Recently the New South Wales Government has mooted that it’s considering making changes to drug policy and drug laws, to give some drug users ‘second chances’.
This is really good news. Traditionally, the New South Wales Government has taken a hardline punitive approach to offences relating to drug use and drug possession. Currently, under Section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 NSW, possession of a prohibited drug carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or a $2,200 fine.
Possession of a drug, even in a very small amount, typically results in a criminal record, which carries a social stigma, and has serious long-term consequences – for employment prospects, travel opportunities and even adoption or fostering.
The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme
In 1999 the NSW Government introduced the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme, which allows Police some discretion around possession of cannabis in small amounts. Police can issue a caution when:
- The crime is a first offence
- The amount possessed is 15 grams or less, and
- The offender admits that the marijuana is possessed for personal use.
The cannabis cautioning scheme only applies to offences of possession, not supply. A record will be made and kept by police in case an offender is caught with cannabis again or faces any other drug charges, but it won’t show up as a conviction or a criminal record.
Police cannot use the cannabis cautioning scheme for anyone with a previous conviction for drug offences, violence or sexual assault and only a maximum of two cautions can be given.
However, when Police can issue ‘caution’, it means that the offender does not have to go through the criminal justice system, which takes pressure off the local courts, and in turn, reduces the amount of administration and time required for police, because there are no statements to prepare, and no need for a court hearing.
A different approach to drug use and possession
The new drug policies that are currently being drawn up by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman will draw on some of the key principles of the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme, and other recommendations such as those made by the NSW Special Inquiry into the Drug Ice which was completed in 2019-2020.
The changes, according to the Attorney-General, will focus on “a better way to deal with low level drug offenders that helps them kick the habit, before it potentially destroys their lives … We need to do something different… We know locking people up and throwing away the key is not the answer,” he says.
Substance Abuse and Addiction
The NSW Government’s announcement represents a significant step forward in understanding that good drug policy needs to balance appropriate criminal punishments for serious offences, with a health-based approach which recognises that drug use, which can lead to drug offences, is often an addiction which isn’t changed by prison time, but can be treated, if a person has access to specialist help and support resources.
Other countries which have implemented a health-based approach balanced with some forms of drug decriminalisation, have achieved significant reductions in overall drug dependency. When dependency reduces, it stands to reason that supply must also reduce, and this has a knock-on effect for the major drug dealers.
Drug use and drug crime is an incredibly complex issue to solve, and it is not easy for Governments to set policies which get it right, some trial and error may be required. However, for many years, the experts in this area have been calling for change, and it would appear that at last, it is coming.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.