Illawarra residents are swapping the bottle for the bong as rates of cannabis use skyrocket and alcohol-related offences fall.
The latest edition of the IRIS Guide to the Illawarra Region has shown while 10.9 per cent fewer liquor-related offences were committed between 2011 and 2012, possession of cannabis jumped 17.9 per cent to 1065 offences.
The increase in marijuana use was no surprise to Watershed drug and alcohol recovery centre chief executive officer, Will Temple.
Mr Temple said the organisation had noticed a steady increase in people admitted for cannabis dependency during the past five years.
He said this was due to the drug’s wide availability in the Illawarra and the ‘‘strong perception’’ it wasn’t as dangerous as other illicit substances.
‘‘If abused it’s the same as any other substance – there are clear links between cannabis use and mental illness,’’ Mr Temple said.
‘‘There is a perception within the community it is a safe drug.
‘‘There are no safe drugs – if drugs are abused then they become dangerous.’’
Mr Temple called for a rethink on how drug abuse was dealt with under state legislation.
‘‘I really don’t think criminalising drugs is the way to go because all that does is lock drug addicts up,’’ he said. ‘‘It doesn’t deal with the issue.
‘‘It comes back down to education and prevention.’’
NSW Minister for Hospitality George Souris said that the introduction of the ‘‘Violent Venues List’’ in 2008 had contributed to the decrease in alcohol-fuelled crime.
A Bureau of Crime and Statistics Research report released early last month refuted claims that the decrease was due to under-reporting of incidents by nightclubs and hotels.
The report found ‘‘no statistically significant change was detected in the percentage of assaults reported by licensed premises staff, either among the top 100 licensed premises or the unranked premises’’.
No Illawarra clubs or pubs currently feature on the most violent list, however several have been included since the list first appeared in 2008.