Hardly a week goes by without hearing about what politicians are calling the ‘ice epidemic.’
In the latest attempt to address the problem, the NSW government has introduced increased penalties for those who manufacture or supply the drug.
Starting from this month, people who are found guilty of supplying or manufacturing methylamphetamine will face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and fines up to $500,000, up from the previous maximum of 20 years.
What does the legislation say?
There are various penalties for drug supply in NSW, depending on the quantity and the particular drug in question. A supply charge could be for:
- a small quantity;
- indictable quantity;
- commercial quantity; or
- a large commercial quantity
The explanatory note to the new Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Methamphetamine) Regulation 2015 says that its aim is to:
“decrease, from one kilogram to half a kilogram, the threshold at which a quantity of the prohibited drug methylamphetamine (also known as “ice”) is considered a large commercial quantity.”
This essentially means that now, instead of one kilogram being a large commercial quantity, those who supply half that amount will face a potential life sentence.
Attorney General Gabrielle Upton justified the move by saying that ice dealers:
“profit from the misery and misfortune of others [and] must be held to higher account… We believe serious drug manufacturers and dealers spreading this poison throughout the community must be held to higher account… The ultimate aim is to cut off supply of these drugs, which we know are an epidemic across our state.”
Do tougher penalties really work?
These new laws have been deemed necessary due to the ‘ice epidemic’ that has been ravaging both city and regional areas of NSW.
Increased penalties are an easy way for politicians to be seen as ‘tough on crime’, even though such measures rarely actually work. Rather, they are a simple and convenient way to avoid addressing the underlying causes of drug use, and consequent supply, and to maintain a policy whereby little is done to educate, prevent and rehabilitate.
As we have pointed out time and time again, the idea of ‘general deterrence’ – that is, deterring others from committing crimes – relies on the ability of people to make rational decisions, particularly for offences which require premeditation, and to believe that they may actually be caught.
But many drug suppliers are also users, and for those making decisions under the grip of a highly addictive drug, the deterrence theory is unlikely to have any effect. Others at the top of the drug supply and importation chains believe that there is little to no chance that they will ever be caught. For these people, increased penalties are unlikely to have any effect at all.
Criticism of the legislation
Many disagree with the new legislation, which was passed through Parliament before any proper consultation or debate.
“regulations and laws should be based on best available evidence, and that evidence needs to be brought into the debate about where you set these thresholds, and as far as I can see that hasn’t occurred in this particular instance.”
Sam Biondo, Executive Officer of the Victoria Alcohol and Drug Association, believes that simply punishing people who supply drugs is ineffective, and that we need to look at decreasing the demand for ice.
And criminal law expert Stephen Odgers SC says that “this proposal would be unlikely to have any effect – except to add to the already existing problem of over-crowded prisons”.
Drug defence lawyers
If you have been charged with a drug offence, an experienced drug defence lawyer will be able to explain your options and the best way forward. In serious drug cases, they will often be able to have charges dropped or downgraded due to problems in the prosecution case, or have the case thrown out of court if the prosecution nevertheless wishes to pursue the charges all the way to a defended hearing or jury trial. If you wish to plead guilty, they will prepare your case for court and fight for the most lenient penalty.