Experts back courts
ONLY a small number of guilty drug offenders who appeared in local courts last year received a jail sentence.
And while this may irritate some police officers who feel their work in curbing the local drug trade goes to waste, others believe it is a positive sign imprisonment is a last resort.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, only three people who appeared in Lismore Local Court last year charged with illicit drug offences were handed down a prison sentence.
Of all the sentences handed to drug offenders, 73% were fine penalties.
Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of the drug offences presented to local courts across the region last year was for possession of cannabis.
Byron Bay led the way for ecstasy with 14 offences for the substance, compared with Lismore Local Court, which dealt with only one instance.
Magistrates can only deal with matters that have a maximum penalty of two years or less of imprisonment.
The figures obtained by The Northern Star came after a report on local police who were frustrated with the justice system’s sentencing of drug offenders.
Southern Cross University faculty of law Associate Professor Greta Bird advised the NSW Government on the legal aspects associated with the MERIT (Magistrates Early Intervention Into Treatment) Program, when it was first conceived.
“For someone that has a drug problem, imprisonment is not going to be the answer,” she said.
It “(MERIT) is highly resourceful and costs the government a lot, but it is something like $80,000 per year to keep some-body in prison.”
Asst Prof Bird is “disappointed” when she sees a “zero-tolerance stance” on drugs.
“It’s pondering the idea there can be a quick fix by putting people in prison,” she said.
“Obviously, there are the ‘Mr Bigs’ who get away with it because they have the money to get the best legal representation. I would like to see those people punished.”
Paul Cubitt, who spent 12 years working in prisons and rehabilitation centres across NSW, was a guest speaker at this year’s Mardi Grass.
He believes prohibition is a “waste of time”.
“We need to take our own personal morals out of this debate and look at the science. If you regulate, you take out the allure of it all,” he said.
“The law says it’s illegal but that does not make it a good law. What harm do the people carrying it around in their pocket do?”