A new study from a government agency in Australia is highlighting how aboriginal people in the country are treated far differently than non-aboriginals when caught using cannabis by police.

The research, released earlier this month by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), was based on “a dataset of 38,813 observations involving 27,127 adult offenders proceeded against for a cannabis use/ possession incident between January 2017 and February 2020.”

Among aboriginal cannabis offenders, only 11.7% received “cautions” from police, compared with 43.9% of non-aboriginal offenders.

“If you don’t receive a caution, you are proceeding through the formal justice system,” BOSCAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said, as quoted by ABC New England in Australia.

According to the outlet, the research “found eligibility criteria for the state’s Cannabis Cautioning Scheme, which offers a diversionary pathway.”

“The scheme allows police to issue cautions using their discretion, but the offender must not be involved in any other criminal offen[s]e at the time and must have no prior convictions for drug, violence, or sexual offen[s]es,” ABC New England reported. “Another criterion is that the offender must possess no more than 15 grams of dried cannabis. But the report found only 39.5 percent of Aboriginal offenders eligible for a caution were issued one.”

As Fitzgerald told the outlet: “It’s hard to see how Aboriginal people would benefit from a program like this.”

Cannabis is illegal in Australia, but the new report comes at a time when there is a burgeoning political effort to legalize pot in the country.

The Greens, currently the minority party in Australia, are chiefly behind the legalization push, announcing last year that the party had received legal advice from a constitutional lawyer who said that parliament could supersede state laws and end prohibition on pot.

The Guardian reported at the time that the advice centered around “three commonwealth heads of power that would enable it to legali[z]e and regulate cannabis use, with the clearest pathway via a part of section 51, which relates to copyrights, patents of inventions and designs, and trademarks.” 

Legalization could bring a significant windfall Down Under. A study released earlier this year from the University of Western Australia suggested that legalization could generate $243.5 million annually in the first five years in Western Australia.

ABC Radio Perth reported at the time that the study, which was commissioned by the Legalise Cannabis WA Party, “quantified the revenue the state could make through llegali[z]ing cannabis,” and “considered data about the form and frequency of cannabis use, as well as the estimated cost of enforcing current laws that prohibit cannabis use.”

“We wanted to find out the actual truth on this, and we commissioned this not expecting any particular result,” said Brian Walker, leader of the Legalise Cannabis WA Party. “This is the first time anyone has shown their working, and set out exactly how their figures were arrived at. On the spending side we’ve got stuff like your police—for chasing a cannabis crime—the courts and the corrective services for managing that. Altogether, that’s about $100 million per year.”

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Only 12% of aboriginals received a “caution” from police, compared with more than 40% for non-aboriginals.
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