

“We later found out, through all the petition signers leaving comments, everyone using it medicinally felt the same effect. That last year of Dan’s life was the best of all five since his initial diagnosis. His nausea eased, his appetite returned. We got Dan back, even if it was only for a year.”

Campaigning to make medicinal marijuana legal

Haslam’s wife Lucy (centre) began the campaign for medicinal marijuana to be legalised when she saw the positive effect it was having on her son.

She logged on to Change.org and signed a petition demanding not to be treated as a criminal for providing her terminally ill child with medicinal cannabis.

Going public with their own personal story was the first step in a long campaign for the Haslams, but they eventually amassed 250,000 signatures, belonging to an army of passionate campaigners who helped them to successfully pressure State Premiers, Health Ministers, party leaders and pharmaceutical giants.

In February last year, Daniel Haslam died. He was only 25. Honouring his legacy, his parents stepped up their lobbying. They had already convinced NSW Premier Mike Baird to rethink his views on the subject, with the Premier writing an article dedicated to Daniel titled “The young man who changed my mind about cannabis.”

The Haslam’s then turned to their 250,000 supporters and asked them to take the debate to federal politicians too. Eventually, their collective voices could not be ignored.

2016, steps towards legalising medicinal marijuana

In February 2016, on the first anniversary of Daniel’s death, the Haslams won a major victory.

Health Minister Sussan Ley issued an official response to their Change.org petition announcing the federal law would change to decriminalise medicinal cannabis.

Two months later, the Haslam family purchased a farm on the outskirts of Tamworth, where, surrounded by state-of-the-art high security fencing, they intend to run Australia’s first ever medicinal cannabis crop farm, appropriately named DanEden.

They intend to make the cannabis available for use by ¬patients with a certain severe conditions and terminal illnesses, as well as for children with chronic epilepsy.

The Haslam family’s vision is that they will successfully apply for a licence from the federal government to cultivate and manufacture medicinal cannabis, in order to provide the drug on a subsidy for people who cannot afford it.

“I still believe that there is no such thing as a soft drug,” said Mr Haslam, “But our argument is not about recreational use by people who make that choice. This is about a treatment for the chronically ill with pain, those suffering continuous epileptic seizures, those with Crohns disease for example, and those suffering from the effects of chemotherapy.”

New Laws

The new federal laws, passed at the start of 2016, allow for licences to be granted for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

NSW trials of the drug have already been scheduled, with 40 children suffering from severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy being selected to receive the cannabis-based drug, ‘Epidolex’, through the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

Recreational drug possession remains a crime throughout Australia, with state-based criminal laws still in place.