JOURNAL ARTICLE

The Cannabis Infringement Notice scheme in Western Australia: a review of policy, police and judicial perspectives

Adam Sutton, David Hawks
Drug and Alcohol Review 2005, 24 (4): 331-6
16234128
Western Australia (WA) became the fourth Australian jurisdiction to adopt a 'prohibition with civil penalties scheme' for minor cannabis offences when its Cannabis Infringement Notice (CIN) scheme became law on 22 March 2004. This study examined the attitudes and practices of policy makers, members of the law enforcement and magistracy and other judicial sectors involved in enforcing the new scheme, and their views as to its likely impact on the drug market. As part of the pre--post evaluation of the legislative reforms a sample of 30 police, other criminal justice personnel and policy makers have been qualitatively interviewed. Data were collected both at the pre-implementation stage (March and June 2003) and shortly after the Act became operational (mid-June 2004). The Western Australia Police Service's implementation of the CIN scheme has been extremely professional. However, these early results suggest that while the CIN scheme has been designed to take into account problems with similar schemes elsewhere in Australia, possible problems include: some operational police being unsure about the operation of the scheme; expected savings in police resources will probably be reduced by procedures which require offenders to be taken back to the station rather than issue notices on the spot as intended by the scheme's architects; probable net widening; problems with exercise of police discretion to issue a CIN; and public misunderstanding of the scheme. In the early months of the scheme understanding of the new laws among both police and members of the public was far from perfect. For the system to achieve the outcomes intended by legislators, it is essential that levels of understanding improve. Media and other campaigns to inform the public that cannabis cultivation and use remain illegal, and to warn about risks associated with cannabis use, should be extended. As it will be at least 18 months before the scheme is operationally settled in, the media and others should be cautious about reading too much into police data on numbers of notices issued and on rates of compliance.

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