People caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use from today can now avoid a criminal conviction if they admit the offence and accept an adult caution. 

The gardaí announced today that the offence is one of four which have been approved for the adult cautioning scheme by the Director of Public Prosecutions. 

It is the first time a drugs offence can be deemed not to be a criminal offence. 

The Adult Cautioning Scheme allows a person who has made a mistake to avoid a criminal conviction. 

It can be used for minor offences such as being drunk and disorderly, theft, damage to or handling of stolen property worth less than €1,000 or failure to comply with the directions of a Garda in certain circumstances. 

Today, the scheme was extended to include four more offences; simple possession of cannabis for personal use, trespass likely to cause fear, casual trading such as selling hats or scarves at a match and breaching a barrier at an event.

People arrested for these offences can now be given the option of admitting the offence and accepting an Adult Caution.

It means the act will not be recorded as a criminal offence and will not have any detrimental effect on Garda vetting or visa applications. 

The scheme is designed to give first time minor offenders one chance to avoid damaging their reputations or future prospects.

The scheme is administered at the direction of a Garda Superintendent and can only be used once but it does save gardaí the time, effort and cost of proving an offence and bringing someone before the courts.

The announcement marks the first time a drugs offence has effectively been decriminalised in that a case of minor possession of cannabis can be dealt with outside the criminal justice system.

An adult caution can not be used in the case of any other illegal drug.