If you have been charged with a drugs offence, the severity of the penalty you face will depend largely on the type and quantity of drug that you were allegedly found in possession of.
Possessing cannabis may be treated less severely than possessing other prohibited drugs such as ecstacy, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin.
This is because there is an initiative called the cannabis cautioning scheme which allows police to exercise discretion in certain circumstances to issue a caution for cannabis possession rather than issue a court attendance notice.
What is the cannabis cautioning scheme?
The cannabis cautioning scheme is a diversionary scheme for adult offenders who may otherwise face being charged for a drug offence.
The scheme has been in place since 2000, and is intended to divert minor cannabis users from the criminal justice system and encourage them to seek help and treatment.
It was put into place as a response to recommendations from the NSW Drug Summit in 2000.
The summit recognised that arrest is not always the most effective way to penalise cannabis users, and isn’t always an effective way to address the problem of cannabis dependency.
According to a 10-year review of the scheme undertaken in 2011, it has been effective in reducing reoffending with offenders who were sent to court after a minor cannabis charge having a 14% chance of ending up in court again, while of the offenders who were cautioned, only 5% ended up back in court after reoffending.
The scheme has been less effective at encouraging cannabis users to seek help though, with only a very small percentage of those cautioned for the first time seeking help, and less than half the offenders who received a second cautioning attending the mandatory education session.
Is the scheme open to everyone?
The cannabis cautioning scheme is used by the police at their discretion.
Under this scheme, police officers who find someone with cannabis in their possession can choose to issue them with a caution rather than a formal charge.
This caution includes a warning about the legal and health consequences of using cannabis and contains phone numbers for the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS).
The information is provided on a first caution, and on a second caution a person is required to contact ADIS and attend an education session about their cannabis use.
Under this scheme police are only allowed to give two cautions.
They can’t use the cannabis cautioning scheme for users who have a previous conviction for drugs offences, violence or sexual assault.
After a person has received two cautions, police are required to formally charge them if they are caught again, and they will have to go to court.
What is the maximum amount of cannabis I can have in my possession?
The cannabis cautioning scheme is intended for minor cannabis offences.
This means that if you are caught with more than 15 grams of cannabis in NSW you will have to go through the criminal justice system.
If I have been cautioned will I get a criminal record?
Under the cannabis cautioning scheme, you won’t get a criminal record if you have received a caution.
A record will be made and kept by police in case you are caught with cannabis again or face any other drug charges, but it won’t show up as a conviction on your criminal record.
Can I be cautioned for supplying cannabis?
The cannabis cautioning scheme only applies to offences of possession.
As supply is considered a more serious offence than possession, if you are caught allegedly supplying cannabis you won’t be able to get a caution and you will need to go to court to face the charges.
Drug supply charges can come with more serious penalties, including the possibility of prison sentences, so it’s important to seek legal advice from experienced drug lawyers if you have been charged with supplying cannabis or any other prohibited drug.