Cannabis Law Reform Research

There have been a number of inquiries, reviews and commissioned research in Western Australia (WA) concerned with the adequacy of existing policies and potential reforms to manage problems attributable to the use of alcohol, cannabis and other drugs.

Details of those conducted since the early 1970s are listed elsewhere on the Inquiries and review page of this website.

This page is concerned with research related to cannabis law enforcement issues and cannabis law reform.

Published research

Swensen G & Crofts T. 
Recent developments in cannabis law reform: the rise & fall of the cannabis infringement notice scheme in Western Australia. Flinders Law Journal, 2010, 12, 79 – 103.

In early 2004 in both the United Kingdom (UK) and Western Australia (WA) introduced reforms to avoid the legal harms associated with minor cannabis offenders appearing before the courts. As the reforms involved different approaches for police to divert someone who had committed a minor cannabis offence, they highlight the pitfalls, merits and lessons in reform cannabis laws for others who wish to undertake cannabis law reform. 

Compared to legislatively prescriptive approach adopted by the WA Cannabis Infringement Notice (CIN) scheme which was based on a separate piece of legislation, the Cannabis Control Act 2003, in the UK police discretion was key aspect of determining when a cannabis warning could be issued. 

The context leading up to reform is referred to, as in WA the CIN scheme was introduced by a reformist Government soon after a Royal Commission into police misconduct had been completed, whereas the UK reform was incremental in nature and built upon measures which had been implemented over a period of time to improve relations between police, young people and minority groups. 

This article suggests that the extensive use of police discretion, as was followed in the UK, is a preferable model for managing minor cannabis offending. Compared to the UK model, the WA CIN scheme was legalistic, constrained polic discretion, involved complex eligibility and compliance requirements, was difficult to administer and resulted in a substantially more cannabis offenders coming to official attention than before the reform. 

The CIN scheme was repealed in October 2010 by the Cannabis Law Reform Act 2010, which amended the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, to establish a system that compelled attendance at education sessions through a Cannabis intervention Requirement (CIR) for first time offenders, based on a more narrowly defined set of cannabis offences than under the CIN scheme,

Swensen G and Crofts T. 
Reforms to minor cannabis offences in the United Kingdom & Western Australia. Web Journal of Current Legal Issues, 2005, 1. 

The paper examines the different approaches followed in the United Kingdom (UK) & Western Australia (WA) that were introduced in each jurisdiction in January & March 2004 respectively in relation to how police might deal with minor cannabis offenders.

In WA new legislation established the criteria and framework for police to issue a cannabis infringement notice (CIN), with a scale of monetary penalties, to a person who had committed one or more of four expiable offences –

a) possession of smoking implements on which there were detectable traces of cannabis (modified penalty $100);

b) use of or possession of not more than 15 grams of cannabis (modified penalty $100);

c) use of or possession of more than 15 grams and not more than 30 grams of cannabis (modified penalty $150); and

d) cultivation of not more than two non-hydroponically grown cannabis plants at a person’s principal place of residence (modified penalty $200).

If the offender expiated the cannabis infringement notice (CIN) within 28 days by either paying the penalty or attending a cannabis education session (CES) there are no further consequences. 

Compared to the WA scheme, in the UK police discretion was formalised through guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which provided the option of cautioning an offender who possessed an amount of cannabis considered as being for personal use.

A common theme in both jurisdictions is that these measures did not disturb the underlying principle that cannabis continued to remain illegal, that the reforms were accompanied by an expansion in the scope of the law in relation to those who commit supply offences and that juveniles were excluded. 

The article notes the reform process was largely conducted by expert groups with oversight by parliamentary committees & that in both jurisdictions government sought to present reform as a measure that would better manage the health and conviction harms due to the criminalisation of cannabis. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version (143k) of this paper.

Swensen G & Prior J. 
Law reform concerning minor cannabis offences in WA Brief (Journal of Law Society of Western Australia), 2004, 31(4), 13-16.

This article outlines the background to the Cannabis Infringement Notice (CIN) scheme, which commenced on 22 March 2004, following the passage of the Cannabis Control Act 2003 through the Western Australian Parliament on 23 September 2003.

The introduction of the CIN scheme meant that WA became the fourth Australian jurisdiction to de-penalise minor cannabis offences. The article discusses some of the goals of the CIN scheme, its major provisions and how it built upon & sought to refine the three other schemes that expiated minor cannabis offences, in South Australia (SA), the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). 

Click here to view or download a PDF version (164k) of this paper.

Unpublished research

These short unpublished papers are listed because of potential historical interest. It should be noted the information in some of these papers is not current and more recent research should be consulted.

Swensen (2014) Spent conviction orders & cannabis law reform in WA: The triumph of rhetoric?

This paper considers how a new scheme for cautioning minor cannabis offenders in Western Australia (WA) has resulted in manifest unfairness of how a person can expunge a record for a conviction for a minor cannabis offence, depending on whether they were convicted before or after 1 August 2011.

This issue arises from the adoption of the cannabis intervention requirement (CIR) scheme, which commenced in WA on 1 August 2011, after amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (MDA), for police to issue a caution for two specific minor cannabis offences, involving possession –

  • of any drug paraphernalia in or on which there is cannabis (MDA Section 7B(6)), or
  • of not more than 10 grams of cannabis (MDA Section 6(2)).

Because of the approach adopted by the Cannabis Law Reform Act 2010, which amended the Spent Convictions Act 1988, there are now two pathways to obtain a spent conviction order for a minor cannabis offence, depending on whether the person was convicted before or after 1 August 2011.

The differences in the time between conviction and when an application for a spent conviction order may be lodged, are considerable because if it was a minor cannabis conviction pre August 2011 the prescribed period is 10 years, whereas if it is a conviction from 1 August 2011, the prescribed period is three years.

Click here to view or download a PDF version [121k] of this paper.

Swensen (2011) Cannabis arrests: Australia and other jurisdictions – 2004

It provides information about cannabis arrests and all drug arrests in each Australian jurisdiction and the United Kingdom for the year 2004/2005 and New Zealand and the United States for 2004. (Only cannabis arrests for the US data were readily available for 2004.)

Click here to view or download a PDF (238k) version of this publication.

Swensen (2009 Hydroponic cannabis and potency

This paper was prepared in September 2009. It discusses developments at that time in the WA, SA and the ACT infringement schemes in relation to hydroponically cultivated cannabis and amendments in 2006 in New South Wales (NSW) which created new offences and increased the penalties applicable to hydroponically cultivated cannabis.

Click here to view or download a PDF version [299k] of this paper.