Media Release

For immediate release 8:00 a.m. (AEST) Thursday 14 June 2018

The drug ice (methylamphetamine) was the key driver behind a 91% increase in the annual number of charges of possessing and using illicit drugs sentenced in Victoria’s Magistrates’ Court, a new report has found.

The report, prepared by the Sentencing Advisory Council, examined trends in all 118,101 charges of a minor drug offence sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria in the 10 years to June 2017.

In 2016–17, the total number of sentenced minor drug offences reached 16,937.

Over one-third (36%) of the minor drug offences sentenced in 2016–17 related to ice. In that same year, ice surpassed cannabis (33%) as the most common type of drug involved in minor drug offences.

The annual number of charges relating to ice increased by over 2,000% in the 10 years, to 5,712 charges in 2016–17.

Over the 10 years, misuse of prescription drugs was up 298% to 996 offences, and cannabis was up 8% to 5,169 offences.

The report examined the characteristics of people sentenced for minor drug offences over the 10 years and found:

  • offenders were mostly male (83%) and aged under 35 (63%)
  • the proportion of women sentenced for minor drug offences increased from 14% in 2012–13 to 20% in 2016–17
  • offenders sentenced for possession or use of ecstasy were the youngest in the study – 53% were aged under 25 years
  • offenders sentenced for possession or use of heroin were least likely to be aged under 25 years (9%) and most likely to be aged 35 or over (46%)
  • 80% of offenders were sentenced at the same time for other offences
  • the most common co-sentenced offences were breach of conditions (e.g. bail or a community correction order) (32%), deception (30%) and road safety offences (29%)
  • violent offences were relatively uncommon and were co-sentenced in just 12% of minor drug offence cases
  • 18% of people who committed a minor drug offence in 2016–17 received a diversion from police and did not go to court
  • 6% of all minor drug offence cases in the 10-year period were adjourned in court so the offender could participate in a drug diversion program.

The sentences imposed on minor drug offenders depended on the type of drug involved and on the other offences co-sentenced in the case. Minor drug offences on their own usually received fines or adjourned undertakings. Within cases involving other more serious offences, imprisonment was more common and became even more common over the 10 years. In the year ending 30 June 2017, prison was the most common sentence for cases involving minor drug offences.

The chair of the Sentencing Advisory Council, Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg, said ‘This report shows the significant increase in the number of proven charges of minor drug offending in the 10 years to June 2017 and that, unsurprisingly, the growth has been driven largely by the drug methylamphetamine’.

Professor Freiberg said, ‘The report also shows that offenders sentenced for minor drug offences are often being sentenced at the same time for a range of other offences including condition breaches, theft, deception and road safety offences’.

‘It’s also worth noting that those charged with minor drug offences do not always proceed to sentencing – 18% of people who committed a minor drug offence in 2016–17 received a diversion from police, while 6% of all minor drug offence cases were adjourned so that the offender could participate in a drug diversion program’, he said.

What is a minor drug offence?

The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) defines the offences of drug possession (section 73) and drug use (section 75). These offences relate to small amounts of any illicit drug found to have been used or possessed by a person. These amounts are defined as too small for trafficking, and the maximum penalties for these offences are much lower than the maximum penalties for drug trafficking offences.

What is an aggregate sentence?

A sentence imposed on two or more charges in a case rather than on individual charges.

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