Ice's 'gangster' appeal turns to fear

Magistrate Peter Mellas has noticed a disturbing trend for methamphetamine ice users and dealers to consider themselves as gangster heroes.

“Their behaviour is almost like the television show Breaking Bad,” he told a parliamentary inquiry committee in Warrnambool yesterday.

“It’s the whole gangster idea — a social mystique giving social status among people you associate with.”

Mr Mellas, who covers the south-west court circuit, cited a recent example where a 23-year-old man posted pictures of himself with ice and weapons.

He said ice did not have the same social barrier as heroin and was considered easy to use and easy to buy.

“In Gippsland there were a number of tradies using it,” he said.

“You can put in a 12-hour shift after taking ice — you can’t do that after a slab of beer or taking heroin.

“Long-term use causes brain damage.

“Mentally ill (people) use it as a type of prescription medication because it makes them feel they can function better. There are those who are scared of it and stop and those who don’t understand the harm it causes.”

Mr Mellas said the court filing system did not provide statistical breakdowns, but he had noticed an increase in cases relating to possession of ice — usually three or four a week.

“It’s out there and it affects people’s behaviour,” he said.

“We are at the early point of the wave and people are starting to see the users being scared of it.

“I’ve had people almost relieved police had caught them because that’s a reason for them to stop using it.”

Mr Mellas revealed he was keen to get a local referral service for the court system and would be speaking with the Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre and other agencies soon. He said the specialised drug court in Melbourne was effective, but would be costly to replicate in regional areas. The Court Integrated Services Program and credit bail workers had also proved effective in other courts, he said.

“Here we don’t have one liaison person I can send offenders to. That’s what I’m trying to do — to build links.”

In response to questions from the committee panel, Mr Mellas said he would be reluctant to change the evidence-based court prosecution system or press for a stricter penalties system.

“You need a whole-of-society approach and a good tool kit of options for courts,” he said.

“The responsibility is on police to put material before courts and in many cases involving ice police say people are very happy to co-operate — they are the most co-operative criminals going around.

“There’s a degree of naivety, that I’m not doing much harm. The foot soldiers are not very bright and those who present well, to them it’s a business.

“If evidence is there the police can get to it. People are either prepared to change or not."

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