The savings associated with decriminalization of drug use in New South Wales, Australia: A comparison of four drug policies

J Subst Use Addict Treat. 2023 Jun:149:208983. doi: 10.1016/j.josat.2023.208983. Epub 2023 Feb 17.


Introduction: Most Australian states and territories have established some form of scheme to divert minor drug offenders from court. However, the number charged with drug possession continues to rise. We examine the costs of four alternatives to existing policy in relation to people apprehended by police using or in possession of a prohibited drug.

Methods: We construct a Markov micro-simulation model to examine four policies: (1) current policy; (2) expanding the existing cannabis cautioning scheme to all drug use/possession offences; (3) issuing an infringement notice to all those found using or in possession of a prohibited drug; (4) prosecuting all drug use/possession offences in the courts. The cycle length is one month. Since our aim is to examine the cost to the government, all costs are taken from the Government perspective and are in 2020 Australian dollars.

Results: The current estimated annual cost per offence is $977 (SD: $293). Policy 2 costs $507 per offence per year (SD: $106). Policy 3 turns into a net revenue gain of $225 (SD: $68) per offence per annum. Policy 4 lifts the current cost of processing from $977 to $1282 per offence per year (SD: $321).

Conclusions: Extending the cannabis cautioning scheme to all drugs would reduce the cost of current policy by more than 50 %. A policy of issuing infringement notices or cautions for drug use/possession would save costs and generate income for the government.

Keywords: Cannabis; Caution; Cost; Diversion; Infringement notice; Markov model.

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cannabis*
  • Hallucinogens*
  • Humans
  • New South Wales
  • Public Policy
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology


  • Hallucinogens