One of the significant health concerns gripping Australia at the moment is the high amount of illicit drug use among the population. Regardless of the frequency, whether its recreational or full-blown addiction, the use of illegal drugs has had a significant impact both socially and economically on our society.
Reports from the Australia Institute of Health and Welfare claim that hardworking taxpayers are footing the bill to the sum of 8.2 billion to help address the problems that correlate with our high drug use. Including the crime that inevitably rises alongside increased substance abuse, health care costs and the loss of productivity among our working population. Statistics paint an even grimmer picture of Australia’s epidemic, showing that illicit drug use is responsible for 1.8% of disease and injury. All this points to one conclusion, Australia has a drug problem, and it’s only getting worse.
In 2013 the National Drug Strategy Household Survey published the startling claim that 2.9 million of our nation’s youth, aged 14 and over had used some form of illicit contraband in the previous 12 months, and an estimate of eight million had tried them at least once in their lifetime. Those two sums combined make up nearly half our population, and the number is in no danger of decreasing anytime soon.
This is all in spite of 1998s “Tough on Drugs” National Illicit Drug Strategy which attempted to curb the sale and use of illicit drugs, and failed miserably. Data obtained from the Australian Bureau of statistics indicates that drug-related deaths have hit a new all-time high.
Drug use has stayed at a stable level for the last twenty years and all attempts by law enforcement to change this have met with failure and frustration, the illegal drug market is in no danger of going away any time soon. While there is such a high demand and truckloads of cash to be made, there will always be more people willing to fill the void left by their jailed predecessors and supply illicit drugs. But does this make our courts biased against certain drug offences?
Are Some Drugs More Serious Than Others?
The Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act strictly outlaws the possession, manufacture, supply, import or export of all prohibited drugs. Regardless of the substance though, all illegal drugs are technically equal in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t matter whether you’re caught with a gram of heroin or crystal meth, the penalty is the same, a fine of 20 penalty units, with a potential 2-year prison sentence. A top drug lawyer can help if you are caught with these substances.
While the maximum penalty for supplying carries 2000 penalty units and can have a 15-year sentence attached, depending on how sympathetic the judge is. Because when it comes right down to it, they are human and they can be swayed by individual circumstances, two people convicted of the same possession crime may receive different penalties.
Much like the alcohol industry, the illicit drug industry is fueled by normal Australia citizens who are not major criminals and generally have no previous criminal convictions. Critics of the heavy-handed approach adopted by law enforcement argue that arresting and charging petty drug offences, especially when the individual is an addict, is not only putting an unnecessary strain on the criminal system, but costing hardworking Australians more of their tax dollars and giving criminal convictions to our most vulnerable.
The same can be said for recreational users, do they really deserve to have a lifelong criminal conviction for a simple lapse in judgment? A criminal conviction can cause all manner of troubles in the future, costing people jobs and other opportunities.
The Verdict on Cannabis
The law is resolute in NSW, with a full prohibition on all illicit drugs, which means, use, possession and supply are all criminal offences. It can vary between individual states and depends on the drug. Cannabis is widely seen as the lesser of the illicit drugs and some states, the ACT chief among them have decriminalized it, meaning if the quantity is under a predetermined amount, about 50g, rather than receiving a criminal conviction the perpetrator gets a fine.
It is still illegal to possess, cultivate or sell; however the repercussions are significantly reduced for carrying small amounts. The law in the ACT is the same for large quantities of cannabis though, which still attracts substantial fines and potential imprisonment.
There is still a lot of debate whether decriminalization is the answer, many Australians, especially the younger generations want lesser penalties for minor possession of any prohibited drug, whether it be MDMA, cannabis or ecstasy. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, their 2016 report found that one in four Australians who were surveyed were in favor of marijuana being legal if it were for personal use.
One of the major points brought forward by groups in favour of widespread decriminalization is that legal drugs, especially Oxycontin, Tramadol, morphine and several other commonly used legal medications are far more potent than other substances and substantially more addictive.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics records that prescription medication is responsible for the highest number of drug-induced deaths since the 1990s. America is also currently in the grip of their own opioid crises, and their laws are similar to ours, harsh on the so-called illicit drugs but lax when it comes to using prescription drugs.
The battle lines are being drawn, and critics of Australia’s laws are arguing that a new approach is needed to help prevent the significant harm that is being done to our society by illicit drugs through penalties and addiction.
Regardless of your stance on decriminalization, it is apparent that our court systems take some drugs more seriously based on what the law of the state is, and whether the drug is legal or classed as illicit. There is statistical data that shows certain prescription drugs not only cause more deaths, but are far more potent and addictive, yet they’re classed as legal allowing them to be used and sold without consequence.