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Cannabis Adds To Aboriginal Drug Woes

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin The Age, 21st August 2006

CANNABIS use has risen sharply in remote indigenous communities, with children as young as 10 smoking the drug.

A survey of police has also found that amphetamines are available and commonly used in most of the communities.

Cannabis is now flowing into remote areas at an alarming rate, a trade fuelled by high demand and extreme profits but increasingly facilitated by profiteers from outside the community rather than resident user-dealers, a report by the National Drug Law Enforcement Fund said.

"This new wave of cannabis use is in addition to — not instead of — alcohol and other substances," the report said.

Most of 792 police who were surveyed in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia said that cannabis was commonly used in communities.

Many of the police who were asked also said use of the drug had increased or greatly increased in the past three years.

Some of the poorest and youngest users spend a third to two-thirds of their weekly incomes on cannabis, the report said.

Bucket bongs are widely used to binge on cannabis and the age of first-time use is falling, with children as young as 10 or 11 years old smoking the drug, it said.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Fund, which is funded by the Federal Government, presented the report at an Australian Institute of Criminology conference in Darwin.

It said that poverty and isolation were not impeding the drug trade.

Drug networks were being founded on what one study calls the extreme profits to be made in remote areas, where a $4000 purchase of cannabis could return $16,000 to $21,000 in profits, often within a couple of hours of arriving in the community, the report said.

Police said heavy cannabis use exacerbated many existing problems among indigenous people, especially family violence and mental health problems.

There was strong anecdotal evidence, supported by police survey responses, that local and non-local Aborigines were heavily implicated in the cannabis trade in regional and remote Australia, the report said.

Conventional drug policing strategies were rarely suited to these areas, especially in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where police were highly visible, the report said.

Even sophisticated police attempts to infiltrate drug networks, cultivate informants or conduct surveillance could be easy to identify.

The report described a drug house in an outback town where a non-Aboriginal barman at a hotel invites young Aboriginal girls as young as 12 for free drinks and drugs.

Some live there permanently. There are rumours that young girls offer male visitors sex for drugs or money, the report said.

Police said they were watching the barman but did not seem to act, it said.

The report said the underlying frustration and dysfunction affecting many disadvantaged communities were clearly factors that predisposed residents of those communities to higher rates of alcohol and other drug use.

For police and other services with responsibility to tackle the consequences of alcohol and drug-related harm, the way forward was not always clear, especially if communities themselves were unsure what should be done, the report said.

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