Only 1 in 10 Aboriginal adults diverted from court under the NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme

Link to Reports Summary: 

Release date: Wednesday 7 June 2023

A new study by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) compared rates of cautioning under the NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme* for 8,171 Aboriginal and 30,642 non-Aboriginal adults proceeded against by police for cannabis possession between January 2017 and February 2020. The study found that just 12% of Aboriginal adults were issued a caution compared with 44% of non-Aboriginal adults. Eligibility for the Scheme was a major source of this disparity.

Even amongst those who were eligible for diversion, the study found large disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in rates of cautioning (40% for Aboriginal offenders vs 74% for non-Aboriginal offenders). This difference in cautioning rates of eligible people was largely attributable to police being less likely to caution those who had prior criminal offences or prison episodes (even where these priors were not expressly excluded under the Scheme).    

According to Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director of BOCSAR, “Research has demonstrated that diversion from the criminal justice system for minor offences can have significant benefits for individuals. Yet, each year in NSW, more than 2,000 Aboriginal adults caught with small amounts of cannabis are proceeded against to court”. “The NSW Cannabis Cautioning Scheme is one option available to police to keep people out of the system but it remains largely inaccessible to most Aboriginal people due to its strict eligibility criteria and wide scope for police discretion.”   

* The Cannabis Cautioning Scheme was introduced in 2000 and allows police to issue cautions to eligible adult offenders found in possession of small amounts of cannabis. Cannabis cautioning eligibility criteria include:

  1. The offender must possess no more than 15 grams of dried cannabis and/or equipment for the use of cannabis;
  2. The offender must not be involved in any other criminal offence at the time;
  3. The offender must have no prior convictions for drug, violent or sexual offences; 
  4. The offender must admit to the offence and consent to a caution;
  5. The offender must not have been issued 2 or more previous cannabis cautions.

Contact: Jackie Fitzgerald – Executive Director, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research

Phone: +61 423 139 687

Email: [email protected]

Copies of the report:

/Public Release. View in full here.