Cannabis Law Reform

This page has details of the three reforms involving minor cannabis offences in Western Australia (WA), which have occurred since the late 1990s.

It should be noted the three reforms described do not fully encompass the policing of minor cannabis offences, as police possess a long-standing discretionary power in relation to trivial offences, they may instead informally caution a minor cannabis offender they had apprehended.

The primary source of legislation related to cannabis, as well as other illicit drugs, is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (MDA). This is a State act and therefore only applies to offences that occur in WA.

The three reforms are the –

  • cannabis cautioning mandatory education scheme (CCMES): October 1998 to 21 March 2004
  • cannabis infringement notice (CIN) scheme: 22 March 2004 to October 2010
  • cannabis intervention requirement (CIR) scheme: August 2011 to present

Cannabis cautioning mandatory education scheme
October 1998 > March 2004

The CCMES operated between October 1998 and March 2004.

A 12 month pilot of the CCMES was conducted in the Mirrabooka and the Bunbury sub-service Police Districts from 1 October 1998 to 30 September 1999 and involved 125 persons. A statewide implementation of the CCMES occurred in March 2000.

The CCMES involved a conditional caution being given to an adult for possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis, on the condition that within two weeks, they attend a 1.5 hour long education session at one of the State’s 12 specialist drug service providers.

The final report of the evaluation was published in December 1999.

Click here to view or download a PDF version [76k] of the report.

Cannabis infringement notice scheme
March 2004 > October 2010

The CIN scheme operated between 22 March 2004 and October 2010.

The Cannabis Control Act 2003 (CCA) set out the circumstances of when Western Australian police could decide to issue an adult offender with a cannabis infringement notice (CIN), instead of charging them, if an offender had committed one or more of the four defined expiable minor cannabis offences set out in the CCA.

The CIN scheme involved three minor cannabis as defined in the CCA –

  • possession of a smoking implement with detectable traces of cannabis (Section 5)
  • possession of not more than 30 grams of cannabis leaf (Section 6)
  • cultivation of no more than two non-hydroponically grown cannabis plants at the person’s principal place of residence (Section 7)

The CCA set out four expiable penalties, which could be expiated by either attendance within 28 days at a ‘cannabis education session (CES), or by payment of modified penalties set out in the Cannabis Control Regulations 2004

  • $100 for a CIN for Section 5 offence
  • $100 for a CIN for Section 6 offences involving not more than 15 grams of cannabis
  • $150 for a CIN for a Section 6 offence involving more than 15 grams and up to 30 grams of cannabis
  • $200 for a CIN for a Section 7 offence involving non-hydroponically cultivation of up to 2 cannabis plants

The CIN scheme also provided that if a person had been issued with multiple CINs on one day and had received a CIN for each offences, for the purpose of expiation the person could by attending a cannabis education session (CES) expiate all those separate CINs issued on that one day.

Under a provision of the CCA, a statutory review was required after three years. This review was published in 2007 and considered the impact of the CIN scheme, as well as additional issues related to other provisions contained in the CCA, such as the regulation of the sale of cannabis smoking paraphernalia and public health measures developed in conjunction with the CIN scheme.

Although the review covered the period from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2007, when a total of 9,328 CINs were issued, as the CIN scheme commenced 22 March 2004, it included the 52 CINs issued in March 2004. 

The review was published as four separate reports, three of which were tabled in the WA Parliament in November 2007. The fourth report of supplementary tables and figures was published under the auspices of the Drug and Alcohol Office –

  • Statutory review of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 – Technical report [1.3MB]
  • Statutory review of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 – Appendices [2.5MB]
  • Statutory review of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 – Executive summary [236k]
  • Statutory review of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 – Supplementary data tables & figures [784k]

The Technical report consists of 11 chapters: –

  • Minor cannabis offences & law reform (Ch 1)
  • CIN scheme: first 3 years (Ch 2)
  • Prevalence of cannabis and other drug use (Ch 3)
  • Community views on cannabis law reforms (Ch 4)
  • Harms associated with cannabis (Ch 5)
  • Help seeking behaviour (Ch 6)
  • Costs & benefits of CIN scheme (Ch 7)
  • Targeting of serious drug offenders (Ch 8)
  • Cannabis smoking paraphernalia (Ch 9)
  • Juveniles (Ch 10)
  • Feasibility of mandatory cannabis education (Ch 11) 

The Appendices contain detailed tables, extracts of legislation, copies of education materials and newspaper advertisements and other types of materials such as forms, guidelines and administrative instructions –

  • CIN scheme data tables and figures (App 1)
  • Help seeking behaviour (App 2)
  • Knowledge & attitudes about cannabis harms and law reform issues (App 3)
  • Criminal justice data tables and figures (App 4)
  • Prevalence of cannabis and other drug use (App 5)
  • Cannabis smoking paraphernalia (App 6)
  • Cannabis education session materials (App 7)
  • Legislation, police and court data systems (App 8)
  • Forms, guidelines, instructions and training protocols (App 9)
  • List of those who made written submissions (App 10)
  • Methodology and research issues (App 11)

Cannabis Intervention Requirement Scheme
August 2011 > present

On 14 October 2010 the Cannabis Law Reform Bill 2009 was passed by the WA Parliament that overturned the previous CIN scheme by repealing the Cannabis Control Act 2003. As part of this reform, new offences were added to the MDA, by expanding its ambit to prohibit the possession, sale and supply of cannabis smoking paraphernalia.

The effect of the Cannabis Law Reform Act 2010 (CLRA), when it came into operation on 1 August 2011, was to give police in WA the option to issue a conditional caution, called Cannabis intervention requirement (CIR).

A CIR scheme mandates attendance at and completion of an education intervention, called a Cannabis intervention session (CIS) for first time adult offenders, who have committed a ‘minor cannabis offence’. There is also some scope for police to issue a CIR to a ‘young person’, ie someone less than 18 years of age, depending on whether the police may believe they were ‘at risk’ or had prior CIRs, in which case they are to be referred to a Juvenile justice team.

Section 8B of the MDA defines a ‘minor cannabis offence’ as involving either possession of drug paraphernalia in or on which there is a prohibited drug (ie cannabis) [MDA Section 7B(6)], or  possession of not more than 10 grams of can­nabis [MDA Section 6(2)]. 

The reintroduction of cautioning for minor cannabis offenders is a return to the principle of the CCMES which had operated between October 1998 and March 2004.

Both the CCMES and CIR schemes were established by Liberal governments, the CIN scheme was established by a Labor government.

The CLRA reform added a new section to the MDA, Part IIIA, which set out the framework for police to issue a CIR notice, on the condition the cautioned offender attended and completed a cannabis intervention session (CIS).

The principle of the CIR is that offenders will avoid prosecution for a ‘minor cannabis offence’ if they attend and complete a CIS within 28 days of being issued with a CIR.

A CIS may only be able to be undertaken at an ‘approved treatment provider’. Approved treatment providers are the same group of drug treatment agencies that were authorised to provide the cannabis education session (CES) under both the CIN scheme and the CCMES. 

There are different provisions for adults and juveniles in the CLRA in relation to eligibility for a CIR if they had previously been convicted of a minor cannabis offence or already issued with a CIR. Whearas adults will not be able to receive a CIR if they have previously been convicted or received a CIR, for juveniles, they will be able to receive a CIR if they have had one prior conviction or previously been issued with a CIR.

The CLRA also amended the Spent Convictions Act 1988 to reduce the prescribed period from 10 years to 3 years for a person to apply for a spent conviction order if they had been convicted of offences under either Sections 5(1)(d)(i) [possession of a cannabis smoking implement] or 6(2) [possession of not more than 10 grams of cannabis] of the MDA.

However, the CLRA expressly precludes the 3 year waiting period for applying for a spent conviction from having any retroactive effect, which means a 10 year waiting period will apply if someone had been convicted for either of these offences before the CLRA came into effect on 1 August 2011.

To view or download copies of these statutes click here to go to the State Law Publisher.

Cannabis Offences
At 31 March 2013

An overview of offences and penalties under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (MDA) in relation to both minor and serious cannabis offences in Western Australia (WA) is available, updated at 31 March 2013.

It summarises the provisions contained in the various schedules to the MDA which set out the amounts of cannabis and how these determine place of trial and seriousness of offence (ie possession with intent to sell or supply).

Click here to view or download a PDF version (29k) of this paper.