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.

Medical Cannabis in Australia: The Facts

The Government has passed ground-breaking marijuana legislation in Australia to allow cultivation for medical research and help those suffering from serious illness.

On the 24 February, Health Minister Susan Ley announced that amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act had successfully passed the Senate.

“This is an historic day for Australia and the many advocates who have fought long and hard to challenge the stigma around medical cannabis products so genuine patients are no longer treated as criminals,” Ley said in a statement.

“Under this scheme, a patient with a valid prescription can possess and use a medicinal cannabis product manufactured from cannabis plants legally cultivated in Australia”.

Products such as cannabis oil have successfully been used in the treatment of nausea during chemotherapy, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

What does the legislation actually mean?

The new laws mean some growers will now legally be able to cultivate and produce cannabis locally for medicinal and scientific purposes in Australia. The legislation allows for a series of licensing and permit schemes to be established, governing how this takes place.

Prior to the laws, raw cannabis could be imported into Australia in certain situations, but cultivation of the plant was not allowed locally. This system was considered inadequate as it could not “properly manage the risks associated with the potential for diversion of medicinal cannabis products and other narcotic drugs.”

How will it work?

The scheme introduces two categories of cannabis licences: one authorising the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal products, and another which allows research into the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes.

Licence holders are required to ensure their crops are carefully secured and accounted for. Substantial penalties apply for breaches and for undertaking unauthorised activities, such as diverting plants for illicit use.

The process will be regulated by various state and territory government agencies. Additionally, the Secretary of the Department of Health will have the power to order the destruction of cannabis produced by a licence holder, in order to control the level of production and prevent unnecessary accumulation.

The laws will have no effect on the cultivation of recreational cannabis and its use, which remains illegal.

Who gets the products?

Under the scheme, patients with a valid prescription will be able to possess and use medicinal cannabis manufactured under the licensing scheme, provided the supply has been authorised under the Therapeutic Goods Act and relevant state and territory legislation.

This is consistent with research by the National Drug and Alcohol Centre Research Centre, which found that Australians suffering from chronic pain felt more relief from cannabis than conventional medicines. Additional studies have shown medicinal marijuana to be significantly safer than traditional opioid-based painkillers, which are associated with addiction and overdose.

What is missing from the bill?

According to Greens leader Richard Di Natale, although the law is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough to clear the confusion surrounding the use of medicinal cannabis.

“Ironically, medicinal cannabis is still an illegal drug,” Di Natale told media. “[The bill] doesn’t do anything about the distribution, supply, prescription of the drug… there’s no legislation around how doctors will prescribe it.”

Di Natale, whose own medicinal cannabis bill was pulled last year, said his party would wait to see how the bill works in action, but reserved the right to reintroduce his legislation if progress was too slow.

The Greens bill, which had won approval from a cross-party legislative committee, would establish a new Commonwealth body, the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis, with responsibility for regulating the production, transport, storage and usage of cannabis products for medicinal purposes.

What does this mean for recreational cannabis users?

Very little. Although several international governments have decriminalised or legalised the use of recreational cannabis, it still seems that this will occur here in the foreseeable future.

On announcing the amendments, Minister Ley made the Government’s position on recreational cannabis clear: “This is not a debate about legalisation of cannabis. This is not about drugs. This is not a product you smoke. This has nothing to do with that.”

However, there is growing parliamentary support for the general legalisation of cannabis in Australia. During the debate Senator David Leyonhjelm argued that:

“Legalising recreational cannabis use would deprive organised crime, whether Middle Eastern crime gangs, Asian triads, bikie gangs or relatives of Darth Vader, of a major source of income, and relieve police of the cost of finding and destroying illicit crops. Of the $1.5 billion spent annually on drug law enforcement, 70% is attributable to cannabis. That’s an expense we do not need.”

Medical Marijuana Users & Drug Driving Laws

There has been a widespread push across Australia to legalise marijuana for medicinal purposes – particularly after the success of similar moves in the United States and other countries.

But a problem which has long plagued drug experts is how Australia’s tough roadside drug testing laws will happily co-exist with the use of medicinal marijuana.

Towards the end of last year, NSW Police announced a significant increase in roadside drug testing. Since then, the number of drivers charged for drug driving has doubled – with many of those charged adamant they last took drugs several days before driving.

To be found guilty of drug driving, police simply have to prove that any amount of drugs were present in a person’s system at the time of driving – there does not need to be a certain minimum reading (like drink driving) and it does not matter whether or not the driver was actually affected by the drugs.

Now, the case of a man charged with drug driving after using medical marijuana has garnered attention, with many saying it shows just how unfair our roadside drug testing system is.

Medical Marijuana User Before the Courts

Klaus Halper was charged with drug driving after testing positive to cannabis while driving near Bega on the 26th of March last year.

In court, Mr Halper said he had last used cannabis four days previously. He also presented evidence that he used marijuana as a natural painkiller to help him manage pain associated with a car accident some years ago. He had tried conventional pain medications which had no effect.

Despite this, the Local Court Magistrate convicted and fined him $400 for the offence. He also imposed the minimum disqualification period of 3 months.

Mr Halper appealed to the District Court, arguing that the penalty was too severe. Judge Cogswell granted his appeal and overturned the conviction, instead asking that he be placed on a section 10 good behaviour bond (now conditional release order without conviction) for 6 months.

This meant that Mr Halper was able to continue driving, avoided having to pay a fine, and, most importantly, did not incur a conviction on his criminal record for the offence.

However, a non conviction order still means Mr Halper was guilty of the offence.

The outcome is in contrast to the case of Joseph Carrall, who was found ‘not guilty’ of the same offence after driving nine days after consuming cannabis. Mr Carrall successfully argued the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake,’ contending that he only drove after police personally assured him that he would not test positive for cannabis more than a week after consuming the drug.

The Effects

Courts are already feeling the impact of the increase in roadside drug testing – with dozens of drivers fronting courts across NSW every day.

In many instances, those charged with drug driving are adamant they last took cannabis several days before driving. But police contend cannabis is only detectable for 12 hours, with Assistant Commissioner John Hartley, the Commander of Traffic and Highway Patrol, telling the media that:

‘Our pharmacologists tell us that for cannabis active for THC in saliva about 12 hours is the maximum it will be in their system and the maximum we would be getting a positive result on.’

However, police have recently been equipped with a new drug testing device called the Draeger DrugTest 5000. The device’s manufacturers say it can detect traces of cannabis up to 30 hours after consumption – long after a person stops being affected.

This has left many members of the public confused about how long they should wait before driving after using cannabis.

Speaking with the media last week, criminal barrister Greg Barns said it was up to police to provide members of the public with information about how drug testing works, and how long they should wait after using drugs before driving:

‘It is patently unfair for someone who has driven impeccably to lose their licence simply because they have a trace of a substance that the government makes illegal, in their system.

To simply say do not use drugs is absurd and ignores reality.’

But police are undeterred, claiming that a zero tolerance approach to drug driving is necessary to reduce road fatalities – with Minister for Roads Duncan Gay saying:

‘My advice is don’t take illegal drugs and if you do, be responsible and conservative with your decision of when it is safe to drive to avoid the consequences.’

It seems that the conflicting information about how long cannabis is detectable, together with the absence of minimum THC limits, will continue to cause unfairness without promoting road safety.

Labor MP Wants Sniffer Dogs Banned from Festivals

NSW Labor MP Jo Haylen has broken ranks with her party, calling on the Government and police to end the use of drug sniffer dogs, during a debate on health policy at the recent State Labor conference.

Ms Haylen, the member for Summer Hill, highlights the fact that sniffer dogs have proven to be ineffective in catching drug dealers; instead leading to risky behaviours such as ‘loading up’ before or during festivals – the opposite of the program’s original intentions.

“Sniffer dogs are ineffective,” she said during the conference.

“They’re wrong three quarters of the time, causing unnecessary interactions between police and young people.

“They scare young people into ingesting all of their drugs at once, and cause unnecessary over-doses.”

This is not the first time the state’s sniffer dog program has come under fire recently. Pressure has been mounting on the government to reform its drug strategy after the deaths of several festival patrons from loading up on ecstacy tablets.

Ms Haylen argues the government should instead be encouraging the use of amnesty bins and drug testing at Sydney music festivals, as ways of minimising harm.

“Rather than ruining lives with a criminal record or worse still, leaving people to take risks on their own, let’s be brave,” Ms Haylen said.

“Let’s make good evidence based public policy and once again make NSW a world leader when it comes to harm minimisation.”

Opposition health spokesman, Walt Secord, says Ms Haylen’s position does not represent ALP policy on the issue.

Tide Turning on Sniffer Dogs

Ms Haylen is just one of several NSW politicians to speak out against sniffer dogs in recent months. Earlier this year, Greens MPs David Shoebridge, Jenny Leong and Mehreen Faruqi signed an open letter calling on the government to allow pill testing at music festivals in place of sniffer dogs.

“This summer hundreds of police and many drug detection dogs will also attend music festivals. Despite the increased presence of drug detection dogs the facts remain the same: many of the young people attending music festivals will choose to take drugs. Policing has not, and will not, stop this.” the group wrote.

Other signatories include Dr Alex Wodak AM, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and Miles Hunt, Lawyer and co-founder of the UnHarm campaign group.

Reflecting on his time as Premier of NSW, Bob Carr wrote last year that sniffer dogs at train stations had been “an issue that worried me while I was in NSW politics… I did not think it was the best use of police time… I wanted them to do things like make public transport safe and clean up Cabramatta.”

As Premier, Mr Carr oversaw the establishment of the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, making NSW a world leader in harm minimisation. Without condoning heroin use, experts have recognised the bold move’s contribution to the fall in heroin related deaths over the last decade. It is hoped that pill testing could have the same effect.

Sniffer Dogs in NSW

Under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), police have the power to use sniffer dogs in a number of places, including train stations and music festivals.

Although these measures were originally intended to help police catch drug suppliers, a 2006 review of the program found it had been ineffective in this regard. Instead “the use of drug detection dogs has led to public searches of individuals in which no drugs were found, or to the detection of (mostly young) adults in possession of very small amounts of cannabis.”

More recent statistics have shown over 60% percent of searches are the result of one of these ‘false-positive’ identifications, raising doubt as to whether sniffer dog identifications are enough to constitute the ‘reasonable suspicion’ required for a search.

Rather than act as neutral observers, a 2011 study found that drug detection dogs reacted heavily to the bias of their handlers – a possible explanation for the high rate of false detections. In terms of bias, statistics reveal that a passenger boarding a train at Redfern station in 2013 was 6.5x more likely to be searched for drugs than a passenger at Central station, even though searches at Redfern were less likely to result in a drug related offence.

Given the ineffectiveness of sniffer dogs in achieving the government’s intended objective – and the tragic consequences of dangerous behaviours such as loading up – it is hoped that more politicians will see sense and start focusing on harm minimisation measures rather than wholesale and counter-productive interferences in personal liberties.

The Days of the Conventional Drug Dealer May Be Numbered

Back in the olden days, many who were involved in the drug trade put their lives on the line – risking violent retribution from rival drug dealers, or the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence if any of their associates ‘ratted’ them out.

But it seems the days of the ‘conventional’ drug dealer are numbered: a new report published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction suggests that more and more drug users are purchasing online following the proliferation of “dark net” marketplaces, which claim to “guarantee” anonymity.

So what will the online drug trade mean for users and suppliers – and how will it revolutionise the ways in which authorities deal with industry?

The Growth of Online Marketplaces

The digital age has seen an explosion in online drug markets – with the most notorious being The Silk Road, which was launched in 2011 and eventually shut down by the FBI in 2013.

But although authorities were quick to shut down The Silk Road, many other online drug marketplaces have taken its place – including Atlantis and Black Market Reloaded.

Online drug markets have revolutionised the way in which drugs are bought and sold. They do not have a physical location, rely heavily on encrypted network systems such as Tor – which facilitate anonymous communication between users – and use untraceable ‘cryptocurrencies’ such as Bitcoin – thereby minimising some of the risks associated with ‘street’ trading.

Online drug trading also offers additional benefits: according to the report, drugs sourced through darknet markets are generally purer than those bought off the streets, because online sellers rely on positive feedback to secure future customers.

On top of this, the report suggests that many street dealers have also benefitted from the online drug trade – with around a quarter of all online drug transactions being for larger, wholesale quantities. This suggests that street dealers are increasingly relying on online markets to source their product.

But the fact that online sellers post out drugs carries its own risks – and that it is impractical to source large quantities in this way.

Risks of Online Trading

Authorities are becoming increasingly aware of online drug markets, and have started cracking down on the masterminds behind these platforms. In August 2015, 21 people were arrested and charged with drug supply in Sydney after police spent two months investigating dark web trading platforms.

The outcome is being hailed as a significant win for police, who have promised to ramp up efforts to prosecute online dealers. Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Bell says police are now better equipped to deal with the dark web, saying:

‘Technology has allowed drug suppliers to shift their focus out of public view and away from particular geographic areas; enabling them to engage with users in the online environment…

We will continue to target the supply of illegal drugs using various methods, whether that is online or within the community.’

These sentiments are echoed by law enforcement agencies around the world. The European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulous, recently told the media that:

‘The illicit market is evolving, and so should our efforts to eliminate it. We should stop the abuse of the internet by those wanting to turn it into a drug market…

Technology is offering fresh opportunities for law enforcement to tackle online drug markets and reduce threats to public health. Let us seize these opportunities to attack the problem head-on and reduce drug supply online.’

And, as history shows us, online drug markets are notoriously short-lived. A multitude of markets have emerged since the original Silk Road was dismantled in 2013 – most of which are closed down soon after commencing operations.

Atlantis, launched in March 2013, was shut down just six months after opening; while the Black Market Reloaded – tipped to be the best thing since The Silk Road – was also closed down soon after it opened.

Despite authorities catching on, many drug law experts believe that the proliferation of online markets is more evidence that the war on drugs is futile. Steve Rolles, a spokesperson from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, says it is a matter of simple economics:

‘If half a century of drug enforcement shows anything it’s that whilst demand remains, the market will always find a way to meet that demand while a profit opportunity exists…

The best enforcement can achieve is to displace markets, it can’t eradicate them. The darknet is just the latest chapter in a 50-year game of cat and mouse – that the drug warriors can never win.’

As one site shuts down, there are many others to take its place – suggesting that the growth of only drug marketplaces will continue into the future, using ever-more sophisticated encryption technologies to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

The Most Dangerous Drugs in the World

What is the most dangerous drug in the world?

If you’re thinking ice, heroin or crack cocaine, you’d be off the mark.

In fact, the most dangerous drugs in terms of addictiveness and harm are those which are not frequently reported on in the media – but are gradually developing a following across the world.

Here are some of the most dangerous – and relatively unknown – drugs in the world.

1. Krokodil

‘Krokodil’, also known as desomorphine, is a form of morphine derived from codeine. It was first synthesised in 1932 and intended as a painkiller – but it was outlawed once its potential dangers were reported.

Krokodil remained under the radar for many years – but in the 2000s, doctors in Russia began noticing an increase in patients appearing with sores on their bodies, resembling the scaly skin of a crocodile.

It was reported that heroin users, unable to afford the high cost of the drug, were manufacturing their own desomorphine substitute – purchasing codeine from chemists and combining it with poisonous chemicals including paint thinner and the red phosphorous found on matchboxes. The drug gives users a high that is similar to heroin – at a much lower cost.

But the side-effects of using the drug are concerning. The toxic chemicals used to produce the drug damages the skin and vital organs – causing skin and flesh to rot off and exposing the bone underneath. In many cases, users have had to have their limbs amputated, as the surrounding tissue became so infected. Organ failure and permanent brain damage can also occur, and most users reportedly die within two or three years of becoming addicted to the drug.

The krokodil crisis became so severe in Russia that in 2012, the government introduced new restrictions on the purchase of over-the-counter medications. Since then, the number of people using the drug has declined – but not stamped out altogether.

2. Devil’s Breath

Devil’s Breath, also known as scopolamine, is a dangerous new drug emerging in South America.

Derived from the beautiful flowers of the Borrachero tree, it has the potential to wipe a person’s short term memory, and is administered by simply blowing a white powder in the unsuspecting victim’s face.

According to police, this method has been used by street gangs to drug unsuspecting tourists – before robbing, sexually assaulting, or, in one horrifying case, removing their kidney. High doses can cause coma and even death.

Those who have felt the drug’s effects say they have no recollection of their ordeal – with one woman saying she had no memory of helping thieves ramsack her own house.
Scopolamine is so powerful that it was previously trialled by the CIA during the Cold War as a method of interrogating prisoners of war.

3. Bath Salts

‘Bath salts’ are a drug resembling the crystalline substance dissolved in bathwater. It is a type of synthetic cathinone, which is increasingly being used as a substitute for other drugs, including MDMA, LSD and cocaine.

Bath salts refer to a wide range of drugs known by various names, including Flakka, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Lunar Wave and Vanilla Sky.

Side effects include paranoia, sleeplessness, hallucinations and panic attacks – and some users have experienced effects so severe that they have brutally attacked other people.

In one case, a Miami man was shot dead by police after attempting to bite off chunks of another man’s face.

What’s more, bath salts are notoriously addictive – with a recent study suggesting that the drug is more addictive than ice.

4. Whoonga

In some African communities with high incidence of HIV/AIDS, a deadly new drug has emerged – called whoonga.

Whoonga is created by mixing drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS with other toxic substances, including rat poison and tobacco.

The drug is provided in a white powder, which is then smoked. Side effects include anxiousness, aggression, and heart and lung problems, and even deadly heart attacks.

The drug is so addictive that many become hooked after using it just once. And at just $3 a pop, whoonga is one of the cheapest drugs around.

Another concerning aspect of the spread of whoonga is the devastating indirect impact on HIV/AIDS sufferers – with manufacturers robbing sufferers of their live-saving medications.

5. GHB (Fantasy)

GHB is a depressant drug which has recently grown in popularity, especially in the nightclub scene – with users taking the colourless, odourless liquid to relax.

GHB’s effects are often compared to ecstasy (MDMA) – and for this reason, it is sometimes called ‘liquid ecstasy.’

But the highly addictive drug comes with a long list of dangerous side effects – including memory loss, blackouts, seizures, respiratory problems, coma, and even death.

Because of its sedative properties, GHB has been nicknamed the ‘date rape drug’ – used to spike the drinks of unsuspecting victims before sexually assaulting them.

So there you have it – five of the most harmful and addictive drugs around.

Court Acquits Driver Who Tested Positive to Cannabis

Late last year, we published a blog about the NSW Police Force’s controversial plans to expand roadside drug testing across the state.

The announcement received a mixed reaction – with police claiming that an increase in drug testing is necessary to reduce fatal collisions attributed to drug driving – while others, including Greens MP David Shoebridge, arguing that the effectiveness of roadside lick tests is questionable because they only detect the presence of illicit drugs – rather than the amount.

As Mr Shoebridge point out, this means that drivers who take drugs days or weeks before driving could potentially test positive – despite not being under the influence at the time of driving.

Mr Carrall’s Case

This was the exact predicament that NSW man Joseph Ross Carrall found himself in when he tested positive for cannabis in June 2015 – nine days after consuming the drug.

Mr Carrall was charged with drug driving and his case proceeded to a defended hearing in Lismore Local Court last week.

During the hearing, Mr Carrall testified that he last used cannabis nine days before driving – and had followed the advice of a police officer who previously told him to wait one week after using the drug before driving.

Mr Carrall raised the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake of fact,’ arguing that he relied on the advice of the police officer and only drove after he honestly believed the cannabis had cleared his system, and that his belief was reasonable in the circumstances.

Honest and Reasonable Mistake

In ‘strict liability’ cases – such as drink driving, drug driving and driving whilst suspended or disqualified – a person must be found ‘not guilty’ if they are able to establish that they ‘honestly’ believed that they did not commit the offence (eg have drugs in their system) and the belief was ‘reasonable’ in all of the circumstances.

The first requirement of ‘honesty’ is not normally difficult to establish; for example, in drink driving cases, a person who drives the ‘morning after’ may honestly believe the alcohol in their system is gone.

The more difficult part is proving that the belief was ‘reasonable’. It may, for example, be reasonable if a person’s drink was spiked and they thought they were tired rather than drunk, or if they relied on specific information from an expert or person in authority before engaging in the otherwise illegal conduct.

The Verdict

Lismore Local Court Magistrate David Heilpern accepted Mr Carrall’s defence and found him not guilty.

Such a finding is rare in drug driving cases – with just 4 drivers out of 3043 being acquitted between January and September 2015.

In terms of ‘reasonableness’, the Magistrate took into account the police officer’s advice that Mr Carrall could drive a week after smoking cannabis. He also considered the fact that it is difficult for people to know when drugs are no longer in their system.

Whereas in drink driving cases, there is a wealth of information about the fact that alcohol can remain in your system for over 24 hours, there is little information about how long different types of drugs remain in the system.

What Does This Mean for Drug Driving Laws?

Some argue that the decision opens the floodgates to contesting drug driving cases.

However, it should be noted that the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’ has always been available in drug driving cases, and the facts of Mr Carrall’s case are quite helpful – especially the advice from police that he would be able to drive after a week. No doubt that if police have any sense, they will cease giving such advice to motorists.

Having said that, the lack of information about how long different drugs stay in a person’s system makes the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’ a viable option where drivers are tested a significant period of time after having taken the drug, especially if they have received advice from a doctor or information through independent research that the drugs would no longer be present in their system.

Antidote to Heroin Overdoses Now Available Over the Counter

According to National Coronial Information System data, heroin accounts for about 30 per cent of deaths from drug overdoses in Australia and the number is increasing.

People dying from heroin overdoses are usually young. Those who are fortunate enough to survive can face lasting mental and physical effects.

But as of February 1, the heroin antidote ‘Naloxone’ has been made available over the counter from pharmacists. The injectable medicine was previously only available with a prescription.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid overdoses by blocking the opioid from affecting the brain and nervous system, and reversing depression of the respiratory system, which causes people to stop breathing.

The move by the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) to reschedule Naloxone, making it available over the counter, has been welcomed by the drug reformists and medical practitioners.

The TGA received 97 submissions about the proposal to make Naloxone more easily available – every one of which agreed that the drug is safe to use, finding it has no effect on anyone without opioids in their system and has low to no potential for abuse. The TGA’s final decision was that the benefits of Naloxone outweigh any harm it might cause.

Angelo Pricolo runs a pharmacy in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. He spoke to the ABC’s The World Today program about what he has learned through providing an opioid replacement program to his community. Mr Pricolo said he made an application to the TGA after seeing the impact of heroin on his community and the ability for Naloxone to save lives.

“Australia will be seen as a little bit of a pioneer in this area and hopefully this decision will influence other jurisdictions to make a similar change to their drug policy,” he said.

Chief Executive of health research organisation the Penington Institute, John Ryan, cited a study which found another person (who could administer the Naloxone) was around for over half of opioid overdoses resulting in death. He said that sometimes, there was no time to wait for an ambulance or a prescription. Mr Ryan believes that if people are able to get a hold of Naloxone, it could mean the difference between life and death.

He told the Guardian:

“People should always still also call an ambulance if they or someone with them is suffering from an overdose.

But increasing the availability of Naloxone beyond emergency departments and ambulances is all about trying to prevent fatal overdoses, because it is the quickest and best way to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.”

Dr Alex Wodak is President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and recently retired from his position as Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital. Dr Wodak is not convinced that making Naloxone more freely available is the answer.

He believes there are other proven interventions that are plausible alternatives. In 2013, when the idea of making Naloxone available without a prescription gained momentum, Dr Wodak pointed out in his article published by The Conversation that:

“Although methadone and buprenorphine maintenance treatments reduce overdose deaths by about 80%, for instance, they are difficult to access in many parts of Australia.

And the payment required by patients in some programs makes them ridiculously unaffordable, especially for low-income people.

Providing more of this treatment in prison, especially for inmates close to release, is particularly important as recently released inmates have a very high rate of death from overdose in their first weeks back in the community.

But in most prisons in Australia, it is even harder to enrol in this treatment than in the community.”

Dr Wodak said more recently that while he welcomes the increased availability of Naloxone, this action does not address Australia’s problem with increased misuse of opioids. He told the Guardian that:

“Drug overdose deaths are rising at totally unacceptable levels, and while Naloxone might make some difference, getting more people who are addicted to drugs into treatment would make a much bigger difference.

Treatment is too limited in capacity and too inflexible in its design, and too much shaped by a drug prohibition environment.”

However, most agree that the increased accessibility of Naloxone is a step in the right direction when it comes to reducing deaths through heroin overdoses.

The Difference in Cannabis Use Between the Sexes

Cannabis is the most widely consumed illicit drug – with 34.8% of Australians over the age of 14 reporting having used it at least once in their lifetime.

Men remain the biggest users of cannabis, accounting for around 75% of those who take the drug. But recent statistics show that the percentage of women who use cannabis daily outstrips men, with 14% of women smoking every day, compared to 12% of men.

A number of international studies have also shown that men and women use cannabis for different reasons.

Men are more susceptible to external factors such as peer pressure and availability of the drug – and are more likely to use it for ‘fun’ in a social or recreational setting. In contrast, women are more likely to use cannabis to ‘relieve an internal distress situation’ – for instance, to cope with stress and anxiety caused by work or a relationship breakdown.

Men who use cannabis are also more likely to consume alcohol and tobacco, and are more likely to have been convicted of a criminal offence in the past. Women, on the other hand, were more inclined to combine cannabis with prescription drugs, and usually had a partner who was also a drug user.

The Science Behind Cannabis Use

What’s more, research has shown that men and women may process the drug in dissimilar ways, because of differences in brain hormones between the two sexes. This, in turn, could mean that men and women experience different long-term effects of cannabis.

According to statistics compiled by the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, men are more likely to consume cannabis (39% of males have tried cannabis – compared to 34% of females), but women are more likely to use the drug regularly, become dependent and, consequently, suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Research has shown that females build up a tolerance to marijuana more quickly than males – and are therefore more likely to consume the drug frequently in order to feel its effects. A study conducted by Washington State University in 2014 found that women were more sensitive to the effects of marijuana, but soon developed a resistance to it. The researchers argued that this is why women have a higher risk of developing a dependence to the drug.

Research indicates that women are less likely to seek treatment for cannabis dependence when compared to men – which may in some cases be due to a fear of losing custody of their children.

In terms of processing the drug, the active chemical in cannabis (THC) binds to receptors in the brain, which are affected by sex hormones. When scientists conducted laboratory tests, they found that male rats which were exposed to cannabis over a long period of time were more likely to exhibit reduced motivation, while female rats showed depressive traits. It is believed that this is because cannabis alters the brain areas responsible for regulating stress and memory in males, and motivation in females.

However, there has been little done in the way of neuroimaging studies to confirm exactly how cannabis affects male and female human brains differently – largely due to the high costs involved.

So, while men and women may use cannabis for different reasons, scientists have been hesitant to draw conclusions about how the drug affects male and female brains differently.

But with cannabis legalisation for medical use on the horizon, and clinical trials already scheduled, we are likely to gain insights from further research into the effects of the drug.

Getting High, Legally

Being caught with drugs like marijuana, ecstacy and cocaine can result in heavy penalties and a criminal conviction – but did you know there are intoxicating drugs you can buy and consume legally?

Most of these ‘legal highs’ are traditionally used by ethnic groups as part of their social customs, rather than partying and having a good time. And unsurprisingly, while they have physical effects on the user, they are generally milder than most illicit drugs.

Here we discuss some of the ‘legal highs’ that you can get in Australia.


Khat is derived from the leaves and buds of the flowering Khat plant, which grows mainly in African and Middle Eastern countries. It is used in some Muslim, Somali and Yemeni cultures, in which users either chew the leaves and buds of the plant, or smoke, chew or drink dried product.

Khat is a stimulant drug, and short-term effects include accelerated heartbeat and breathing, high body temperature, increased sociability and reduced appetite. Some users compare the effects to coffee, in so far as it creates mild euphoria and excitement, and can even induce hyperactivity.

Khat can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects – including constipation, dilated pupils, mental health problems, impotence and mouth sores. Long term use can lead to addiction, and users who stop suddenly can experience withdrawal symptoms including tiredness, trembling and problems functioning in everyday life.

Drug laws do not apply to khat in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania – but it is illegal and regulated under drug laws in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

Although the Australian government previously allowed up to 5 kilograms of khat to be imported for ‘personal use,’ the law was recently changed to prohibit importation except for medical or scientific purposes.


Kava is a depressant derived from the kava shrub. It is used in many Pacific Island cultures, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu – as well as many Indigenous communities.

Generally, the root and stump of the shrub is ground and soaked in water to produce a kind of tea, the consumption of which creates a sense of relaxation, sleepiness, reduced appetite and numbness in the mouth. Long-term effects include breathlessness, chest pains, malnutrition, skin problems and exacerbating mental health issues.

Current laws allow people to bring up to two kilograms of kava into Australia, but there are calls to prohibit importation due primarily to the drug’s impact on Aboriginal communities.

Kava has already been banned in Western Australia and the Northern Territory amidst fears that it is causing social destruction within Aboriginal communities.

In New South Wales, kava is classified as a Schedule 4 drug under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act, meaning it is legal to possess with a written prescription from an authorised practitioner.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Many people do not classify alcohol and tobacco as drugs – but a staple of modern life. Yet in reality, these ‘legal drugs’ can be even more harmful than illegal ones.

A study published in 2010 found that alcohol was the most harmful drug when rated according to 16 criteria – including impairment of mental functioning, criminality, injury, mortality, dependence, economic cost, family adversity, and loss of relationships. Out of a 100-point harmfulness scale, alcohol scored 72, while heroin scored 55, and methamphetamine scored 33.

Tobacco also ranked above illegal drugs such as GHB, ketamine, LSD and ecstasy, with a score of 26, primarily due to the high mortality rate of users.

Incredibly, the least harmful drugs were those which are illegal, yet commonly used in the community. Magic mushrooms were found to be the least harmful drugs, with a score of 6, while ecstasy scored 9.

Drug Importation Continues to Boom

What’s the highest paying job in Sydney?

If you’re thinking along the lines of a banker, lawyer or doctor, you’d be off the mark. According to a recent report by the NSW Crime Commission, drug importers are raking in huge profits – despite a steep decline in wholesale prices.

The Commission says that the price of a kilogram of cocaine has fallen from $280,000 three years ago to between $180,000 to $200,000 today. The price of ‘ice’ has more than halved during the same period, from $220,000 to $95,000.

The fall has been attributed to increases in supply, indicating that drug smugglers are getting better at importing larger quantities of drugs – which equals larger profits.

Meanwhile, the street prices for these drugs have remained unchanged, meaning that organised crime groups are benefiting from greater profits.

Government efforts to stop drug importation have proven to be futile. Despite government agencies seizing 7.3 tonnes of illegal drugs and chemicals in 2014/15, (with one seizure comprising 2.8 tonnes of ice and MDMA worth $1.5 billion), the most recent Report notes that:

‘it was one of Australia’s largest ever drug seizures but, despite this seizure, the price of both ice and MDMA has continued to drop, suggesting a continuing plentiful supply.’

The Report also states that:

‘the illicit drug trade in Australia from drug importation through to street level distribution continues to be the chief source of income for organised crime in Australia.’

Who Imports Drugs and How?

The Report examines the characteristics of those who import drugs – finding that they originate from many different countries, including Mexico, Vietnam, Canada and the United States. It found that the vast majority of drugs, excluding locally grown cannabis, originated from outside Australia – but once the drugs arrived in Australia, they were generally handled by organised crime groups, such as motorcycle groups and ethnic gangs, including those of Vietnamese, Armenian, Russian and Lebanese origin.

The Report suggests that drug smuggling operations are becoming more sophisticated – that importers are getting better at concealing drugs that are shipped or flown over.

The Report also suggests that Sydney’s booming property market is providing a ‘demand for funds’ into Australia, facilitating money laundering operations by providing a reasonable excuse for smugglers to transfer large sums of money into the country.

Penalties for Drug Importation

Drug importation is a Federal offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. The maximum penalty depends on the amount of drugs in question, as well as the type of drug imported:

  • Importing less than a marketable quantity (i.e. less than100 grams ecstasy, 250 grams amphetamines, heroin and cocaine, or 25kg cannabis) carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or $220,000;
  • Importing more than a marketable quantity but less than a commercial quantity attracts a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and/or $550,000 fine;
  • Importing a commercial quantity (i.e. 500g+ ecstasy, 750g+ amphetamines, 1.5kg+ heroin, 2 kilograms+ cocaine, 125 kilograms+ cannabis) comes with a maximum of life imprisonment and/or fine of $825,000;
  • Importing any quantity of drugs (i.e. where the prosecution is unable to prove a particular quantity, or where a person imports a smaller quantity of drugs) has a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and/or $220,000 fine.

What Can Be Done?

The Report confirms that costly government surveillance operations and drug seizures do little to stop the flow of drugs into Australia. Those who dare to import drugs despite the heavy penalties do not stay in Australia for long – generally leaving once the job is complete.

The Report also found that:

‘There is further evidence that the seizures did not deter large syndicates, who regarded the loss of the drugs as merely a business overhead, and there was strong intelligence to suggest that syndicates will simply embark upon new variations of methods for importation to continue their business in order to recoup losses following the seizures.’

Many argue that the best solution to the question of drugs is the decriminalisation and regulation of their use, and ensuring that users are given access to treatment rather than arrested and sent through the criminal justice system.

But sadly, our government seems intent on wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in its futile war against drugs, and those who choose to use them.