Cannabis Cautioning Scheme Evaluation


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Release date: 23 September, 2004
The cannabis-cautioning scheme introduced by the NSW Government in April 2000 has been reasonably successful according to a report released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

Under the scheme, which was established following a recommendation of the NSW Drug Summit, police were given the discretion to caution rather than charge adults detected for minor cannabis offences.

Offenders can receive up to two cautions under the scheme. They are also provided with information on the consequences of cannabis use, and access to treatment and support services. In September 2001 a mandatory education session on cannabis use was introduced for anyone receiving a second caution.

BOCSAR found that the scheme succeeded in its aim of diverting persons detected for minor cannabis offences away from the court system. Cautions were predominantly issued for possession (96%) rather than use or equipment offences and most of those cautioned (79%) were found in possession of five or fewer grams of cannabis.

In the first three years of its operation, a total of 9,235 cautions were issued. Compared with the three period before the scheme's introduction, the number of police charges involving cannabis possession, use or equipment offences fell by 6,679, while the number of persons convicted of such charges in the Local Court fell by 2,658. BOCSAR estimates that these changes would have saved police a minimum of $400,000 and Local Courts a minimum of $850,000.

The effectiveness of the scheme in getting offenders to consider the legal and health implications of their cannabis use, however, is open to question.

Although all those cautioned were provided with information that would have assisted them in obtaining help with their cannabis use, less than one per cent of caution recipients contacted the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) to seek advice or help for their cannabis use. Only 43 per cent of those who received an official second caution completed the mandatory education session.

The scheme also resulted in a degree of net widening, inasmuch as the total number of people dealt with formally for cannabis offences is now higher than it was prior to the introduction of the scheme.

Further Enquiries:
Dr Don Weatherburn (02) 9231 9190 (wk) / 0419 494 408 (mob)