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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20 - Public Policy In Other Countries - Australia



Public costs

In financial terms, Commonwealth and State Government expenditure in response to illicit drugs in 1992 was estimated at AUD $620 million. Of this sum, 84% was allocated to law enforcement, 6% to treatment, and 10% to prevention and research. Commonwealth and state expenditure on methadone programs has been estimated at AUD $30 million per year.

Based on various more recent estimates, it is likely that more than AUD $200 million is spent annually in the health and social welfare sectors by governments as a direct or indirect result of the illicit drugs trade.[1][198] It is estimated that AUD $450 to AUD $500 million is the annual cost to the criminal justice system incurred by illicit drugs.[2][199] It is estimated that more than AUD $312 million is raised each year by heroin users/dealers through property crime.[3][200] Law enforcement estimates suggest that drugs generate at least AUD $2 billion annually within Australia. In addition, it has been suggested that a significant proportion of the estimated AUD $3.5 billion laundered in and through Australia each year can be attributed to illicit drugs.[4][201]

The economic costs associated with the prevention and treatment of drug-related illness, loss of productivity in the workplace, property crime, theft, accidents and law enforcement activities are over AUD $18 billion annually.[5][202]


Social costs

In a study of the social impacts of a conviction for a minor cannabis offence on first time offenders, a significant minority of the sample was shown to develop less favourable attitudes towards police, and there was evidence that many respondents had experienced adverse consequences in terms of employment difficulties, further problems with the law, and problems in relationships and accommodation.[6][203]

A cost of making cannabis illegal is the exposure of cannabis buyers to a range of other potentially more harmful illicit drugs which are available for sale. Another cost is the involvement of organized crime in large scale cannabis production and distribution in Australia. Finally, the illicit drug market generates a sizeable cash economy. It is not too surprising that some police officers become involved in corrupt activities such as drug use, drug dealing, protection of drug dealers, theft of drugs and/or money, and the presentation of false evidence in court.[7][204]



The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare conducts a National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) every 2-3 years. This survey has been conducted since 1985 with the seventh survey taking place in 2001. The last survey for which results are available took place in 1998.[9][206] 10,300 Australians aged 14 years and older participated in the NDSHS. Respondents were asked about their knowledge of drugs, their attitudes towards drugs, their drug consumption histories, and related behaviours.

The results from the NDSHS in 1998 indicate that approximately 46% of the Australian population had used an illicit drug at some time, while 23% of Australians reported using any illicit drug in the twelve months preceding the survey. Marijuana was the most common illicit drug used, with 39.1% of those aged 14 years and over having used the drug at some time in their lives and 17.9% having used it recently. Of those who had used marijuana, almost half had used it in the past 12 months. The prevalence of lifetime use of pain‑killers/analgesics (for non-medical purposes) was 11.5%, followed by hallucinogens (9.9%) and amphetamines (8.8%). Only 2.2% of the Australian population had ever used heroin, with 0.8% reporting recent usage. The prevalence of cocaine use was slightly higher, with lifetime use in 4.3% of the respondents and recent use in 1.4%.

The second national survey on the use of over-the-counter and illicit substances by secondary students was conducted in 1999. The survey collected data from 25,480 students aged 12-17 years from 434 secondary schools throughout Australia. According to the survey, substance use increased with age for all substances except for inhalants and steroids. Across all ages, the most common substances used were analgesics (for medical and non-medical purposes), with at least 95% of those surveyed reporting the use of this substance. Marijuana use was also relatively high, particularly among those aged 16-17 years, who were more likely than the general community to use marijuana (47% versus 39%). Overall, a similar number of male and female students had tried the substances surveyed. However, slightly more males (32%) than females (29%) had used marijuana, while slightly more females than males had used analgesics for any purpose (98% versus 96%). Apart from these two substances, lifetime and recent illicit substance use was similar for both males and females.



Marijuana/cannabis is consistently the most common drug for which people are arrested in Australia, accounting for 70% of all illicit drug arrests in 1998-99. However, the number of persons arrested for either the possession or supply of marijuana has fallen sharply from almost 79,000 in 1995-96 to approximately 58,000 in 1998-99.

The most common drug-related offence for which people were imprisoned was dealing/trafficking in drugs. Of the 1,663 people in prison in 1999 for drug-related offences, 78% were imprisoned for dealing/trafficking offences, with a further 11% imprisoned for possession/use of illicit drugs. The proportion of the total prison population imprisoned for drug-related offences has steadily declined, from 11% in 1995 to 9% in 1999. The proportion of people imprisoned for possession/use of drugs has remained stable over the past five years at 1%, while the proportion of those in prison for dealing/trafficking drugs and manufacturing/growing drugs is steadily decreasing.


Attitudes to drug use and drug legalization

The regular use of illicit drugs was not considered to be acceptable among the vast majority of the respondents in the 1998 NDSHS. Males were more likely to accept regular illicit drug use than were females. Marijuana was the most widely accepted illicit drug, with 30.5% of males and 20.6% of females supporting regular use.

Support for the legalization of illicit drugs follows a similar pattern to that of the acceptability of regular illicit drug use. The legalization of marijuana was supported by 33.8% of males and 25.1% of females. By contrast, support for the legalization of heroin, amphetamines and cocaine was less popular. Only 7% of males and 5.1% of females supported the legalization of cocaine. Those who supported the legalization of heroin, amphetamines and cocaine were generally aged 20-29 and 40-49 years.



[1][198]  John Broome, "Impacts Upon Social and Political Life", in Drugs and Democracy, op. cit., page 117.

[2][199]  Ibid., page 117. See also: Adam Sutton and Stephen James, "Law Enforcement and Accountability", in Drugs and Democracy, op. cit., page 163, where an estimate of AUD $404 million is given for the annual cost to the Commonwealth, States and Territories of enforcing laws against illicit drugs.

[3][200]  Broome, supra, page 117.

[4][201]  Ibid., page 118.

[5][202]  This figure includes costs associated with the use of alcohol and tobacco. See Timothy Rohl, "Evaluating the National Drug Strategy", in Drugs and Democracy, supra, page 134.

[6][203]  The Regulation of Cannabis Possession, Use and Supply, supra, page 40.

[7][204]  Ibid., page 40‑43.

[8][205]  Megge Miller, and Glenn Draper, Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2000, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, May 2001. Available online at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/phe/sdua00/index.html.

[9][206]  For detailed results of the 1998 NDSHS, see: Pramod Adhikari and Amber Summerill, 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed Findings, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Drug Statistics Series No. 6), Canberra, October 2000. Available online at:


[10][207]  Miller and Draper, supra, page 53‑58.

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