Northern Territory Passes Legislation to Toughen Up Drug Laws

Thursday 26 May 2016 @ 11.36 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Offences) Bill 2016 passed the Northern Territory (NT) Assembly on 25 May 2016 and is awaiting assent. The new legislation is meant to substantially strength NT drug legislation and is described by the Attorney General Mr Elferink (the AG) as seeking to:

". . . ensure that the punishment for those who engage in commercial drug operations significantly outweighs any benefit."

As well, the legislation is designed to ensure that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1990 (NT) contains relevant, up-to-date terminology and that definitions in the legislation are consistent with other Australian jurisdictions and their different drafting practices. Also, the legislation makes sure that offences in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1990 (NT) and the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1990 (NT) comply with the principles of criminal responsibility contained in the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) Part IIAA which deals with criminal responsibility for Schedule 1 code offences and declared offences.

Aims of the Legislation

In a media release dated 26 May 2016, the AG states that the legislation aims to:

  • Reduce the accessibility of illegal drugs and related paraphernalia in our community and will contribute to a safer community;
  • Create an offence for the manufacture or cultivation of a dangerous drug in the presence of a child in that the offence provides an aggravated penalty if a child is present;
  • Insert a new provision of an aggravated penalty for procuring a child under the age of 14 to commit an offence; and
  • Add a provision making the possession of a firearm, ammunition or weapons as an aggravating factor.

The new offences are intended to reflect the serious nature and view that will be taken of offending that involves children making them consistent with the higher maximum penalty which is provided for supplying dangerous drugs to a child. Also in this respect there is the introduction of a requirement that offenders found guilty of serious drug offences including: commercial supply and manufacturing and cultivation in the presence of a child serve a minimum 70 percent of their sentence in prison.

Concerns and Specific Matters Adressed by the Legislation

Concerns giving rise to the legislation and specific matters addressed outlined by the AG included:

  1. The "definition of a drug analogue" was not standard across all jurisdictions. The legislation adopts the intergovernmental committee on drugs national uniform definition agreed to by all jurisdictions in 2014.
  2. "Offences involving children" exposed to drugs were felt not to be tough enough and have been strengthened.
  3. "Possession of weapons" in cases of drug offending is to be considered an aggravated circumstance for the purposes of sentencing.
  4. "The cost and benefit" of drug offending to be disrupted by making the penalties for commercial drug related activities  proportionate and reflecting the government’s stance on illicit drugs.
  5. "Supply or display of drug paraphernalia" to be prohibited, on this point the AG saying:

" . . . this government is committed to acting on the recommendations of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly Ice Select Committee in the November 2015 report entitled Breaking the Ice: Enquiry into Ice. Relevant to amendments in this bill, it is recommendation 10, which proposed amendment to the misuse of drugs act to prohibit the display and sale of drug paraphernalia. For example, ice pipes. This recommendation is vital to addressing drug use before vulnerable members of the community become addicted. Prohibiting the display and supply of drug paraphernalia will reduce the contact members of the community, particularly young people will have with the concept of drug taking. It will reduce the availability of the means to consume drugs and therefore the likelihood of experimentation."

The Bill is, as stated above, awaiting assent and according to the AG will:

". . . ensure the punishment for those who engage in commercial operations significantly outweigh any benefit, . . . It is intended that the amendments will ensure that commercial drug operations will be shut down and offenders sent to prison.”

Further, the AG points out in his media release that:

"The Bill will not unfairly target individual drug users who need treatment and support. Rather it is targeted to impact those who manufacture and supply dangerous drugs for their financial gain."

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products.


Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Offences) Bill 2016 and Second Reading Speech and EM as reported in TimeBase LawOne Service

Amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act were passed in Parliament (NT AGs Media Release)

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