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      Penalty notices for drug possession

      As of 25 January 2019 NSW Police now have the power and discretion to issue penalty notices for people who are caught in possession of a small quantity of prohibited drugs.

      Previously the only way to avoid court if you were found in possession of prohibited drugs was under the cannabis cautioning scheme. Even then only certain people were eligible for a caution. The amount had to be 15g or less. You could not have any violent or sexual offences on your criminal record. And you had to admit the drugs were for personal use.

      After 25 January 2019

      Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Regulations mean that a $400 penalty notice can be issued for the possession of prohibited drugs in certain circumstances:

      • If you are in possession of a small quantity of any drug, or
      • If you’re in possession of MDMA / Ecstasy not in a capsule this must be less than the traffickable quantity
      • The issue of a penalty notice for possession of prohibited drugs is a discretionary decision. The police may still issue a court attendance notice.

      When penalty notices cannot be issued:

      • If you’re under 18
      • If you’re supplying drugs
      • For prescribed restricted substances (like diazepam)
      • If you’re in possession of more than the small quantity
      • Just because you would prefer a fine over a charge

      Maximum drug weights eligible for a penalty notice

      Below is a breakdown of common prohibited drugs found at music festivals and the maximum weight for which a penalty notice may be given:

      What difference will penalty notices for prohibited drugs make?

      The changes to the law comes amidst controversy around recreational drug use and deaths at festivals. They will almost certainly ease a burden on our Local Courts. However, the risk of a court appearance and criminal record was arguably a deterrent effect for many people.

      There are concerns that drug use at festivals may actually increase if people know the penalty is a $400 penalty notice and not a criminal charge. An increase in drug use at music festivals combined with a lack of pill testingcould lead to further deaths.

      What if you receive a penalty notice for drug possession?

      If you receive a penalty notice for possession of prohibited drugs you can either pay the fine or elect to have it heard at court. Electing to have a penalty notice at court can place you at risk of having a criminal conviction recorded. For further information about penalty notices read our penalty notice post.

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