A three-strikes regime for cannabis use looks certain to be rejected by the Government, despite strong criticisms that the present system is not working and is open to police abuse.

The Drug Foundation said the Government's position was a "huge disappointment", and urged it to defer decisions until after the election, instead of the issue potentially becoming a "political football".

A comprehensive Law Commission review of the 36-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act recommended a mandatory cautioning scheme, and noted several concerns about the present approach.

"These include questions about the effectiveness of criminal sanctions for responding to people whose drug use may be resulting in no serious harm to others, or may be associated with underlying health problems."


The review said the current approach of police discretion allowed for a proportionate response to the crime, but also "provides an opportunity for unfairness, discrimination and uncertainty".

A mandatory cautioning scheme would recognise that sending users to prison rather than treating them "can make the problem worse".

Under the proposal, a cannabis smoker would receive three warnings; the first two would include information on treatment, and on legal and health issues.

The third caution would require a user to attend an intervention session, and a fourth would result in prosecution.

Every warning would need the consent of the user, and failure to give it could result in prosecution. Such a scheme would not decriminalise cannabis, which would remain a Class C drug.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, in response to the review, said adopting the scheme was "highly unlikely".

"The Government's over-arching view is we're not looking to change the legal status of cannabis. That has implications then obviously for the way in which you treat the substance and it's not an area we're likely to make any significant change in."

He said the Government rejected the argument that alcohol was, in some circumstances, more dangerous than cannabis, and therefore cannabis should be treated with softer hands.


Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said the comments were a "huge disappointment". "The criminal justice response we've had for the last 36 years has been a failure."

He said the scheme was nothing to be afraid of.

"It's not in any way being soft on drugs, or sending a message that drugs are okay. What it does is recognise that the drug problem is a health issue and it's best to use whatever levers we have to shift people away from the court system towards health professionals.

"The commission's review is the most comprehensive, thoughtful and considered analysis of our obsolete drug law ... it's up to politicians led by the Government to talk to the public about dealing with the drug problem through a health lens."

The Government has already rejected the commission's recommendation for medicinal cannabis trials.

The Law Commission recommended a mandatory cautioning scheme, including "three strikes", before people caught with cannabis were prosecuted

The Drug Foundation says it is the best way to shift people from the justice system to the health sector.

The Government is almost certain to reject the proposal.