Author Archives: Ugur Nedim

About Ugur Nedim
Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney’s Leading Firm of Criminal & Drug Defence Lawyers.

Another Young Life Lost at a Music Festival: It’s Time for Pill Testing

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Just last month, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller expressed the view that our law enforcement’s current ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs is ‘working’, and that pill testing is not an option for our state.

In the same breath, he was adamant police would not be implementing two of the most significant recommendations made by NSW Deputy Coroner Harriet Graeme after her inquiry into drug-related deaths at music festivals.

Ms Graeme’s draft final report is the culmination of months of inquiry into the harrowing drug-related deaths of several teenagers at music festivals. In it, she makes recommendations for a trial of pill testing and the abandonment of sniffer dogs, as well as the reduction of strip searches, and the decriminalisation of drugs taken for personal use at music festivals, amongst 28 other points for consideration.

Another drug-related music festival death

But, as the summer season of music festivals kicked off with Strawberry Fields this weekend, one life has already been lost to a suspected overdose.

A 24-year old man allegedly consumed a cocktail of illicit drugs before he was brought to a medical tent.

Medical staff were told he had consumed multiple substances including GHB, MDMA and cocaine.

Soon after, he suffered a fatal heart attack and, despite the efforts of the medical staff, he was pronounced dead in the early hours of Sunday morning.

An avoidable death?

Of course, it is too early to tell whether his death could have been avoided. An autopsy and toxicology reports will help to piece together what occurred in the lead up to the tragedy.

There will be questions about the purity of the drugs in his body, the amount of drugs he had consumed, the circumstances which led him to ingest the drugs, and whether the medical staff were adequately equipped to deal with his situation.

This information will be crucial to understanding the final hours of this young man’s life.

Young people will take drugs, despite the law

But what remains abundantly clear, and consistent in this tragedy and the others that have gone before it, is that young people are still taking drugs at music festivals, despite what the law says and the use of law enforcement tools such as drug detection dogs.

During the same weekend, 13 people were allegedly found in possession of drugs at another gig in New South Wales, Festival X, at Sydney Olympic Park.

Was the coronial inquest in vain?

And, as countless of experts have already pointed out, it’s remiss of us to ignore the fact young people will continue to take drugs because, in doing so, we continue to do nothing to minimise the chance of death.

As a result of last year’s coronial inquest, which looked into deaths at festivals, the behaviour of young people when sniffer dogs are present, as well as the potential impact of pill testing, we have a great deal of information about why young people have died and how this might be prevented.

As the Coroner’s Court heard, research suggests that 10 per cent of people who encounter sniffer dog operations engage in the dangerous practice of swallowing all of their drugs at once, which can lead to overdose.

What’s more, the Court heard the dogs produce false positives – where they make a positive indication but no drugs are found – two-thirds of the time at festivals, and yet they are being used to justify bodily searches, including invasive and humiliating strip searches.

LECC hearings into strip searches

This week, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) is set to begin public hearings into the strip-searches carried out at the Lost City music festival, an under-18s event held in Sydney in February.

The hearings are part of an ongoing investigation by the LECC, which has already heard a number of distressing stories from the Splendour in the Grass Music Festival.

If there is one positive to come out of the weekend’s music festivities, it is that it would appear that the New South Wales police may have conceded on one of the recommendations from Assistant Coroner Harriet Graeme’s report – decriminalising illicit drugs for personal use.

Police can fine alleged offenders for drug possession

The 13 people found with prohibited drugs at Festival X were dealt with by way of Criminal Infringement Notices (CINs) and fined $400.

CINs are also known as ‘on-the-spot fines’ and mean that police can fine a person rather than sending them to court. CINs do not come with a criminal record, but a person may face the prospect of a criminal record if they elect to challenge the fine by taking the case to court.

Over the coming months, music festivals will face much higher scrutiny than ever before, particularly in light of findings of last year’s coronial inquest.

The NSW government remains under increasing pressure to change its current tactics for policing drugs at music festivals, particularly its stance on pill-testing as a harm minimisation measure, which it has steadfastly refused to consider. 

Only time will tell whether or not the Coronial Inquest’s recommendations will be followed.

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.

Cannabis House Goes Up in Smoke

The only thing fire fighters were able to salvage from a house fire that destroyed a home in suburban Moorebank, was a small bag of clothing.

But while fighting the flames, emergency services couldn’t help but notice a sophisticated hydroponic set-up, and the 34-year-old man occupier arrived just as police discovered that three rooms were allegedly being used to grow cannabis.

Reports say the man lived in the house with his partner and two young children, and although no one was home during the blaze, a litter of three puppies tragically lost their lives.

Charges laid

The man was later arrested and charged with cultivating a prohibited plant by enhanced indoor means. He was granted conditional bail and will appear in Liverpool Local Court next month. He may face additional charges of exposing a child to the cultivation of a prohibited plant.

Much of the ‘fruit’ of the man’s alleged efforts has been destroyed by the fire, but if it is alleged that there was more than a small quantity of cannabis plants (5 plants) but not more than a commercial quantity (250 plants), he could face imprisonment of up to 10 years as well as a hefty fine.

If it is alleged to be more than a commercial quantity but less that the large commercial quantity (1000 plants), he faces up to 15 years in prison. And if it is more than a large commercial quantity, the maximum prison term is 20 years.

Although the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, police suspect it was started by an electrical fault caused by the hydroponic set up.

Neighbours’ photos of the blaze show thick plumes of smoke, with one neighbour trying to extinguish the flames using a garden hose.

It is the second Sydney house allegedly containing cannabis crops to go up in flames in as many months.

Police recently raided a property in Peakhurst, in Sydney’s south, seizing approximately 70 cannabis plants with an estimated value of $200,000. A 25-year old man was arrested and charged with cannabis cultivation over that incident.

Several days after charges were laid, the house was severely damaged in a fire which police are treating as ‘suspicious’. Investigators say there was evidence of a flammable liquid being used in a several rooms. Police are determining whether arson charges should be pressed over the fire.

Government’s New Weapon for Locating Drug Labs

The Australian Government has released its annual Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) which shows an alarming spike in the number of drug hauls and arrests, as well as drug use in a number of categories.

Drug seizures are up more than 13% and drug arrests are up almost 20% on figures from last year.

But while cannabis remained the most frequently confiscated drug in Australia, the number of heroin-related arrests fell to their lowest level in a decade.

Numbers from around the nation

The report shows that the highest number of arrests were for cannabis at 56.1%. In second place were amphetamine-type stimulates (ATS) particularly ‘ice’, at 26.5%.

South Australia had the highest proportion of arrests related to cannabis at 85.4%.

In Victoria, the proportion of ATS arrests was higher than any other state at more than 37%, and Victoria also recorded the highest proportion of heroin and other opioids at 4.8 %.

New South Wales recorded the highest percentage of cocaine arrests at 3.8%, while in Western Australia, 23.7% of drug arrests were related to “other and unknown” drugs.

Overall drug arrests have increased significantly over the past decade.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the numbers equated to 290 seizures and 367 arrests per day.

The report is released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). It is compiled from law enforcement data, and is said provide a “clear snapshot of illegal drug use and supply in Australia” in order to help guide resources and funding aimed at combating the issue.

Waste water testing – the government’s new weapon

This year for the first time, the report incorporated data extracted from waste water analysis, (sewerage testing) which showed that ice use in the community has increased significantly since 2010.

Minister Keenan claims waste water testing will help police to locate illegal clandestine laboratories, and “will help us identify which drugs are being supplied and which drugs are increasing or decreasing in usage.”

Mr Keenan pointed out that the ice taskforce recommends greater use of waste water testing. In the past, drug users themselves were the main source of information about the prevalence and location of drug labs. But wastewater testing suggests that such data is wildly inaccurate, with usage dramatically under-reported, which is no surprise given that drug possession is still a crime in Australia.

Indeed, the waste water data supports what drug reform experts have suspected – that methamphetamine use is on the rise.

Professor Jason White of the University of South Australia, a state where a lot of the waste water testing has been conducted, estimates there has been a greater than three-fold increase in the use of methamphetamines over the past five years.

The government recently announced that it will invest an extra $3.6 million towards waste water testing, hoping to localise testing to such an extent that the location of labs will be easier to determine.

Australia an ‘attractive market’ for drug suppliers

ACIC says that because Australia is isolated, it is an attractive market for drug enterprises.

It believes organised crime and transnational crime groups continue to be the main players in the market.

Decriminalisation not on the agenda

Mr Keenan said that despite the prevalence of drug use in Australia, and the success of decriminalisation in some other countries, moving away from a punitive approach towards drug use is not on the agenda here. He added that neither are tougher penalties for drug offences.

Keenan said he believes there is a need to continue to educate Australians on the detrimental effect drug use on their physical and mental wellbeing.

In line with that strategy, Federal Government made its most significant investment ever in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Australia’s history last year.

Keenan said he is hopeful that over time, “that multi-faceted approach will pay dividends.”

United Nations on Drug Reform – All Talk, No Action

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its annual World Drug Report, with mixed results in the area of drug use and trafficking.

Overall, the UN estimates that 1 in 20 adults worldwide used an illicit drug in 2014, a figure which has remained steady over the past four years.

The bad news is that the number of people suffering from drug-use disorders has increased, hitting a record 29 million in 2014. According to the report, the health costs are particularly concerning as an estimated 12 million people are injecting drugs, with 14% living with HIV.

New Trends

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov outlined a number of further concerns, including:

“the disastrous resurgence of heroin in some regions; the use of the ‘Darknet’ for drug trafficking; the appalling loss of life due to overdoses, and the disproportionate impact illicit drugs have on women, among many others challenges.”

The Report found that the proliferation of anonymous online marketplaces is playing a key role in drug trafficking. It pointed out that:

“Monica Barratt, a researcher from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW Australia… [found that] 8,058 GDS respondents out of 101,313 (8 percent) said they had used the dark web to source drugs. That’s up from around 5,000 in 2015, and 2,000 in 2014”.

Drug Use by Gender

The Report found that men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines, while women are more likely to take opioids and tranquilizers for non-medical purposes.
This disparity is believed to be linked to increased opportunities for men to access drugs in their social environment.

The Report further found that the impact of drug use was greater on women because they difficulty accessing treatment facilities for their issues.

Spike in Heroin

Consistent with other studies, the Report found that North America has seen increase in both heroin use, and heroin-related deaths.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary reports that the number of heroin users has been rising rapidly — there were 435,000 heroin users in 2014, a three-fold increase on 2007.

During the same period, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin jumped from 3,036 in 2010, to 10,574 in 2014.

Synthetic Drugs

The Report also found an increased use in synthetic drugs, which is again consistent with other recent studies.

Joseph J. Palamar, an Assistant Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, tested hair samples from people outside clubs and festivals in New York, finding that four out of 10 people who reported only taking ‘ecstacy’ also came up positive for bath salts (a lab-created drug chemically similar to cathinone, a stimulant).

A separate European Report unearthed 101 new street drugs in 2014 alone. Most were synthetic cannabinoids, but there were also a number of variations of synthetic bath salts, known on the street as ‘flakka’.

UN Response

The Report is heavy on data but disappointingly light on solutions.

Rather than making solid recommendations for addressing drug issues and devising a plan for reform, the UN Secretary-General has called for “a global response that is simultaneously effective, compassionate and humane”.

Ineffectiveness of UNGASS

The Report follows the recent UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which was heavily criticised for failing to condemn the “war on drugs” and neglecting to propose a pathway towards drug reform.

In the lead-up to UNGASS, drug reformists were hopeful the UN would urge member states to decriminalise small drug possession, and make recommendations addressing the collateral damage cause by the drug war. Indeed, the conference was brought forward from 2019 following pleas by the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico; nations that are heavily affected by prohibitionist policies.

However, the conference saw representatives of member states rambling on about problems, facts and figures with little guidance or direction being provided by UN heads or mediators, and no recommendations for reform.

Drug reformists argue that, until the UN takes a firmer leadership role which recognises current policy failures and recommends pathways to reform, little will change on a global scale.

Help Police, Dad’s Burning My Marijuana!

Every now and then, police come across something so strange they’re left scratching their heads.

One such incident occurred recently in the Northern Territory, when Humpty Doo police received a call from a young man enraged that his father had burned his cannabis plants.

Apparently, the son had been fighting with his father since he moved to Humpty Doo (about 40km south of Darwin) from interstate a short time ago.

According to police, the son was “indignant and enraged” and felt it was “wrong” of his father to have burnt the plants. Officers arrived at the scene and questioned the son about whether he knew possessing of cannabis is illegal, and he could be sent to court.

However, the son felt his father’s destruction of the plants was a far worse crime.

As all of the plants had been destroyed by the fire, police decided not to lay any charges over the incident. Nevertheless, the officers took to social media, publishing a full account of the story.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is decriminalised – which means police can issue a fine rather than sending a person to court to be dealt with under the criminal law.

In 1996, the NT decriminalised the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana, one gram of hashish oil, 10 grams of cannabis seed, and two non-hydroponic plants.

New South Wales

Cannabis has not been decriminalised in NSW, but a cannabis cautioning scheme has been in place since the year 2000, which allows police to issue a caution for possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis rather than sending a person to court.

This scheme was implemented in response to recommendations by the NSW Drug Summit in 2000.

A review of the scheme in 2011 found it been effective in reducing reoffending by diverting people away from the criminal justice system.

Cultivation – Growing Cannabis in NSW

Under section 23 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, it is illegal to grow cannabis plants in NSW.

Cultivating outdoors is sowing or scattering the seeds, planting, growing, tending, nurturing and harvesting the plant. Cultivating by indoor means it occurs within a building or structure. This may involve the nurture of the plant in nutrient-enriched water (with or without mechanical support), or the application of an artificial source of light or heat, or suspending the plant’s roots and spraying them with nutrient solution.
You don’t need to be the sole cultivator to be guilty of the offence.

Penalties for Cannabis Cultivation

The penalties depend on the amount – the greater the amount, the more serious the penalty could be.

Here is a table containing the applicable maximum penalties:
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If you are charged with cannabis cultivation, it is a good idea to seek advice from a specialist criminal lawyer who is experienced in dealing with drug charges.

Experts Agree that the War on Ice is Lost, But Will Governments Shift Focus?

A Western Australian Judge has declared the State has lost its war on drugs, as suppliers are undeterred by heavy penalties and increased enforcement measures.

During a District Court sentencing hearing, Judge Philip McCann called the ‘ice epidemic’ “a national and international disgrace,” blaming the continuing flow of the drug on Chinese drug cartels.

He conceded that drug experts are correct to say it is impossible to stop supply into the State by “criminal gangs in Asia”, who he believes targeted the growing drug market created by the WA mining boom.

Drug Use in Western Australia

The 2013 national drug survey found that 3.8% of Western Australians aged over 13 had used methamphetamine during the previous year, significantly higher than the national average of 2.1%. The percentage using the crystalised version, or ice, rose from 43.9 to 78.2% between 2012 to 2013 – also well-above the rise in other jurisdictions.

The Judge added that WA Health Department data suggests the problem has worsened since the 2013 survey.

“We can no longer do anything to stop the predatory importing of the drug by Chinese criminal gangs and their Australian affiliates,” he said, suggesting that increased penalties and the targeting of offenders has done little to stem the problem.

“The damage now seems to have almost irreparably been done. The opportunities to do something about this were lost some years ago.”

State Response

Last year, the WA government established dedicated methamphetamine taskforces, conducting the biggest drug operation in the State’s history. Police Minister Liza Harvey said “Meth Transport Teams” were aiming to stop the flow of the drug from Asia.

The expensive initiative appears to achieved little, other than wasting taxpayer money and further demonising and alienating low-level users.

Government Initiatives

In last week’s State Budget, WA Treasurer Mike Nahan took the positive step of unveiling a $15 million boost to the Mental Health Commission, designed to target methamphetamine use. But at the same time, he set aside an additional $5.5 million for roadside drug testing.

Late last year, the Federal government committed to a $300 million strategy aimed at implementing recommendations by the National Ice Taskforce. Much of the money will be going to ‘primary health networks’ such as hospitals and medical centres, in order to treat users and assist them to overcome addiction.

And while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has conceded that “we cannot arrest our way to success,” the Federal Government’s continues invest the lion’s share of resources into punitive measures rather than prevention and diversion.

Prevention is Better than a ‘Cure’

Justice Minister Michael Keenan has acknowledged that police are struggling to control supply, suggesting more should be done to educate and reduce demand. “If we are going to break the drug dealer’s model, we need to smash demand,” he said.

Reducing demand requires adequate funding to services which address the factors leading to addiction in the first place, including those which help improve socio-economic status and mental health. Spending on housing, employment support and mental health services has been shown by initiatives like justice reinvestment to decrease demand, reduce crime and enhance social cohesion and economic productivity.

The UN Office 2013 World Drug Report says that for every dollar spent on prevention, there is a benefit of four to seven dollars to the economy overall. Such investments can reduce healthcare and enforcement costs, while enhancing productivity.

Professor Nick Crofts of The Nossal Institute for Global Health was recently commissioned to report on the problem of methamphetamine use. “We interviewed something like 50 senior police, senior magistrates, senior politicians, senior public servants,” he said. “Every one of them, unanimously, said, ‘You are absolutely right and we totally agree with you, we need to move away from prohibition, we need more social policy, and you will never catch me saying that in public’.”

It is hoped State and Federal governments act upon that “unanimous” view, and move away from the current punitive model.

Victoria Leads the Way in Drug Reform

The Victorian Government recently announced the second stage of its program to tackle ice addiction.

State Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, unveiled the $57.6 million package – the centerpiece of which is an expanded Drug Court program based at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, allowing an additional 170 drug offenders to receive targeted support.

The funding breakdown is as follows:

  • $32 million to expand the Drug Court of Victoria,
  • $5.5 million for training and support for frontline workers,
  • $6 million for the 18 to 20 bed Grampians mental health facility,
  • $10 million to improve mental health, alcohol and other drug facilities, and
  • $4 million to address ice addiction in Aboriginal communities.

 

This funding builds on the $45 million pledged by the government last year, which focuses on expanding drug rehabilitation services in Victoria’s drug hot-spots and treating 500 habitual users each year.

Need for Reform

In announcing the plan, Mr Pakula acknowledged the failure of the current punitive approach to drug use. “The lack of effective sentencing options for serious drug-related offences has resulted in increased imprisonment rates, increased re-offending and a failure to address the underlying causes of addiction,” he said.

Victoria has experienced a concerning spike in crime rates in recent years. The State’s Crime Statistics Agency has released figures for 2015 which suggest an 8.1 per cent rise in overall crime. Young repeat offenders were the main driving force for the increase.

Assistant Police Commissioner Robert Hill said young people represented 90% of those arrested for theft, burglary and break and enter offences. The crime rates in each of those areas was by up 10% on the previous year.

Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Crisp believes that ice is behind most of the drug-related offending.

Methamphetamine Use

While a 2015 study of Australian drug use suggests that the number of Australians using methamphetamines has remained stable at around 2% since 2001, there are significant shifts in:

  • The number of users preferring ice over other methamphetamine, up from 22% in 2010 to 50% in 2013,
  • The proportion using at least weekly, up from 9.3% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2013, and
  • An increase in the purity of ice, up from an annual average of 21% in 2009 to 64% in 2013.

 

A recent report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) expressed concerns about the damage caused by ice. “Ice is now the number one problem in terms of illicit substances,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said. The drug is believed to be funding international criminal syndicates, with over 60% of Australia’s most wanted serious and organised crime figures believed to be involved in the methamphetamine trade.

The Drug Court

Drug Court programs seek to address the issue of drug dependency, rather than sending offenders to prison. They generally take referrals from Local and District Courts, and strive to tailor long term solutions which break the cycle of drug use and crime.

Mental Health Minister Martin Foley recognised the effectiveness of Dandenong’s Drug Court program in diverting offenders away from the criminal justice system. “The support then leads to better outcomes as people both get their lives back together, get off the drugs and end their crime careers,” he said. “It’s had remarkable success and we intend to roll that model out around Victoria.”

Participants in the Dandenong program were 30 per cent less likely to reoffend within 2 years than those sentenced in the regular court system. This has saved Victorian tax payers an estimated $3.8 million in enforcement costs. Drug Court Magistrate, Tony Parsons, has also highlighted the social and health cost savings of diverting low-level offenders away from prison.

With the increased funding, the Victorian Drug Court is expected to deal with 240 people each year, up from the current 70.

New South Wales

A 2015 study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics found that habitual users who commit drug-related crimes are less likely to reoffend when dealt with by the NSW Drug Court than when sent to prison.

Participants in the NSW program were found to be 17 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for any offence, 30 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a violent offence and 38 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a drug offence at any point during the follow-up period -which averaged 35 months.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that Drug Courts are more effective than prisons when it comes to reducing reoffending rates and the costs associated with enforcement.

It is hoped that our state will also capitalise on the long term economic and social benefits of diversionary programs by increasing investment to our own Drug Courts.

Victoria Legalises Medical Marijuana

Victoria has become the first State to legalise the use of medicinal cannabis, with the passing of the Access to Cannabis Bill 2015 on Tuesday.

The Bill will give children with severe epilepsy access to medicinal cannabis as early as 2017, with the State government establishing a strictly controlled cannabis cultivation trial.

Medicinal cannabis will initially be made available to patients who suffer severe epileptic seizures, muscle spasms resulting from multiple sclerosis, severe pain and nausea arising from cancer or HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain verified by two specialists.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has welcomed the change, saying, “It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see families having to choose between breaking the law and watching their children suffer – and now … they won’t have to.”

The new law

The laws are a response to last year’s recommendations by Victorian Law Reform (VLR). They will be strictly regulated by an Office of Medicinal Cannabis, which will oversee the manufacture, supply and access to cannabis.

While the details of the scheme are yet to be finalised, the VLR recommended that only licenced cultivators and manufacturers would be permitted to produce the drug. Products would be sold at pharmacies under arrangements based on the methadone program.

Benefits of medicinal marijuana

The new legislation comes after the announcement of a small trial in February into the effects of synthetic cannabis on a group of Victorian children whose condition had not improved after trying three different anti-epilepsy drugs.

The Austin Hospital in Melbourne undertook the trial, providing a synthetic form of cannabis to children, without the psycho-active component THC, while monitoring their progress against a similarly suffering control group given a placebo.

Director of paediatrics, Professor Ingrid Scheffer, said that desperate parents had been illegally buying cannabis products for their suffering kids, or growing their own, with no way of knowing whether it was safe and effective. “There’s absolutely no checks and balances. We don’t know what they’re getting. We don’t know whether it has a lot of THC in it which could be damaging their child’s brain,” Professor Scheffer said.

NSW plans to trial medicinal cannabis by the end of this year. NSW Premier Mike Baird recently announced a clinical trial into the effects of medicinal cannabis on 330 chemotherapy patients suffering from nausea. The announcement was the third of its kind in the State, with previous trials focusing on terminally ill patients and children with severe epilepsy.

Similar to the Victorian trial, children with severe drug-resistant epilepsy in Queensland will also be treated with medicinal cannabis. “[It is] an opportunity to show medicinal cannabis can be a safe and effective addition to existing treatments,” Health Minister Cameron Dick said of the new treatment trials.

The science

Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, says that a recent review of existing evidence has found 82 favourable and nine unfavourable controlled trials in respect of medicinal cannabis.

The therapeutic benefits relate to the way that the drug stimulates the pain relief endocannabinoid system. This system is different to the endorphin system that is affected by other pain relieving treatments, such as morphine type opiates or anti-inflammatory drugs. The endocannabinoid system can help reduce chronic and nerve-related pain.

The difficulty for medical cannabis, however, is that prohibition has presented an obstacle to research. While most available evidence is positive, the scientific community has not been able to sufficiently test the drug to determine its longer term effects.

Many patients have exhibited side-effects such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea and hallucinations. There are also concerns that it may increase the risks schizophrenia in young people.

The largest study ever undertaken on cannabis and epilepsy was presented at last year’s American Epilepsy Society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. 313 children from 16 different epilepsy centres around the United States were given the cannabis compound cannabidiol. After a three-month period, 261 reported a fifty percent reduction in convulsive seizures.

Another study, published by the American Academy of Neurology, involved giving medicinal marijuana to 213 sufferers of epilepsy. Over the course of 12 weeks, there was a 54% decrease in the number of seizures – but around 10% of participants reported experiencing side-effects such as diarrhoea and drowsiness.

Emeritus Professor of Anaesthesia Laurence Mather, from the University of Sydney, believes that the side effects of cannabis alternatives are much worse. “People can die from morphine, they stop breathing; people can die from paracetamol because it buggers their livers, people can die from NSAIDS because it buggers their kidneys, but cannabis doesn’t do any of these things,” he said.

It is hoped that the Victorian reforms will see a reduction in the crippling symptoms of conditions such as epilepsy, especially in children.

100 Demonstrators Smoke Weed Outside White House

Tourists were treated to an unusual sight outside the White House earlier this week. The manicured green lawns usually on display were replaced by different type of green altogether – as marijuana reform advocates inflated a 51-foot-long joint in front of the fence.

Protesting against President Obama’s apathy towards reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule 1 substance – a category it shares with heroin and LSD – the group then lit up joints which they smoked openly in front of the iconic building.

The Schedule 1 list is meant to be reserved for the ‘most dangerous drugs… with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,’ and attracts the highest penalties for possession and supply. Despite state ballots repeatedly voting to decriminalise cannabis, roughly 5 million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offences since Obama took office.

Protesters argue that marijuana doesn’t belong on the list, and are campaigning to have it removed altogether or placed on a lower schedule. Adam Eidinger, the event’s organiser, accused Obama of hypocrisy, given his admission to formerly smoking pot.

“Obama — he smokes, maybe not now, but he did smoke,” Eidinger told the Washington Post. “So for him to oversee an enforcement regime that has arrested 5 million people for marijuana . . . I’m very motivated because I think it’s a discriminatory practice.”

In a sign that the tide is turning, police in the area decided not to arrest any of the protesters for taking part in the ‘smoke in’.

With a similar protest planned in Sydney this weekend, many are hoping the New South Wales Police will follow suit. But it is not looking likely…

Two Men Charged at Sydney Cannabis Picnic

In January this year, cannabis reform advocates held the first Free Cannabis NSW picnic in Sydney’s Victoria Park. Like the Washington protesters, the group hoped to highlight the harm caused by criminalisation – and the urgent need for reform.

As always, the NSW Police couldn’t help but overreact. For the 100 or so protesters gathered in the park, police deployed more than 30 officers, as well as sniffer dog teams at every nearby train station. Unlike their Washington counterparts, NSW Police arrested and charged two men with the possession of cannabis, after allegedly spotting them with half-smoked joints.

One of the men, Paul Lawrence, is fighting terminal cancer, and has visible tumors along his spine. He was charged for possessing less than a gram of cannabis.

Police issued the charges, despite their discretionary power to hand out a caution for the use or possession of small amounts of cannabis, and evidence of Mr Lawrence’s cancer.

“Only a sick state and a sick government and police force would arrest and charge an ill man like me,” Mr Lawrence said. “The prohibition of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use does far more damage to society than someone like me having a quiet smoke with friends.”

Police Intimidation and the ‘War on Drugs’

This is not the first criticism of the tactics used by NSW Police to target cannabis in Sydney.

A recent viral clip, uploaded to the the Save New South Wales Facebook page, shows sniffer dog police harassing a man filming their operations in Central station.

“I travelled from Gosford to Central in Sydney where I was swapping form the country platforms down to the suburban platforms in order to catch a train to Circular Quay.” said the page’s administrator.

“What did I see in the way of New South Wales police resources? Ten uniformed officers plus a dog handler carrying out a sniffer dog operation!”

He then began filming the operation, which is perfectly legal to do, but this did not stop the officers from throwing their weight around.

After requesting to see his train ticket, an officer warns the man that filming of the operation could be viewed as suspicious “due to the current terrorism climate.” They then demand his name, and ask his purpose for being at the railway station. After he ‘respectfully declines’ to give that information, police ask whether he has health issues.

“It’s just public intimidation, the way all police states operate. Political dissent now gets you a prison sentence and cops with dogs patrol the streets to let the people know who runs things.” one Facebook user wrote in response.

Sniff Off at Central – 16 Mar 2016Posted by Save New South Wales on Saturday, 2 April 2016

The use of drug dogs in public spaces, and increasingly heavy handed police response to political rallies, has become symptomatic of a broader attack on civil liberties that’s taking place across the state. The gap between the response of the Washington Police to marijuana protesters, and the response we’ve seen from our own only serves to highlight that change.