Police cautions for Cannabis
What is the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme?
The majority of people who try cannabis will use it sporadically during adolescence and early adulthood and cease use once the late 20s is reached. However, there is, a proportion of people that will use cannabis for longer and more often, and become dependent on the drug.
Cannabis dependence is characterised by: psychological symptoms, such as having a great desire to use cannabis, using regularly and often daily, and an inability to cut down use; physiological signs, such as tolerance and withdrawal; and behavioural symptoms, such as using cannabis in inappropriate circumstances.
Cannabis was not used widely in Australia until the 1970s. From that time, use of cannabis has increased steadily, peaking in the late 1990s. Since 1998, cannabis use has fallen. The recent United Nations 2014 World Drug Report says that more than 10 per cent of people aged between 16 and 65 use cannabis in Australia.
Various research papers have indicated that cannabis use is higher among those who are regular users of other illicit drugs than among the general population. Also, use is higher among those who have come into contact with the criminal justice system (police detainees or offenders).
There have been several initiatives that aim to divert some minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system (through cautioning), and to encourage drug dependent offenders into treatment programs (through drug courts). The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme provides for formal police cautioning of adult offenders detected for minor cannabis offences.
Who will get Police cautions for Cannabis?
NSW police have an official discretion to caution adults for minor cannabis offences, and to caution people under 18 for minor offences involving any prohibited drug.
The Scheme has been in place since 2000, and is operated by NSW Police Force. The Scheme was developed in response to a NSW Drug Summit finding that arresting people for minor drug offences is not always an effective response. The Scheme uses police intervention to assist offenders to consider the legal and health ramifications of their cannabis use and seek treatment and support. Police can exercise their discretion in appropriate cases and issue a caution. Police are still able to decide instead to formally charge offenders. A person can only be cautioned twice and cannot be cautioned at all if they have prior convictions for drug offences or offences of violence or sexual assault.
The Scheme does not apply to those caught supplying cannabis. Drug dealers continue to be arrested and prosecuted under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.
The official police guidelines recommend that police officers use their discretion to issue an official caution, rather than charge a person over 18 who is found:
- in possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, or
- using cannabis, or
- in possession of smoking implements (a pipe or bong).
There is no need for the police to weigh the drug, as long as they are satisfied that the amount involved is under the 15 gram limit.
The cautioning scheme for adults does not include cultivation of cannabis, even for small numbers of plants.
The guidelines provide that to qualify for a caution, the person must:
- admit the offence
- have no criminal history for drug offences (including possession), sexual assault or other offences involving violence
- have received no more than two cannabis cautions previously
- establish their identity (normal checks on identity will be carried out)
- satisfy the police that the cannabis is for personal use only
- have no other charges that must be determined in court anyway. (For example, if the police find a few grams of cannabis in the pocket of a person charged with stealing, both the theft charge and the drug possession charge will go to court.)
As well, there is an overriding discretion in the hands of police. So even if these guidelines are satisfied, the police can still decide to prosecute.
Cannabis cautions to adults are issued on the spot. The police will give the person a cannabis cautioning notice, a pamphlet about the legal status of cannabis and information on the health consequences of cannabis use. Their name and address will be recorded on the police computer system.
If an adult receives a second cannabis caution, they are referred to a compulsory drug education session.
If you are unsure of your legal rights if you have been charged with possession of cannabis or if you are unsure about the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme, do not hesitate to contact one of our lawyers. Call 1300 595 299 for a free consultation with one of our experience drug lawyers.