Category Archives:Drug Premises

Legalising Cannabis Does Not Lead to a Rise in Crime

By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim

An extensive study conducted in the United States suggests that legalising cannabis has not led to a rise in either property crime or violent crime.

The research adds further credibility to calls for cannabis legalisation in Australia, helping debunk the conservative myth that cannabis use leads to criminality.

Imprisoning the indigent

The US currently imprisons nearly 2.3 million people, which is the largest prison population on earth.

A significant portion are behind bars for low level offending, including repeated low level drug offences such as drug possession.

The nation disproportionately imprisons the poorest and most vulnerable, including African and Latino Americans, and mandatory sentencing policies such as ‘three strikes’ laws ensure low level felonies lead to lengthy prison sentences, even life imprisonment.

The study

The recent study, published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, used crime rate data from 1988 to 2013 from states which initially decriminalised medicinal cannabis, many of whom proceeded to legalise the use and possession of the drug.

Researchers compared that data with year-by-year averages from states which did not legalise the plant, finding no discernible difference.

The Californian experience

California was the first jurisdiction in the United States to legalise medicinal cannabis in 1996, with 30 states and the District of Columbia later following in its footsteps.

Over the period of the study, violent and property crime rates have dropped by 20%.

It is important to note that, as is the case in NSW, these types of crimes have been falling throughout the US for over 30 years – and it is certainly not suggested that legalisation is a primary reason behind the reduction.

However, it should also be noted that crime rates in California have fallen at a faster rate than states that did not legalise the medicinal or recreation use of the plant, and that research has found that legalisation has now all-but destroyed the black market for the drug in the state, crushing a number of Mexican drug cartels and even leading some go out of business – with their violent crimes going with them.

The law on drug possession in New South Wales

Drug possession remains a crime in our state.

The maximum penalty for possession a prohibited drug, such as cannabis, is two years in prison and/or a fine of $2,200.

For a person to be found guilty, the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he or she:

  • Had physical possession or control of a prohibited drug,
  • Knew or reasonably believed it was there, and
  • Knew or reasonably believed the substance was a prohibited drug.

If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty of cannabis possession, the magistrate can exercise his or her discretion not to impose a criminal conviction (criminal record) but, instead, dismiss the charge under section 10(1)(a) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) or place the person on a Conditional Release Order without conviction for up to two years.

Cannabis cautioning scheme

Since the year 2000, NSW has had a cannabis cautioning scheme which allows police officers to exercise their discretion in certain situations not to send people to court for possessing cannabis.

Police can only issue a cannabis caution to adults who have not previously been convicted of a drug offence, a sexual offence or an offence of violence.

A caution is only available for possessing under 15 grams of cannabis, and only two cautions can be administered upon any person.

Medicinal cannabis in New South Wales

Although laws have been passed in our state to legalise medicinal cannabis, it has proven to be far more difficult to access than in places like California, not to mention much more expensive.

In NSW, both the cannabis prescriber and product itself are required to go through the arduous process of registration and licensing.

It is legal for those suffering certain medical conditions to access medicinal cannabis under clinical trials or the Special Access and Authorised Prescriber Schemes administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TPA).

As of October 2018, the TPA has approved the following medical conditions:

  • chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  • refractory pediatric epilepsy
  • palliative care indications
  • cancer pain
  • neuropathic pain
  • spasticity from neurological conditions
  • anorexia and wasting associated with chronic illness (such as cancer).

Just legalise it

Neither of the major political parties, whether on a state or federal level, support the broader legalisation of cannabis.

The Greens is the only party with seats in federal parliament to have announced a policy to legalise the use and possession of the plant across Australia.

The plan is to make cannabis available through an “Australian Cannabis Agency”, which would have the sole responsibility for distributing the product.

The new Agency would issue licendes for production and sale, as well as monitor retailers.

It would also be responsible for collecting a tobacco-style tax from consumers, which would then be used for education and treatment programs.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has criticised the, asserting the (widely disproven) claim that cannabis is a “gateway drug” to other “harder drugs”.

“We do not believe it is safe, responsible or something which should be allowed”, Mr Hunt stated.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has accused the Greens of generating “political clickbait”, making clear he does not support broader legalisation.

Heavy-Handed Police Raid Sydney Nightclub, but Find No Drugs and Press No Charges

NSW authorities continue their assault on Sydney’s nightlife. This time the police raided Club 77 in Darlinghurst. At around 11.30 pm last Saturday night, a group of NSW police officers, with a sniffer dog, entered the nightclub and began searching clientele and staff.

Club owner Matty Bickett broke the news of the police raid in a Facebook post that went viral on Sunday. He reported that the officers made no arrests and found no drugs. Bickett wrote that the “over the top policing” had left him with “a bad taste” in his mouth.

“We had 15 police just storm the venue, out of nowhere. There was probably about 100 to 120 kids in the club. We’re only 180 capacity,” Bickett explained. He went on to say that the officers began strip searching people, some in public and others in the toilets.

The police prevented people from entering the club, as well as dragging others out.

Strip searches and a lack of respect

Bickett was particularly upset that the headline act – who’d flown in from Melbourne to DJ – was himself strip searched and then barred from re-entering the venue. “They wouldn’t let him back in the club, which is pretty terrible PR,” he told Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

According to Bickett, the police didn’t want to talk to him, or his business partner, who’s the licensee. The officers didn’t serve them with any paperwork, or explain the legalities of what they were doing.

Some club-goers reported being searched as they were making their way to the venue from the train station that night. The officers carried out strip searches in the toilet cubicles in the club. And one man was allegedly tasered in the back alley.

After the raid, the police left, only to return about two hours later minus the dog. They began removing punters from the club that they believed were intoxicated.

Cracking down on nightlife

The raid on 77 is part of a new policing approach, Bickett said he’d been told. He explained that the Saturday night incident is to become “pretty standard” police behaviour, and the venue is “to expect more of this.”

But the club owner can’t understand why, as the atmosphere of the venue has changed over recent years. They’ve recently renovated and are catering for an older crowd these days.

“We weren’t doing anything dodgy. We just run a business,” Bickett said, and added that many of the venues in the local area have shut down due to the effects of the lockout laws. However, his club has “managed to stay on,” since the lockout and last drink restrictions were introduced into Sydney’s CBD back in February 2014.

More of the same

This is not the first time NSW police have taken a heavy-handed approach to Sydney’s nightclubs. Last December, about 40 officers stormed Candy’s Apartment in Kings Cross. At the time, the police imposed a 72-hour temporary closure order on the venue.

The raid took place after a three month investigation into drug supply in the Kings Cross area under Strike Force Roby. On the night of that raid, a 21-year-old man was arrested outside the club for allegedly being in possession of 60 MDMA capsules.

Charlie Mancuso, the owner of the nightclub, said at the time that police had to show they were doing something otherwise they were going to lose their jobs. He called on patrons to fight for their rights and show their displeasure.

Increasing the harms of drug use

Taking drug detection dogs into late-night venues and music festivals is a dangerous approach for police to take. Harm reduction experts have long pointed out that using sniffer dogs actually leads people to partake in hazardous drug taking behaviours.

These practices include preloading, which is when a person takes all of their drugs before arriving at an event to avoid detection. And another common practice is panic overdosing, when a person takes all of their drugs at once on seeing a drug dog.

The death of James Munro at Defqon 1 in 2013 is believed to have been a case of panic overdosing. The young man is said to have taken all his drugs at once on seeing a drug detection dog operation.

People attending nightclubs do partake in drugs. This is well-known. And walking sniffer dogs through venues late at night is only encouraging people to take dangerous quantities of any drugs they might possess, so as to avoid detection.

High Alert

Since late in April, Victoria police have taken a similar approach under Operation Safenight. On Saturday nights in Melbourne’s nightclub precincts, officers are currently using sniffer dogs, searching people and raiding venues.

In response to the police operation, the High Alert campaign has been set up to build public awareness about the approach police are taking, as well as providing legal advice to those who’ve been affected by police tactics.

High Alert is run by a group of harm reduction advocates, health practitioners and legal professionals. They’re concerned that the police operation is not only an attack on people’s civil liberties, but it’s also making Melbourne’s nightlife more dangerous.

An evidence-based approach

Victoria police launched the crackdown in response to the drug-related deaths of three people due to a deadly batch of MDMA that was being sold in Chapel Street nightclubs in January. The MDMA capsules were not pure. They’d been mixed with the more dangerous drug NBOMe.

However, the tried and tested way to reduce drug-related deaths is not more law enforcement. It’s pill testing – or drug checking – a method that’s been used in European countries for decades. It allows a drug taker to make an informed decision about what they’re about to ingest.

Drugs can be tested at booths at music festivals, or at a High Street service in a nightclub precinct. A trained professional uses laboratory equipment that allows them to tell the owner of the drugs what they’re made up of. And if they’re found to be dangerous, then the person can refrain from taking them.

Back at 77

Bickett and his business partner have been left wondering whether police are going to take any further steps in regards to Saturday night’s raid. “There’s been no discussion between us and them. They just come in and treat you like a criminal.” he said. “There was people in tears. It just doesn’t look good.”

“To have that on a Saturday night is a bit of a kick in the teeth, especially when they didn’t make any arrests or breach us,” Bickett concluded. “Haven’t got a fine. Haven’t got anything.”

Sydney Uni Pioneers Medical Marijuana Research

In an important step towards legalising medical marijuana in Australia, it was announced last week that Sydney University will lead research into the effectiveness of cannabis on a range of conditions.

The research will primarily be funded by a generous $33.7 million donation from Aussie businessman Barry Lambert and his wife Joy, who are passionate about investigating the use of marijuana for treating health problems such as cancer, chronic pain, and epilepsy. The centre will be aptly named the Lambert Institute.

Supplementing the Lambert’s donation is a $12 million grant from the state government to be spent over four years on establishing the centre.

For the Lamberts, the campaign to recognise medical marijuana has a personal touch – their young granddaughter, Katelyn, suffered epileptic seizures and found relief in cannabis-derived medicines. Now, the couple hopes that positive research findings may help other families who are struggling to find a way to treat complex health problems such as epilepsy.

International Cannabis Research Centres

The Lambert Institute will propel Australia to the forefront of medicinal cannabis research – an area which is currently being led by the United States.

The University of California already runs its own Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR), which studies the safety of cannabis compounds in treating illnesses.

Since its inception, the CMCR has studied the effectiveness of marijuana in treating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, HIV, diabetes and spinal cord injury. It has also researched the impact that medicinal cannabis has on sleep and driving abilities.

What Will The Lambert Institute’s Research Involve?

Like overseas centres, the Lambert Institute will attempt to isolate a THC compound which is suitable for treating illnesses – and which minimises negative side effects.

Scientists have identified 10 different cannabinoid compounds which have scientific potential, out of a total of around 100. Trials in Sydney have already delivered promising results, finding that some of the compounds may even be used to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Ironically, the Institute will bring together some of the world’s leading scientific and medical minds to study the benefits of the drug despite it remaining illegal in NSW – at least for the time-being.

Given this apparent setback, some have questioned how the Institute will gain access to the marijuana required for the research. However, experts have hinted that the centre may be granted the rare opportunity to grow and harvest its own marijuana crops – a statement that has been backed by Premier Mike Baird.

Clinical Trials on the Horizon

Research conducted by the Lambert Institute will be bolstered by clinical trials of the drug, which are expected to begin in the near future. The state government announced the trials in December last year, allocating $9 million towards the program. It is expected that the individuals selected to take part in the trial will be announced shortly.

Other states, including Victoria, may follow in the footsteps of NSW and conduct their own trials.

The forthcoming trial provides hope for parents who have been praying for a legal means to treat childhood epilepsy. Cannabis-based tinctures have reportedly had an extraordinary effect on chronically ill children – but, as mentioned in one of our earlier blogs, adults who administer these unorthodox treatments could face criminal charges and even lose the right to see their kids.

Medical marijuana advocates hope that the approach taken by New South Wales will signify a move away from prohibition, and towards recognising the benefits of marijuana.

And for those suffering chronic health issues, the move represents an important step towards overcoming the hurdles currently faced in obtaining safe and effective natural treatments.

Are drug raids really a deterrent to crime? Is the cost to the community justified?

Highly publicised police raids are increasingly common and they are often reported as leading to significant reductions of drugs on the streets, keeping our communities safer and disrupting the supply of drugs into Australia. Drug raids can lead to arrests and harsh penalties. But they can be extremely expensive for taxpayers, and a recent report has shed doubt on how effective they really are when it comes to reducing drug-related arrests and overdoses over the long term.

Last month, police announced the second largest drug bust in Australian history in western Sydney, allegedly seizing an estimated 2.8 tonnes of illegal drugs found to have been imported in a shipping container. The drugs were estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, and allegedly included ecstasy and methamphetamine. The raids were the results of an international investigation spanning several months, and resulted in six men being charged. NSW Premier Mike Baird commented on the raid, saying that it had potentially saved lives, as the drugs would now not be distributed on the streets, especially during the summer party scene. Another recent drugs raid in Queensland saw an estimated $400,000 worth of drugs allegedly seized in a single operation.

But what effect will these highly publicised raids really have on the overall rate of drug harm and use within the community? Police may talk about keeping drugs off the street, and push the benefits of large-scale drugs raids, but research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) rsuggests that there is no link between big drugs hauls and a reduction in drugs harm in the community.

What the report reveals

The report from BOCSAR looked at the effects of police drugs raids on arrest rates and overdose rates from drugs over a 10-year period. It found that there was no link between police raids and a reduction in the number of overdoses and arrests for drugs offences over the decade leading up to 2011.

Although the police have often claimed that raids mean there are fewer drugs on the street, this would appear not to be the case. The results of the study actually suggest that the link between the number of drugs on the streets and police raids works the other way, with raids being an indication that there were more drugs available in the community, instead of disrupting the supply.

The study also noted that the strongest link between raids and drug harm actually showed that overdoses and arrests went up, not down after big seizures. Dr Don Weatherburn, director of BOCSAR, noted that police were finding more drugs in raids recently because a higher number of drugs were coming into the country, not because they were taking a large portion of drugs out of circulation.

The study looked at the months following large seizures and found that with a few exceptions, the number of drugs available remained the same and there was no reduction in the use of amphetamines, heroin or cocaine. The exceptions were three cocaine raids undertaken in 2010 that resulted in the seizure of almost 700 kg of cocaine. There was a temporary reduction in cocaine overdoses and arrests for possession and use after the raids, but the rate subsequently rose back to normal over time.

Are drug raids a waste of time?

Dr Weatherburn noted that he didn’t believe drug raids were a waste of time, stating that although they didn’t have the effect they were often assumed to have, the threat of raids and high penalties was enough to deter many dealers from getting involved in drug-crime unless they were going make a significant profit out of it. This, he believes, keeps the street price of drugs higher and makes it harder for people in the community to access drugs. He said that it would be more disruptive to the overall presence of drugs in the community if five drugs traffickers were arrested with one kilo of drugs each, than one trafficker with five kilos.

Big drug raids may get a large amount of publicity, but are they really helping the community? It would seem that when it comes to reducing the level of harm caused by drugs, large-scale raids may not be the answer and they could even potentially lead to other problems.