By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
Police in the Northern Rivers on the Far North Coast of NSW are considering whether to press charges against a man who reported his cannabis stash being stolen.
Nimbin Police Station took the call from a local man who reported returning home to find a man leaving his house. When he looked around inside, he realised the premises had been broken into, and his cannabis and a vapouriser were missing.
Despite their initial surprise at the report being made, police swept into action and pulled over the alleged offender, a 44 year old Queenslander. While police could not find the cannabis, the man returned a positive road side test for marijuana.
Senior constable Henderson says police took the matter seriously because: “An offence is an offence and the priority was actually catching the bloke who broke in and getting him off the road while he was under the influence of drugs.”
The man was arrested and charged with break, enter and commit serious indictable offence.
Officer Henderson says police are now also considering their options regarding the man who called in the crime, specifically whether “to issue a cannabis caution, or charge him, or use discretion and take no action.”
Nimbin drug crackdown
This is far cry from the situation in Nimbin recently, when Strike Force Cuppa, a cross-border police investigation into the supply of cannabis in the area was in full swing, targeting cannabis supply and use in the area.
More than 50 men were reportedly arrested and charged in connection with a series of raids over several months in 2016.
Police specifically targeted the ‘Lane Boys’, a group of local men who had been selling cannabis in Paradise Lane in the country town. Six months prior to the raids, NSW police secretly set up a CCTV camera in the laneway. The footage helped identify the alleged suppliers, and to build a case against them.
The men were charged with a range of offences including supplying a prohibited drug, consorting, dealing with the proceeds of crime and participating in a criminal group. Several of the young men faced the full force of the law and were sentenced to significant prison time, sending shockwaves through the close-knit community.
At the men’s court appearance, Nimbin locals held a vocal protest, calling for the release of the Lane Boys and for the legalisation of cannabis.
The locals explained that the Lane Boys stop tourists from being ripped off, keep more dangerous drugs out of the town and deter young people from becoming dealers.
Ironically, at the same time as the drug force crackdown on Nimbin locals, Federal legislation was being introduced to allow cannabis to be cultivated for medical use.
Australia slow to enact drug reform
Last year’s Australia 21 Report made recommendations for drug reform in this country, including decriminalisation, regulation and taxation of supply where possible.
A number of countries around the world have already decriminalised the use and supply of illicit drugs, reporting great success in reducing the harms associated with the substances.
In Australia, however, the issue remains a highly controversial one. Even in the context of medicinal cannabis, decriminalisation has not translated into accessibility, as a range of hurdles remain in place to make it difficult for patients to access to medicine.
What the law says
Cannabis is a prohibited drug under NSW law and possession, use, supply and cultivation are regarded as a criminal offence, unless a medicinal cannabis exemption applies. It is also an offence to possess implements for the use of cannabis.
The law sets out maximum penalties different offences, and maximum applicable penalties imposed depend on the offence type and amount of drugs involved. For example, the maximum penalty for drug possession is two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,200.
The maximum penalties for supplying the drug are more serious.
In certain situations, police may issue a ‘cannabis caution’ for amounts of 15 grams or less, which means a person who admits being in possession will not have to attend court.