Category Archives:Drug Supply

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Police Caught Using and Supplying Drugs

By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim

Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog tabled a report before state parliament on Tuesday, finding that a number of Victorian police officers have been taking illegal drugs and, in some instances, even selling them.

The officers were found to have been regularly partying on cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and ice.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) report sets out the findings of three investigations carried out by Operations Apsley, Hotham and Yarrowitch.

Officers in disrepute

The largest of the investigations, Operation Aspley, commenced in June 2015. It probed allegations that a police officer had been involved in the use, possession and supply of illegal drugs.

The investigation found significant evidence that six officers were regularly using illegal drugs, four of whom were selling them. Four of the officers ultimately tested positive to illicit substances in their system. Two of them were in direct interactions with convicted drug suppliers.

As a result of the investigation, one officer was dismissed and two resigned whilst under investigation. Another was admonished and allowed to stay on the force. Two are currently suspended, awaiting criminal proceedings.

The report’s recommendations

The IBAC identified a number of “systemic deficiencies” in Victoria police’s approach to preventing and detecting illegal drug use amongst officers.

It found that current drug testing procedures are inadequate, as only 5 percent of officers are tested per year. This means an officer is only likely to be randomly tested every 20 years.

The report recommended Victoria police undertake a comprehensive review of measures to prevent illicit drug use by police officers. The Victoria police chief commissioner is to provide the IBAC with a progress report by June 30 next year.

The three IBAC operations led to allegations being brought against eight officers, all of which have been substantiated.

Not the first time

This is certainly not the first time Victoria police has been criticised for failing to address illegal drug use within police ranks. The Herald Sun reported in October last year that the rate of drug testing had slumped in recent years, but the number of officers caught taking drugs is on the rise.

Of just 100 officers tested over a 40 month period, 18 tested positive, while eleven others had been caught in possession of illegal drugs, or had failed to account for seized substances.

In September of this year, an internal police investigation resulted in four officers being suspended for using illicit drugs and leaking information to criminals. This transpired amid claims that recreational drug use is on the rise amongst younger officers.

Earlier that same month, former police officer David Lister pleaded guilty to supplying ice and cannabis cultivation. He resigned from the force in February, after failing a drug test.

Hardly a shock

The secretary of the Victoria Police Association, Ron Iddles, denies there’s a systemic drug problem in the Victoria police force. However, he acknowledged that the findings of the IBAC report weren’t a “total shock.”

“Our members are susceptible to more pressure and stress than the average member of society,” Iddles said on Tuesday.

Drug use is indeed common amongst the general public. The National Drug Strategy Household survey 2013 found that 15 percent of the population had used an illicit drug in the past 12 months.

However, the difference between police officers and members of the general public is that police swear an oath to uphold and enforce the law. Indeed, taxpayers fork out billions of dollars per year to fund police forces across the nation – $3.4 billion a year in NSW alone. It is the job of police to detect, investigate and prosecute the very crimes that some officers are engaging in – which may be seen as hypocritical and affecting the integrity of the institution as a whole.

Police are allowed to exercise their extensive powers around the clock, whether or not they are on duty, and many see a problem with officers having the power to arrest people, use move on powers etc whilst they are using illegal drugs.

Drug use by police can compromise integrity

“Illicit drug use and police work are fundamentally incompatible,” IBAC commissioner Stephen O’Bryan said in a statement. He outlined that officers that use, possess or sell these substances “make themselves vulnerable to blackmail” and are at risk of engaging with organised criminals.

He added that police officers who commit drug offence are also vulnerable to coercion.

The costs of the punitive measures

The number of arrests for illicit drugs has increased by 70 percent Australia wide over the past decade. Over the year 2014-15, 133,926 illicit drug arrests took place, and the overwhelming majority were for cannabis.

The Australian government spends an estimated $1.7 billion on responding to illicit drugs every year, with policing comprising 64 percent of this. That’s over $1 billion spent on enforcing drug laws a year, and this doesn’t take into account the huge amount spent on imprisoning those who are sent to prison.

And yet figures released last year suggest that the drug trade in Victoria dramatically increased over the previous five years.

Police could focus on criminals with legitimate victims

It’s obvious that a lot of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on a failed approach to dealing with drugs. Not only that, a huge amount of police time is being wasted on searching and arresting people for personal possession – and most of those searches do not result in a drug find.

Damon Adams of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a former South Australian police officer who’s calling for a legalised and regulated cannabis market. In his opinion, there are a lot of officers who agree with him.

Adams believes that an enormous amount of police time is being wasted on pursuing minor drug offences, when they could be proactively going “after criminals that actually have legitimate victims.” He’s pointed out that when officers seize cannabis plants, they spend a great deal of time transporting and cataloguing them, in addition to preparing statements and everything else that goes with a prosecution.

The case for decriminalisation

Last month, the Australian Greens announced a change in their drug policy that would see the decriminalisation of illicit drugs and the legalisation of some for recreational use. The party has formally acknowledged the obvious – that Australia’s punitive approach isn’t working.

An example of a non-punitive approach is Portugal. The Portuguese decriminalised the possession of all drugs fifteen years ago.

Citizens found in possession of a permissible amount of an illicit substance receive a citation or they’re sent to see a “dissuasion panel.” Those who repeatedly appear before these panels are prescribed treatment.

As a result of the policy change, drug use in Portugal has fallen dramatically and the country has saved billions in enforcement costs.

Dob in a Dealer or Go to Prison

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

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

Crime watchdog joins police

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

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

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

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

Two men have since been charged with drug supply.

The CCCs coercive powers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novel psychoactive substances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could happen again

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

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

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

The need for pill testing

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

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

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

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

The New Zealand model

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

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

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

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

95 kilos of cocaine in the luggage of just 3 people?

It’s a case that raises more questions than answers.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Border Force (AFB) are claiming that three Canadian tourists carried bags stuffed with 95 kilos of cocaine into Sydney, after apparently having the time of their lives in several South American countries.

They say a law enforcement operation involving agencies from around the world resulted in a raid on the Sea Princess while it was docked in Sydney Harbour.

Officers searched the ship when it berthed, allegedly finding suitcases full of the illegal white powder. It is the biggest seizure of narcotics through a passenger stream into Australia.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of over $30 million, is said to have been stashed in luggage linked to two women in their 20s and a man in his 60s.

The trio were arrested and charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Sea Princess travelled from Southampton in England, where the three Canadians boarded, and stopped over at a number of South American countries, including Colombia, Peru and Chile.

The AFP is unable to say whether the drugs were loaded onto the ship during one of those stops, or how the passengers were able to have so much cocaine alongside their ‘regular’ belongings.

International operation led to bust

Law enforcement officials are claiming to have disrupted a major international crime syndicate which they say was attempting to flood Australian streets with illegal drugs, although no further details have been provided. The ship was destined for other ports in Australia, but authorities are unable to say which cities the drugs were ultimately intended for.

The defendants came before Central Local Court where they did not apply for bail, and were formally refused.

Not the first cruise ship seizure

Tim Fitzgerald, the regional commander for the ABF in NSW, says this is not the first cruise ship seizure in our state:

“We had a similar situation last year … but this is the largest,” he said.

He went on to speak of the AFB’s success in seizing drugs:

“Last financial year alone the Border Force intercepted 18,000 [importations of] narcotics at our various borders, international mail centres, airports, sea ports, sea cargo, air cargo — 22.5 tonnes of narcotics… have been detected in two years.”

However, most agree this is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall quantity of drugs imported into Australia.

The three defendants will face court again in October, unless their lawyers make an application for bail beforehand.

Their defence, if they have one, is not yet known – although 95 kilos seems a lot of cocaine unless some other party had a hand in the events.

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.”

Splendour in the ‘Grass’

This year’s annual Splendour in the Grass music festival at North Byron Parklands attracted a young crowd from not only NSW and Queensland, but across the nation and even abroad.

The line-up featured dozens of star musicians and DJs including The Cure, James Blake and The Strokes, who had revellers partying from Friday through to Sunday.

But as usual, police and sniffer dogs were out in force to control the use of illegal drugs.

A total of 323 were allegedly caught in possession of cannabis, ecstacy, cocaine and ice – with 80 cannabis cautions issued and 200 facing court for drug possession and supply.

Despite the number of arrests, police say the crowd was generally well-behaved.

“Once again police worked closely with Splendour organisers to ensure a safe and enjoyable festival, so it was positive to see that the majority of attendees heeded police warnings and behaved themselves,” a police representative said.

“Our officers were even approached by music fans who thanked them for being there to keep everyone safe – it was tremendous to see such great support from the event community.”

Police once again warned of the dangers of taking illegal drugs, saying:

“We cannot reiterate enough how dangerous these substances can be”, Det. Sterling said.

“They are not only illegal but they can incredibly harmful to your health and, tragically at times, fatal…. We were not there to spoil the fun, but those who choose to break the law or threaten the safety of other festival goers will be stopped in their tracks and dealt with accordingly.”

However, as noted by “Police and law-makers are never going to stop young people smoking a joint or taking MDMA at a music festival. They can’t even explain why those drugs are illegal while consumption of alcohol, a drug that kills thousands every year, is incredibly prevalent.”

There is a strong argument that introducing harm-minimisation measures like pill testing is a far more effective way of preventing overdoses and fatalities than simply arresting and charging people.

Most of those charged at Splendour are required to attend Byron Bay Local Court on 15th August.

Penalty for Drug Possession

The maximum penalty for drug possession is 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,200.

A fine comes with a criminal conviction, which is also known as a criminal record.

Help – I’m Facing Drug Charges!

In spite of the maximum penalties, a good lawyer may be able to convince the magistrate not to record a conviction against your name, even if you wish to plead guilty to drug possession or a minor drug supply.

In order to maximise your chances of avoiding a conviction, it is a good idea to prepare up to 3 character references and a letter of apology before your day in court, which can help persuade the magistrate to grant you a non conviction order’.

If you live closer to Sydney than Byron Bay, your lawyer may be able to have your case transferred to Downing Centre Local Court in the Sydney CBD, so you don’t need to travel back up north for your day in court.

If you are going to court and would like an experienced drug lawyer to represent you, call us anytime to arrange a free first conference. We offer fixed fees for all drug possession cases.

President to Release Non-Violent Drug Offenders

US President Barack Obama recently commuted the prison sentences of 42 inmates as part of his push for criminal justice reform.

Most of the offenders are small-time drug dealers who have already spent many years in prison – some were sentenced to life-imprisonment under “three strikes and you’re out” legislation.

Obama has now commuted the sentences of 348 inmates – more than the previous seven US presidents combined.

US Prison Population

An estimated 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States. This represents a quarter of the global prison population in a country with only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

A whopping one in 100 US adults are incarcerated, and two-thirds of released inmates return to prison within 2 years.

The direct cost to the US economy is enormous – US $60 billion per year, an increase of more than 300% over the past 20 years. The indirect costs are believed to be far higher than this.

Law Reform

The White House has released a statement saying the commuted sentences related to inmates affected by “outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” including mandatory life sentences for non-violent drug offences.

“The individuals receiving a presidential commutation today have more than repaid their debt to society and earned this second chance,” the statement said.

The President is expected to commute more sentences before he leaves office in January 2017. He has also proposed legislation which would reduce sentence lengths for small time offenders, and focus on alternatives to imprisonment and rehabilitation.

The President said of the current system:

“It’s not keeping us as safe as it should be. It is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.”

Justice Reinvestment

Some US states have already seen the benefits of ‘Justice Reinvestment’, an initiative proposed by the US Open Society Institute in 2003.

Justice reinvestment recognises that a disproportionately high concentration of offending comes from a small number of communities, which are normally categorised by:

  • High rates of poverty, child abuse or neglect, alcohol and drug use, and mental health problems,
  • Insufficient social services such as housing and employment support, and
  • low education levels.

By channeling funds into programs which address these problems, justice reinvestment has been remarkably successful in lowering offending rates and overall law enforcement costs in a number of US communities.

A 2014 report by the Urban Institute found that 17 states are projected to save as much as $4.6 billion through policies designed to channel spending into community projects and otherwise control corrections spending.

Seeing these benefits, a total of 21 US states have now signed up with the Council of State Governments Justice Centre and other non-profit organisations to investigate or apply justice reinvestment in their jurisdiction.

Closer to Home

Australia certainly has its own problems – with a sharply rising prison population caused by tougher bail laws and harsh sentencing regimes, despite falling overall crime rates.

Our Indigenous communities suffer from hugely disproportionate incarceration rates, while our politicians seem intent on spending more and more on enforcement and imprisonment, while losing focus on programs which address the underlying causes of offending.

It is hoped government will start to recognise the real, long-term economic and social benefits of preventative and diversionary programs, and shift expenditure towards initiatives that deal with the problem at its source.

The UN Drugs Summit: A Wasted Opportunity

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) has once again refused to denounce the spectacular failure of the international War on Drugs. Many hoped that a shift of rhetoric was forthcoming, with the meeting brought forward from 2019 as a result of pleas by representatives of several member states, including the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico; nations where many die in the violent frontline of the drug war.

The last multinational drug debate was the 1998 UNGASS, which set a goal for a “drug-free world” by 2008, using the drug war model.

The results

The 1998 goal has clearly not been met, with the harm associated with drug prohibition increasing over the years.

1. Supply

The international drug war has not altered the supply of drugs. While cocaine supply has fallen, that decrease has been overshadowed by an increase in methamphetamine supply. The supply of cannabis and psychoactive drugs also continues to rise. The 2015 UN World Drug Report found that overall drug use and demand is stable around the world.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 used the US as an example, finding that despite efforts to limit the supply of illicit drugs, prices have fallen while the purity of the drugs has increased since 1990.

Researchers found that between 1990 and 2007, the price of heroin, cocaine and cannabis fell by 81%, 80% and 86% respectively, while average purity increased by 60%, 11% and 161%.

2. Proceeds of crime

Internationally, the illegal drug trade is larger than any other illegal activity, with a 2011 report by Global Financial Integrity estimating that illicit drugs create $320 billion for criminal organisations across the globe.

3. Imprisonment

The Brookings Institution has published a comparative study of counter-narcotics polices and their outcomes in various countries.

The Study outlined three different approaches:

  • Punishment – used in countries like Australia, the US and UK,
  • Depenalisation – used in Italy and Spain, which does not criminalise personal use for certain amounts, and
  • Decriminalisation – used in the Netherlands, which allows cannabis for personal use.

This Study found that the punishment model was a major reason for the explosion in US imprisonment rate from less than 50,000 in 1980 (at the beginning of the drug war) to 210,200 in 2015.

Like the US, Australia is also suffering from over-populated prisons, many of them incarcerated for drug offences.

4. Health outcomes

A study titled “Global burden of disease attributable to illicit drug use and dependence” found that the global burden of illness due to amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, and opioids (including heroin) increased by 52% between 1990 and 2010. UNODC figures suggest that there are now 27 million people worldwide suffering from some form of drug disorder.

While this is not solely the result of drug policy, these numbers suggest that not nearly enough is being done to minimise harm associated with illegal drug use, with the primary focus being on punishing users. In fact, a 2013 Australian report found that the ratio of government drug-related spending was overwhelmingly highest for law enforcement (66%), then treatment (21%), prevention (9%) and harm reduction (2%).

Michel Kazatchkine, a professor of medicine and former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has pointed to the disastrous results of drug enforcement policies on disease control. He criticised UNGASS for virtually ignoring the fact that nearly 2 million people who inject drugs around the world have HIV, and a whopping two-thirds are infected with hepatitis C.

Law enforcement agents and policies are, in Kazatchkine’s view, “barriers to services”; standing in the way of users getting help. Kazatchkine sees prisons, the place where many users end up, as “high-risk environments for infectious disease transmissions.”

5. Casualties

Drug prohibition is a major factor in the 250,000 yearly overdoses from illicit drugs, as it leads to the use of deadly fillers and wildly fluctuating purity levels. Prohibition has also created dangerous ‘no go zones’ in many countries.

In 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon began deploying federal military forces to capture and kill drug traffickers. This move saw the nation’s homicide rate quadruple from nine murders per 100,000 in 2005, to 22 murders per 100,000 in 2010. Between 2007 and 2014, more than 164,000 people were victims of homicide.

Similar conflicts have played out in Columbia and Guatemala.

The Summit

Achieving consensus between many countries with different priorities and agendas is always going to be a difficult task.

However, it was hope that the steadily declining crime and health outcomes created by the War on Drugs would be so great that agreement would be reached that strict prohibition has failed. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

A preliminary agreement reached on the first day ignored the importance of harm minimisation, maintaining the prohibitionist framework which criminalises all drug use not for medical or scientific purposes.


The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which unites international leaders to advocate for drug reform, declared itself “profoundly disappointed” by the failure of UNGASS 2016 to have the courage to strive for change. “The very bad news about UNGASS is that its official declaration reinforces the 1961, 1971 and 1988 Conventions as the cornerstone of the international drug control system,” said Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico from 1994-2000.

This is despite overwhelming evidence that the current approach has failed. “The emphasis needs to be on helping people getting out of the problem of drug use rather than punishing them for being in it,” said Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance. Mr Gore was dismissive of the final document, saying, “It represents a tinkering around the edges more than a fundamental reshaping of where we need to get to as a world on drug policy.”

UN’s role

The UN cannot act as a world parliament or police – it does not have power to force member states to enact or enforce legislation.

At the same time, many feel the UNGASS was expected properly examine the available evidence and make recommendations, if not reach agreements, for reform.

They believe the organisation failed to do this, preferring to dance around the issues and keep member states happy. They feel the recent UNGASS was a wasted opportunity because no definitive statement of principles, no recommendations and no meaningful agreement was reached, despite overwhelming evidence of the current approach’s failure.

The way forward for Australia

Loiuse Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, believes the lack of leadership by the UN and other international bodies will lead countries to pursue their own decriminalisation and harm-management policies.

Most Australians support some form of drug decriminalisation. Only 5% of Australians support a prison sentence for cannabis possession, with support for prison for ecstasy (14%), methamphetamine (21%) and heroin (24%) also relatively low.

Many Australians agree with “The Economist”, which endorses the legalisation of cannabis because of the associated economic and social benefits, saying “Danger and harm are not in themselves a reason to make or keep things illegal.”

Nick Clegg predicts that “Because the hardliners (Russia and China mainly) have been allowed to hijack this process, reformers will think, ‘To hell with the UN system, let’s just get on with our own experiment.'”

Unfortunately, Australian politicians are hesitant to wind back prohibition, preferring to plough billions of taxpayer dollars into enforcement and incarceration, while spending relatively little on prevention and diversion.

High Drug Prices Do Not Reduce Demand

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has brought forward a special session on international policy, which will focus on a number of issues including the current worldwide debate about the decriminalisation of drugs.

Those who support prohibition typically argue that it reduces demand by sending a clear message that drug use is unacceptable and dangerous, while those against say it does more harm than good by creating an illegal black market for drugs (and all the associated problems), unnecessarily criminalises otherwise law-abiding individuals, exposes users to potentially-deadly fillers and fluctuating purity levels, and wastes tens or even hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

This blog focuses on the question of whether high prices caused by drug prohibition reduces demand.

Cost of Australian Drugs

The 2015 Global Drug Survey found that Australian users can expect to pay dramatically higher prices for drugs than those in the US and Europe. It found that Australians pay an average €18 for an ecstasy pill and €166 for a gram of MDMA. This is second only to New Zealand, and slightly more than double of price in the third most expensive country, Switzerland.

Australian cocaine users are paying up to four times as much as users in Britain- cocaine is about $300 a gram in Australia, and $75 a gram in England.

”It’s a luxury item here [in Australia]. People who’ve got lots of money use coke and if you’re on benefits and doing crime you do crystal [methamphetamine],” Survey coordinator, psychiatrist Adam Winstock said.

The Australian Crime Commission described the price paid by local users as “astronomical” compared with other countries.

“When the drug is purchased in China it costs around $100 per gram; by the time it gets to Perth it’s selling for about $650 a gram,” the head of the ACC Chris Dawson said.

The 2011 Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement similarly acknowledged the high price of drugs in Australia, noting the “extreme difference between Australian and international drug prices.”

Dr Adam Winstock says local prices are high because of the additional risk of importing drugs into Australia; a risk created by prohibition.

Quality of Australian Drugs

Drugs are also generally lower in purity in Australia, and can contain dangerous levels of deadly fillers.

In 2011, American street cocaine had an average purity of 52%, while the drug has an average purity of 19.85% in Australia.

The purity of ecstacy is also much higher in other parts of the world – pills in the UK have an average purity of 66.3% MDMA (the most common active ingredient), Danish pills have 59%, and Dutch pills have 77.5%. Meanwhile, the Australian government’s forensic facility, ChemCenter, says the average here is just 18.9%.

Prevalence of Drug Use

The 2014 United Nations World Drug Report says Australia is leading the globe in terms of recreational drug use.

Australia was found to be the world leader in ecstacy use per capita, the third highest user of methamphetamines and fourth highest user of cocaine.

Price Inelasticity

The concept of price elasticity relates to the influence of price on consumer demand.

Price elasticity is when consumers react negatively at the same rate as a price rise; for example, buy 10% less Adidas shoes when the brand’s prices rise by 10%.

The opposite principle, price inelasticity, is where consumers do not react to price changes at a corresponding rate. An example may be petrol, where a 10% price rise typically leads to a less-than 10% fall in consumption.

Surveys have found that drug use is characterised by price inelasticity; where price increases do not result in corresponding reductions in use, and that, by the same token, price falls do not cause an equivalent rise in use. This is said to be due to a range of factors, not the least of which is that habitual users will buy drugs regardless of price increases, and low prices are not normally a primary consideration for first time or recreational users.

Accordingly, it is argued that increases in prices caused by prohibition do not lead to a corresponding reduction in drug use.

Like many others, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, argues that changes in illicit drug use are fueled not by fluctuations in prices, but by growing socioeconomic inequality, mental health issues, low employment prospects and traumatic experiences.

He points out that prohibition and corresponding price increases do not decrease demand, as prohibitionists suggest, and we can only address high demand by seeing drug addiction as a public health issue and not a law enforcement issue; and focusing on providing resources to preventative and diversionary programs, rather than law enforcement bodies.

MP Introduces Law to Scrap Sniffer Dog Use

Here are a few reasons why sniffer dogs make bad drug policy: they’re inaccurate, they’re open to bias, they’re used to target low income communities, they cost a lot of money and they increase the risk of dangerous drug behaviours such as ‘loading up’.

In terms of civil liberties, the spectre of heavily armed police using dogs to conduct searches on members of the community in train stations and other public spaces encroaches on our freedom from arbitrary interference by agents of the state.

In 2006, the New South Wales Ombudsman conducted an extensive investigation into the use of sniffer dogs, finding that:

“There is little or no evidence to support claims that drug detection dog operations deter drug use, reduce drug-related crime, or increase perceptions of public safety. Further, criticisms of the cost-effectiveness of general drug detection operations appear to be well founded…

In light of this, we have recommended that the starting point when considering our report is a review of whether the legislation in its present form, or amended as suggested, should be retained at all.”

The Ombudsman recommended that sniffer dogs be scrapped altogether. It’s taken a decade, but there is finally a chance of this becoming a reality.

The Proposed Law

Jenny Leong, the Greens MP for Newtown, has introduced a bill into New South Wales Parliament that would repeal the use of drug detection dogs by police without a warrant.

The Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment (Sniffer Dogs—Repeal of Powers) Bill 2016 seeks to alter sections of the LEPRA legislation, and Tattoo Parlours Act 2012, to remove provisions relating to the use of sniffer dogs in carrying out drug detection.

“In NSW, the use of sniffer dogs by police on public transport, at festivals and in bars is not about effective drug control – it’s about police intimidation and harassment,” says Leong.

“The NSW drug dog program has been shown over and over again to be ineffective and a waste of public money. It’s also highly discriminatory – targeting already marginalised groups in our community – and a blatant breach of our civil rights.”

“Time after time the stats show that the program just doesn’t work,” says Leong. “Health and law specialists say so. The Ombudsman says so. But the government is stubbornly refusing to see the evidence.

The Bill will be debated in coming weeks. However, you can watch Jenny Leong’s speech in New South Wales Parliament in support of the bill below:

Is the Tide Turning on Sniffer Dog Use?

Earlier this year, another New South Wales MP, Labor’s Jo Haylen, spoke out against the use of sniffer dogs during a debate on health policy at the State Labor conference.

Ms Haylen, the member for Summer Hill, argued that sniffer dogs have been ineffective in targeting drug dealers, and instead have made drug users engage in even riskier behaviour – the opposite of the program’s original intentions.

“Sniffer dogs are ineffective,” she said.

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

“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.”

Earlier this week, the NSW Legislation Review Committee also threw their support behind Leong’s bill, saying “[it] supports the principles and advances the human rights referenced in Sections 8A of the Legislation Review Act 1987”.

Ms Haylen argued that the government should instead be encouraging the use of amnesty bins and pill-testing at music festivals, as ways of discouraging harmful drug use. However, it is unclear what stance Labor will take on the new legislation when it comes to a vote later this year.

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. In 2012 this was extended to also include tattoo parlours, despite mounting evidence that the program was a failure.

Recent statistics show that over 60% percent of searches are the result of a ‘false-positive’, where the dog has falsely indicated a person is carrying drugs. This and other problems with sniffer dog use have led criminal lawyers to conclude that positive indications are not enough to constitute the ‘reasonable suspicion’ required for a search; a conclusion which is consistent with advice given to the Ombudsman by senior barristers.

Further research has shown that drug detection dogs react heavily to the bias of their handlers – a possible explanation for the high rate of false detections. Additional research suggests that passengers boarding a train at Redfern station are 6.5 times more likely to be searched for drugs than passengers at Central station – leading to allegations of bias in police deployment.

Given the ineffectiveness of sniffer dogs – and the tragic consequences that have resulted from users ‘loading up’ before and during festivals – 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.

5 Anti-Drug Ads That Went Hilariously Wrong

Earlier this week, the NSW Police Force released plans to expand its ‘Dob in a dealer’ campaign, targeting ice dealers in Sydney.

The announcement has already been met with criticism from drug reform experts, who argue that the Government should focus on harm minimisation, rather than invest further resources into the failed ‘war on drugs’.

The expansion announcement comes just months after the release of the anti-drug campaign titled ‘Stoner Sloth’ – a video series criticised for being ineffective and downright ridiculous.

According to Matt Noffs, whose Noffs Foundation specialises in drug treatment for young people, the Stoner Sloth campaign was a “waste of money”. Mr Noffs believes the money could have been better spent on helping young people to beat drug addiction and get back on the right path. He told the Sydney Morning Herald:

“For less than the cost of this campaign, we run street universities that help hundreds of kids off drugs,” and “The biggest issue I have with this campaign is that it stigmatises children with drug issues.”

But the Stoner Sloth wasn’t the first time our government failed in its attempt to deter young people from taking drugs. Here are five other ad campaign criticised for being ineffective.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Say No To Drugs Advert

On its surface, this commercial seems pretty good: it is 30 seconds long, everyone loves the Ninja Turtles, and the marijuana pusher appears crushed at the end, after the six year old’s crushing corny 90s putdown.

That is until you take a step back and think: were middle-class, suburban, TMNT-loving six-year olds really a group teetering on the brink of marijuana addiction? Probably not. In reality, this ad may have been responsible for introducing some of that demographic to the concept of pot. Oops.

If there is any message six-year-olds took from watching this ad, it’s abstaining from “pot” is for their cartoon-watching friends, while their cool, leather-clad, older brother blazes it.

Your Brain on Drugs

Probably the most famous anti-drug campaign in recent history, this ad is full of gruff condescension. After making what is, at best, a muddled egg metaphor, the voiceover guy says “any questions” in a way which implies that if you do have questions, he’s going to punch you in the face. To clarify, your brain is not an egg. And doing drugs probably won’t scramble it.

Thinking of the long-term effect of this ad, it most likely accomplished one thing: reminding pot users how great some fried eggs would be right now.

Canadian Drug Rap

Released two years after NWA’s ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ helped make smoking weed mainstream, the Canadian Drug Rap never stood a chance. Unfortunately, no-one told the Canadians. The ad itself hits that sweet spot between Barney sing-along and full-blow acid freak out, which would be hilarious if wasn’t intended as a serious anti-drug campaign.

The premise for the commercial seems to be that kids might get confused between the sorts of drugs that are prescribed by doctors, and the kind that you get on the street. This seems a tad ironic now, with evidence of doctors issuing dangerous, legal painkillers to adults. That said, “drugs, drugs, drugs” is still an amazing chorus, worthy of the next Wiz Khalifa album.

An Anti-Drug Ad We Have No Way Of Describing

There’s a school of thought within the anti-drug movement if authority figures just act really, really angry at drug users, they’ll somehow stop using drugs. While NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s hardline on drugs is music to the ears of conservatives, he’s got nothing on this ad.

Beginning with the iconic this-egg-is-your-brain-on-drugs commercial (above), the actor then tells us that snorting heroin is like smashing the egg with a frying pan. Where did this weird metaphor come from? She then goes crazy and begins smashing up the once-pristine kitchen. It makes for engaging viewing, until you ask: does anyone actually snort heroin?

Don’t Blaze and Bathe

Yet another confusing metaphor and scenario. In this ad, a teenaged girl smokes a joint and dives off a high dive board headfirst into – *shock* – an empty pool. The ad raises a number of important questions: how was she sober enough to change into a one-piece bathing suit, but not realise the pool was empty? How did she get into the pool in the first place? How does this have anything to do with marijuana use?

So there you have it – ineffective, expensive and sometimes confusing attempts by out-of-touch conservatives to stop young people from taking drugs. One wonders what’s next.