Cocaine is being sold in the holiday town for up to $450 a gram, ice is fetching up to $250 a gram, marijuana is being sold for $400 an ounce and MDMA is being sold at $170 a gram in its powdered form.
Law enforcement officials say this is not a case of the global shutdown impacting the supply of drugs, but clever dealers looking to boost their profits.
“In some cases the street level values are almost double for ice and cocaine,” said Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent Todd Hunter. “Their profit margins were quite good and are now going through the roof. We’re seeing that through policing and seizures, ongoing operations and intelligence collection right across the country.”
While the initial global disruption caused by COVID19 led to a “blip” in supply early on in the pandemic, the rate of illicit substances coming into Australia is “mostly back to normal now,” said Det Supt Hunter.
“The airstream has been significantly reduced which had an impact at first. There were far fewer planes and far fewer passengers. But the mail has increased and cargo by sea is back at the same level as before,” he said. “Drug use is as prevalent as ever.”
Sea cargo and the mail are now the transportation of choice for the international bikie gangs and cartels that target Australia’s high prices and insatiable appetite for illicit drugs.
Once inside Australia, the distribution of drugs has been somewhat disrupted by increased scrutiny at interstate borders and a decrease in domestic flights.
But Australia’s “insatiable appetite” for drugs has not waned, with preliminary indications from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s annual Waste Water survey suggest that drug consumption during the pandemic has not decreased.
“ACIC assesses that the COVID-19 virus and resulting national restrictions do not appear to be having a tangible impact on national illicit drug consumption, although there are localised exceptions,” a spokesman for the organisation said in a statement.
Since the pandemic began, NSW police have seized more than 420 kilograms of cocaine, a tonne of ice from a yacht near Newcastle and more than one tonne of pre-cursors to ice from a Rockdale business. “That’s the stuff that we’ve got – think about what’s come in that we’ve missed,” said one senior police source.
Australia’s relatively good management of the global health crisis has also led to the return of expat drug kingpins, who are now running their businesses on their native soil.
Outlaw motorcycle gang bosses have decamped from the likes of Dubai, Greece, Malta, Indonesia and elsewhere in south-east Asia and returned to Australia where they continue to operate “dynamic” criminal organisations, Detective Superintendent Hunter said.
“This sort of enterprise doesn’t stop. These networks operate dynamically, they use encrypted communications so these individuals can work from anywhere,” he said.
“As the airstreams become unavailable as a means of transporting drugs, they have turned to more sea cargo and use of the mail.”
Sally Rawsthorne is a Crime Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.