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Marijuana makes mark in remote communities -

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ELEANOR HALL: Could it be the law of unintended consequences?

Where once petrol sniffing was widespread, now cannabis use has taken hold in many remote
Aboriginal communities, with dealers seeing them as lucrative markets.

A study from James Cook University has found that up to 70 per cent of people in remote Indigenous
communities are using marijuana and that some are children as young as 13.

This has meant a surge in chronic health conditions like acute psychosis and depression and the
already stretched medical facilities in these communities are struggling to cope.

Nance Haxton has our report.

NANCE HAXTON: The use of marijuana has been spreading throughout Central Australia - from the top
north through to the Aboriginal communities in South Australia's far north-west.

Cannabis use is now so extensive that psychotic episodes are becoming common place.

Alan Clough from James Cook University has researched the problem for the past 10 years in eastern
Arnhem Land, and found that around 60 per cent of men and women aged between 13 and 34 years old
used cannabis at least weekly - far more than the national average.

ALAN CLOUGH: Unfortunately the community also saw a clear link between a rise in the suicides that
were happening in those places, and cannabis use. There's also a clear link between cannabis use
and withdrawal symptoms from cannabis and violence. Often users who are stressing out will put
pressure on their immediate family members for more money to purchase cannabis.

And then there are the mental health effects for the individual that are quite diverse as well that
are consistent with what we know about cannabis' effects in the rest of the world.

NANCE HAXTON: Are the communities really geared up to treat these problems or to look after people
who are presenting with these issues?

ALAN CLOUGH: Well it's difficult. It's difficult for the health services in particular because
there's really not a lot that they can do apart from try and calm people down who are behaving in a
psychotic manner and try to keep them calm until they sober up essentially and become more normal.

So the health services really are not fully equipped to deal with those sorts of things and those
episodes had become quite frequent.

NANCE HAXTON: He says while police are doing their best to stop the increase in trafficking of the
drug, it's a complex problem to solve.

ALAN CLOUGH: It really was linked to a sudden rise in the trafficking; the realisation among some
groups that a large amount of money could be made in remote communities for a small investment in
ganja that could be purchased in Darwin or some of the regional centres.

The rates of profits that the dealers can make are really unlimited. They basically charge what the
market will bear.

NANCE HAXTON: Is the police presence just not there to really deal with this problem?

ALAN CLOUGH: Well the police have been aware of the problem for as long as we've been doing this
study and have made considerable efforts to try to control the supply. It's enormously difficult to
enforce.

Sniffer dogs were introduced in around about 2004 and that had an impact in some localities that we
were able to document. But it's an enormously difficult trade to try to control.

NANCE HAXTON: The increasing use of cannabis is not limited to Aboriginal communities north of the
South Australian border.

Jonathon Nicholls from UnitingCare Wesley says marijuana is now widespread through the Anangu
Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in South Australia's remote north-west.

He says the introduction of opal fuel to stop the rise in petrol sniffing may have been a factor.

JONATHON NICHOLLS: South Australian police were reporting more than six years ago that the rate of
cannabis use on the APY lands, which is the remote, what used to be called the Pitjantjatjara lands
has significantly increased. And it appears to have been increasing since the roll out of opal
fuel.

NANCE HAXTON: So while one drug is under control another drug seems to have taken its place?

JONATHON NICHOLLS: I think that is the worry, yes.

NANCE HAXTON: What really can be done at this point? Is it a police problem mainly or is it more
complex than that?

JONATHON NICHOLLS: Police are certainly part of the solution and on the APY lands later this year
and early next year there's going to be another 12 sworn police officers based in three of the
larger communities. And that should go a long way to helping South Australia police understanding
what is happening in terms of drug use in communities.

Because currently police are based outside of those communities and only drive in when there's an
incident on when they're doing their daily patrols and so don't have the local knowledge that you
really need to have to understand who's bringing it in and who's using it.

Not only is it connected into issues of child sexual abuse, but also into mental health and the way
that families are using their minimal financial resources. If you've got someone in your family
who's addicted to cannabis and it's been sold out there at a high cost then that family isn't going
to have money to put food on the table.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the manager of Indigenous Policy for UnitingCare Wesley, Jonathan Nicholls. He
was speaking to Nance Haxton.