Australian Institute of Criminology

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Australian responses to illicit drugs

Pre-court diversion

In line with the National Illicit Drug Strategy, Australian states and territories have introduced initiatives to divert some drug users away from courts and the criminal justice system. There are two main streams of diversion: directly to treatment or education programs or the issuing of an infringement or on the spot fine. Infringement systems are legislatively based, while some treatment diversion systems rely on restricting the discretion of police to arrest, rather than legislation.

Cannabis is the most frequently targeted drug for pre-court diversion. South Australia, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory issue infringement notices for small quantity personal-use cannabis offences, although eligibility, processes and penalties differ. Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland operate cannabis cautioning systems.

Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have diversion to education and treatment programs for all illicit drugs other than cannabis. All involve the drug user not being prosecuted if they attend drug treatment or education programs.

Further information


Drug courts

AIC resources



Conference papers