What is the Law on Drug Injection Rooms?

The Kings Cross drug injection room, which first opened in 2001, has had significant success in reducing the amount of harm surrounding drug injection.

The initiative has helped to reduce the number of needles left lying around (by half!), to minimise fatalities from overdoses and to reduce the number of ambulance calls from Kings Cross.

The centre now functions like other health services – the decade long stipulation of ‘trial’ conditions was lifted a few years ago – and the Centre is no longer subject to trial renewals.

This law making the Medically Supervised Injection Centre (MSIC) legal has been criticised by some as being inconsistent with the law.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the Centre is far from a free-for-all and that the use of drugs is subject to regulations.

But what exactly is the law when it comes to drug injection rooms?

Significantly, the law exempts users of the facility from criminal liability.

However, the amount of drugs that clients can bring must only be a small quantity or regulation-prescribed amount.

What is classified as a ‘small quantity’ varies from drug to drug.

For example, with heroin and cocaine, less than 1 gram is considered a small quantity.

The drugs must only be for personal use – so it’s still an offence to supply drugs to someone else whether it’s for free or not.

The exemption also extends for any equipment used to administer the drug, particularly needles.

The fact that using drugs in the Centre is generally legal does not affect the conditions of any programs you may be involved in under the Drug Court Act.

So if, for example, you were being sentenced in the Drug Offenders Court, and as part of your program you had to abstain from drugs, and submit to drug testing, this rule would still apply – using the Centre does not exempt you from the requirement of any such programs.

Who can use the Centre?

Children are not allowed to access the injecting centre in order to use drugs.

The Centre has a waiting room and assessment area where clients are assessed to make sure that they are:

  • At least eighteen years old
  • Not pregnant
  • Not with a child
  • Not intoxicated

The MSIC is the only centre in Australia that allows for legal injection of prohibited substances.

Advertising or holding out that any other place is available for administering drugs is illegal.

According to the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, the penalty of doing this is a maximum of two years in jail and or a $2,200 fine.

Also keep in mind that just because it is legal to use or possess a small quantity of drugs within the centre, this is still against the law anywhere else.

Police can and do charge people with drug offences, including possession and use, in the areas surrounding the centre.

Section 36N of the Drug and Misuse Trafficking Act gives police discretion when it comes to charging people with possession of drugs or equipment used in the administration of drugs who are travelling to or from the Centre or within the vicinity.

While only a small amount of offences occurred within 50 metres, it is important to remember that supplying drugs around or near the Centre are offences and are being monitored.

Does the Centre work?

Statistics have shown that around 80% of visits made to the Centre are from people who spent at least 24 hours in the area, disproving the theory that it would attract drug-users from around other parts of Sydney or NSW.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) found that there was no increase in drug offences within 50 metres of the Centre, and nor an increase of loitering.

While positive results have been seen since the introduction of the Centre, a legislative review is scheduled to take place in 2015.

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.

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