The State Government saved more than $300,000 in six months when it started issuing infringement notices for drug possession instead of prosecuting drug users in the court, a new report has found.

Researchers at The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), UNSW Sydney, evaluated the new Criminal Infringement Notices (CINS) scheme and found that 300 CINs were issued for illicit drug possession between January and June 2019.

The majority of CINs issued were for ecstasy possession (n=256; 20.5% of ecstasy possession offences), with much smaller numbers issued for cocaine (21), amphetamine (8), cannabis (1) or other drug (14) possession.

“The number of CINs issued for ecstasy possession corresponded with a decline in the number of people proceeded against to court,” said lead author, Dr Sutherland.

 “We estimate that issuing CINs for all illicit drug possession offences would have provided savings of over five million AUD in that same six-month period, or approximately 1.7 million AUD if CINs were only issued to people with no prior convictions.”

The change in legislation coincides with the NSW State Coroner’s Court recommendation that the model of policing at music festivals be changed after the deaths of six young people from December 2017 to January 2019.

“The new law allows NSW police to issue CINs to the value of $400 for prohibited drug possession offences, excluding cannabis leaf which is already covered under the NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme,” said Dr Sutherland.

However, the report warns that while issuing CINs for illicit drug possession may yield substantial monetary savings, it is important to consider any potential unintended consequences that may arise.

“Fines can have a disproportionate impact on the lives of disadvantaged people, particularly those who are homeless, mentally ill, young, or recently released from prison. These populations may be more susceptible to fines due to higher visibility in public places and less able to absorb unexpected financial costs,” said Dr Sutherland.

The report recommends that police be given the discretion to issue cautions for all illicit drug possession offences.

“This would offer similar savings to those documented in this paper and would align with the recommendation from the NSW State Coroner’s Court that punitive action is not taken against people in possession of drugs for personal use,” said Dr Sutherland.

Read the full report here.