Changes to Personal Use Drug Offences in NSW

Changes to Personal Use Drug Offences in NSW

The interaction of the possession of drugs for personal use with the legal system has long been a contentious one, with many observers feeling the court system is clogged with relatively minor cases.

In NSW this issue was partially addressed in 2019 when NSW police were empowered to issue penalty notices – known as a Criminal Infringement Notice (CIN) – for possession of a small amount of a drug, removing the need for a person charged with the offence to appear in court. A fine of $400 could be issued for possession of certain prescribed quantities of certain drugs as set out in the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985. The motivation for the change was to keep those caught with a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use out of the court and criminal justice system.

This year the CIN system will be expanded in NSW, which we’ll provide more detail on in this article. If you need advice or guidance on anything discussed in this post, contact our expert criminal law team.

Changes to the CIN system in 2024

Commencing in 2024, NSW police will now be able to issue up to two on-the-spot fines of $400 to individuals found with illegal substances deemed for personal drug use and small quantity drug possession offences. For subsequent offences within a specified period, individuals are no longer eligible for a CIN and instead may face criminal charges and potential court proceedings.

Signalling a changed emphasis in which drug use is approached as a health problem rather than a criminal offence, those issued with a CIN will be encouraged to undertake a tailored drug and alcohol intervention program. These programs often encompass education, counselling, and support services tailored to address substance abuse and addiction. Those who complete such a program will have the fines waived. If the program is not completed, the penalty will be enforced by Revenue NSW.

The new policy expands on a program already in place for minor cannabis possession and now includes drugs such as cocaine, MDMA and ice.

The changes to CINs do not apply to:

  • large-scale production and manufacturing of drugs;
  • convicted drug suppliers or traffickers;
  • those who have already incurred two CINs for drug possession.

Other things to know about issuing of CINs

A person issued with a CIN may instead opt to have their matter heard in court, offering them the chance to put their case with proper legal representation.

Questions have been raised by some commentators about the circumstances in which an officer will issue a CIN, in particular in determining whether a person is holding drugs for ‘personal use’. At this stage it appears to be at the discretion of individual police officers as to whether an on-the-spot fine is issued. The system relies on officers being able to determine whether the weight of the drug qualifies as a small quantity, not to mention the quality and nature of the drug.

There is also the possibility of individuals paying the on-the-spot fine in the knowledge they will avoid a criminal record for possession – a possibility if they attempt to contest the matter in court.

Discuss your case with our criminal law specialists

At Hannay Lawyers we have a long, proud track record representing those facing charges, from minor to serious offences. There are a number of difficult issues involved in personal drug use offences and the changes to CIN present a number of legal questions which our expert team of criminal law professionals can help answer. Call us today if this topic raises any issues for you.