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Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government


Diversion programs in other countries


New Zealand has an adult pre-trial diversion scheme which commenced operation in 1988. It was developed and is managed by the New Zealand Police as part of a wider program which entails an increasing emphasis on the use of discretion by police in their handling of minor offenders. The scheme is not, at present, statutorily based although the Government is considering this option.

The scheme is widely accepted by police officers, members of the judiciary and practising lawyers, as well as the offenders who are offered pre-trial diversion. The New Zealand Police have described the scheme in the following terms: The key steps in the scheme are that the offender must be a first offender (there are limited exceptions in special cases), there is sufficient evidence to charge the offender, and information is then laid and at that stage the offender is considered for diversion. If the offender meets the criteria [see below] and admits the offence to the diversion coordinator (a police prosecutor) the court is asked to adjourn the case until the offender has completed the requirements of the diversion scheme. Those requirements may consist of paying money to a charity, doing community work, and/or attending specialist counselling depending on what problem they may have, e.g. drugs, alcohol, anger management, etc. Once the requirements have been completed the police ask the court to withdraw the information (personal communication, New Zealand Police, 17 December 1993). If the court agrees to withdraw the information, the offender is not convicted and the police destroy the offender's records, including fingerprints.

The criteria for diversion are not rigid; they include the following:

  1. The offender should be a first offender.
  2. There should be special circumstances which make the offender suitable for diversion.
  3. The offence must be non-serious.
  4. The offender must admit guilt, show remorse, and be prepared to pay full reparation to the victim.
  5. The victim must agree to diversion.
  6. The officer in charge of the case [generally the arresting officer] must agree to diversion.
  7. The offender must agree to diversion ([37]Young & Cameron 1991, pp9-10).

The use of cannabis and the possession of small quantities for personal use are considered to be minor offences, making an offender eligible for consideration for diversion. (Clearly the criterion relating to the consent of the victim is not relevant in such cases.) Consultants reviewed the scheme for the New Zealand Police in 1991. They reported that approximately 12 per cent of the people dealt with through the diversionary process had been charged with cannabis possession ([38]Young & Cameron 1991, pp41-6). The review indicated that the scheme was generally very well received by all the parties involved and also pointed to existing and potential difficulties and to ways in which it could be strengthened. The police and the Government are currently reviewing the scheme, considering the option of giving it a legislative base and ensuring that it operates in a similar manner throughout the country. This diversionary scheme, combined with an actively implemented policy of cautioning minor offenders whenever possible (rather than charging them), comprises an enlightened approach to the handling of minor offenders such as cannabis users.


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