This project aimed to determine whether existing ACT legal thresholds for drug offences made sense in terms of the commercial realities of the drug market and, if not, to propose alternate threshold quantities for the five main illicit drug types: heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.
Victor Martin and Nikki Besch (ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety)
Helene Delany (ACT Health)
One of the key measures for determining the seriousness of drug trafficking offences (ie. for distinguishing between low and high level trafficking) is the quantity of drug involved. But, to date, there has been surprisingly little use of research to inform decisions on how threshold quantities should be set or what threshold quantities should be used for different offences and different drug types.
The ACT Government, in the process of reviewing its drug legislation, engaged DPMP as a consultant to provide expert advice on determining amounts for trafficable, commercial and large commercial drug offences. The initial goal was to determine whether existing thresholds made sense in terms of the commercial realities of the drug market and, if not, to propose alternate threshold quantities for the five main illicit drug types: heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.
Five evidence-informed metrics were put forward through which to evaluate current and potential drug trafficking threshold design. These were used to examine whether the ACT thresholds as they apply to heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis:
- Provide reasonable grounds to assume that all who exceed the trafficable threshold quantities constitute drug traffickers. Do they enable the ACT judiciary to filter out drug users, and minimise the chance that users get charged/sentenced as traffickers for possession for personal use alone? and
- Are proportional to the potential seriousness of the drug trafficking offence. Do the thresholds enable the ACT judiciary to determine the level of criminality of the alleged trafficker, taking into account traders in different controlled drugs?
The metrics were:
1. User patterns of consumption
2. User patterns of purchasing
3. Retail value
4. Harms to individuals and society
5. Social cost
Publicly available data was used for each metric, including data on retail price and purity from the Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) and patterns of use and purchasing from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) and the Ecstasy and Related Drug Reporting System (EDRS). Indicators of harm to individuals and society was derived from Nutt et al. (2010) and social costs were derived from Moore (2007).
Application to ACT thresholds revealed risks of unjustifiable and inequitable sanction, including sanctioning users for trafficking offences. This work has called for a major rethink of threshold design.
The work has been disseminated via four presentations, including to an expert meeting on thresholds hosted by the European Monitoring Centre of Drugs and Drug Addiction, and a DPMP Monograph (in press), and given rise to a Criminology Research Council grant (Dr Hughes, Professor Ritter and Nicholas Cowdery AM QC) that will evaluate risks posed by Australian drug trafficking thresholds in other states and territories.
The work put forward the first set of evidence-informed metrics through which to evaluate the capacity of thresholds to deliver proportional sanctioning of drug offenders.