Should There be an “Ecstacy Cautioning Scheme” for First Time Drug Offenders?

Should there be an “ecstasy cautioning scheme”?

The music festival scene in NSW is fast approaching. No place is more notorious for drug use than music festivals. With the sheer number of concert goers that music festivals attract, it is unrealistic to think that there will be no drug use at these festivals.

Early signs are that, despite increased Police presence, festival-goers are still bringing in drugs in large numbers. Recently, at the “Listen Out” Music Festival at Moore Park, more than 120 people were arrested and charged with various drug related offences including supply prohibited drug, possess prohibited drug and fail to quit premises.

Music festivals are primarily attended by 18 to 25 year olds. An age category that generally cannot afford the over-priced, watered down drinks that festival promoters sell. Drugs are much cheaper. For example, a hit of MDMA averages only $10 to $20 a pop with the high lasting about 3 to 4 hours.

Many of these party goers are using drugs for the first time or use drugs only at these types of events. Although drug use is illegal (as it most definitely should be), are we risking the future of our country’s youth by charging them for one time or minimal drug use? Are we basically giving them a criminal record that will follow them through their adult life for immature lapses in judgement?

Are we also wasting time and money clogging up our local courts with first and only time offenders?

Daily our Criminal Defence Lawyers attend Local Courts in Sydney representing those who have been charged with Possession of Prohibited Drugs charges. The strain that prosecution of these offenders in evident, with our courts full of these types of cases once festival season comes about. A good majority of offenders are first offenders, who are ultimately sentenced to a Section 10 (no conviction).

Harm minimisation expert, Dr. David Caldicott asserts that: “the majority of ecstasy users only use the drug for a brief span of a few years.”

With all of the MDMA going around at music festivals, should there be “an ecstasy cautioning scheme?”

Ecstasy is considered a controlled substance and in NSW if someone is found with it they can be charged with either use, possession or supplying prohibited drugs, depending on the quantity on them and its intended use. Possess prohibited drug offences are most commonly charged of these offences.

In NSW there is currently a “cannabis cautioning scheme” whereby police can caution an offender who has possession of a small amount of cannabis.

The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme “provides for formal police cautioning of adult offenders detected for minor cannabis offences.” The Scheme was developed because “arresting people for minor drug offences is not always an effective response.”

Again according to Dr. David Caldicott, the message “just say no to drugs” at music festivals is obviously not working. First time users should be given a chance. As Caldicott says “if a law doesn’t work, it’s not a very good law . . .” A better option might be to deal with small, one time drug offences using something similar to the “cannabis cautioning scheme” when it comes to MDMA/ecstasy possession.

The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme is a more effective model because it allows police to assist offenders to consider the legal and health ramifications of their cannabis use and seek treatment and support

Under the “cannabis cautioning scheme,” a person can only be cautioned twice. They also cannot be cautioned if they have been at any time convicted for a drug offence or an offence of violence or sexual assault.

It would be useful for lawmakers to consider the scheme with other prohibited drugs, such as ecstasy.