New 'Meth Buster' Laws to stop drug dealers at the WA Border
New “meth-busting laws’ are set to be introduced into Western Australia with the passing of legislation which amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, and gives the Western Australian Police Force unprecedented powers in targeting and stopping methyl amphetamine (‘meth’) at the WA border – before it enters our communities.
The amendments to the legislation create a Border Search Areas Scheme (BSA scheme) to detect, deter, and reduce the importation of illicit drugs into WA.
Under the new legislation, the locations identified as drug import/export locations are referred to as Border Search Areas (BSA’s). 22 BSA’s have been created around airports, sea ports, as well as road and rail entry points to Western Australia which have been identified by the WA police as potentially used for the movement of illicit drugs.
Within these BSA’s WA police have additional powers in order to detect prohibited drugs. The powers include the ability to conduct regular, high-visibility searches of vehicles and people using electronic wands and drug-detection dogs.
Searches of people, vehicles and drug testing
Once a BSA is activated, it can remain on foot for a period of 28 days, allowing police the power to conduct preliminary drug-detection tests on persons and to conduct vehicle searches.
A preliminary drug-detection test is a non-invasive test involving either placing a drug-detection dog in the vicinity of a person or property or using a preliminary drug-detection device such as a wand by passing it over the person or property.
Police will have the power to conduct these tests on anyone in a public place within the BSA vicinity. They also have the power to detain a person for a reasonable period of time in order to undertake the test.
Under the new laws, police can also undertake vehicle searches – entering and searching any part of a vehicle, as well as conducting a preliminary drug-detection test on the vehicle. They can also search any vehicle that is in a public place within an activated BSA.
Police can stop, detain, and search a vehicle for a reasonable time or move the vehicle to a more suitable place in order to do this. They can also require the driver or any passenger of the vehicle to cooperate and remain with the vehicle, even if they are not the owner.
The legislation will also provide that any person who hinders a police officer from conducting a preliminary drug-detection test or a vehicle search can be fined up to $3 000 or face a term of imprisonment of up to three years, or both.
If drug testing – on either a vehicle or a person – provides a ‘positive result’ (meaning that it indicates the presence of a prohibited drug, prohibited plant or controlled precursor) then under the legislation this will be considered ‘reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person or the vehicle is in some way involved in the commission of an offence.
The creation of BSAs and new powers for police
The legislation is largely a response to the methyl amphetamine problem in Western Australia which is directly linked to crime rates. When hard lockdowns and border closures were introduced during the pandemic, consumption of methyl amphetamine (which is detected by testing wastewater (sewerage) declined dramatically – the statistics showed a decline of 50-75% in some areas across Western Australia).
Subsequently, drug usage began to rise again in WA when the pandemic was over. Commenting on the new laws former Premier Mark McGowan said:
"We know there is a direct link between meth and violent crime in our community. That's why my Government has put more police on the streets than ever before, and why we continue to give our hard-working officers what they need to keep our community safe.
"This new law is going to make it tougher than ever for organised crime to bring drugs into Western Australia.
"Hardworking Western Australian families should not have to put up with crime linked to meth use and hard drugs. That's why we are not just talking tough - we are taking action which will make it tougher than ever for the drug dealers and pushers."
The Limitations to Police Powers
The Bill places several limitations on the BSA's powers. These limitations function as safeguards to ensure the powers are targeted at only those involved in the illicit drug trade and include:
- that the powers can only be used in a public place (i.e. cannot be used on any private residence within the BSA); and
- that the powers cannot be exercised in regard to persons engaging in certain exempt activities such as political demonstrations, religious or cultural activities and medical emergencies.
Furthermore, the powers are only available to police when one of the BSA’s is activated, approval for which can only be given by a senior police officer with the rank of inspector or above. BSAs also have strict geographical areas, that is, definite points where the zone starts and ends.
The laws need to be balanced with fairness
While it may seem sensible to provide the police with additional powers to be able to disrupt these crime gangs and reduce the number of drugs entering the state, the new laws also need to be balanced with fairness, and respect for human rights.
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