Penalties for drugs can be difficult to understand. For some offences young people under 18 can be punished as an adult. If you have a question about a particular drug offence or drugs in general please send us a Lawmail.
DrugsExperimenting with drugs doesn't always mean that you’ll become addicted. But there is no 'SAFE' level of drug use. All drugs can harm you, not just the illegal ones. It's best to have all the info you can about drugs and their effects and that way you can make informed choices about drugs and being safe.
The drugs we’ll be talking about are common illicit drugs like marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, heroin etc. Check out 'Law Topics' on this site for info on alcohol and smoking.
If you’ve just been charged with a drugs offence, make sure you get legal advice as soon as possible because the courts treat drug offences very seriously.
What can happen to you...?
At school: All schools, both government and private have rules on drugs. Generally, being involved in drugs is taken very seriously at school and you could be suspended or expelled. The School might also contact the Police.
The police: Basically, drug offences in Queensland are divided into three categories:
- Production (manufacture)
- Supply and Trafficking
It is an offence to possess an illegal drug. The penalty for having drugs depends on what types of drugs they are, and the amount you have. The most common type of drug offence is possession of a small amount of marijuana. People convicted of this offence are usually, but not always, fined. If the police catch you with a large amount of drugs, you could face up to 25 years in prison.
The police can also arrest you for having stuff like bongs or scales for using drugs. You can be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison for having this stuff.
BUT it is not a crime to have a needle or syringe in your possession. Having a needle or syringe does not mean you are doing drugs, because you could have a medical condition where you need to have injections. However, it is a crime to give a needle or syringe to your friends so that they can take drugs.
A person does not have to own the drug to be in possession of it, or even want to take it to be in possession. For example, if you are holding drugs for a friend, you may still be charged with possession.
It’s also a crime to allow people to bring drugs or the stuff you use to take drugs, like bongs or pipes, into your house or your car. The police have to prove that these things were actually in your house or your car and in your possession unless you can prove that you didn’t know or had no reason to suspect that they were there. If the police can show that the drugs or drug stuff was in your house with your knowledge, you could get up to 15 years in prison.
If you get convicted of a crime relating to drugs, you could get a fine of up to $570,000 or 25 years imprisonment or both. You may also receive a criminal record which will make it hard for you to get a job, credit card or travel overseas.
Did you know?...You can be charged with possession even if someone else’s drugs are found in your house or car unless you can show you didn’t know about the drugs.
These are the offences where you actually do the gardening stuff involved in growing the marijuana bushes or do the chemical stuff involved in actually making the ecstasy tablets etc. Both the cultivation of prohibited plants and the manufacture of prohibited drugs are illegal. This includes helping your friend dry out Indian hemp, preparing to make buddha sticks from marijuana, packaging the drugs in bags, weighing them, or offering to help out with any of these things.
The quantity of drugs you have will affect what penalty you are given for producing a dangerous drug. For example, if you:
- Have more than 200g of cocaine or heroin you may go to jail for a maximum of 25 years;
- Have more than 2g of cocaine or heroin but less than 200g you may go to jail for a maximum of 20 years if you satisfy the court that you are drug dependent or if you cannot do this then you may go to jail for a maximum of 25 years;
- Have less than 2g of cocaine or heroin you may go to jail for a maximum of 20 years;
- If you have more than 50g or 100 plants of cannabis you may go to jail for a maximum of 20 years.
Being in possession of instructions for the production of any dangerous drug or publishing such recipes or instructions (on the internet for example) is a crime. The maximum penalty for this offence is up to 25 years in jail.
‘Trafficking’ includes selling, preparing, transporting, guarding or concealing and possessing a substance with intent to sell .You can be charged with ‘trafficking’ if you carry on the business of trafficking a dangerous drug.
Carrying on a business of trafficking in a dangerous drug usually requires several deals done for gain over a period of time, however, a single sale of a dangerous drug may be shown to be part of the carrying on of a business. You need not have more than one “customer” and the gain you make does not have to be money. You could be carrying on a business even if the only gain you receive is drugs for personal use.
Dangerous drugs include amphetamines, cocaine, heroin and many others. If you are found guilty of trafficking in dangerous drugs you could be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 25 years. The penalty given will be determined by factors like what type of drug and what amounts are involved.
You can also be charged with an offence if you know or think that property you’ve received, hidden, got rid of or had in your possession was obtained directly or indirectly from trafficking a dangerous drug. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.
It’s a crime to supply drugs. Supply has a very broad meaning and includes giving, selling, administering, transporting or distributing. The police can charge you with supplying drugs if you give them to a friend, or if you bring drugs from one place to another. The police can even charge you with supplying drugs if all you’ve done is offer to give them to a friend.
Even if you are not carrying on a business of trafficking in dangerous drugs, you can still be charged with ‘supplying’ a dangerous drug to another person. Adults can be charged with aggravated supply, which is a more serious crime, if they supply a dangerous drug:
- To a minor;
- In an educational institution;
- In a correctional facility;
- To an intellectually impaired person; or
- To a person who does not realise that they are being supplied with a dangerous drug.
You may have a defence if you supply a single dose of a dangerous drug that was prescribed to you by a doctor to another person who you believe is suffering from the same or a similar medical condition, as long as the drug is immediately consumed in your presence.
You are also committing a crime if you know or believe that property you receive, conceal, dispose of or possess was obtained directly or indirectly from supplying a dangerous drug.
It is also a crime to supply certain substances or things that can be used to produce drugs, such as certain salts, derivatives and stereo-isomers, condensers, distillation heads and pill presses.
The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison.
Cautions & Searches
The police can decide not to charge you if you are under 18 years old for minor drugs offences. Instead of charging you, the police can
- Take no action;
- Issue a formal caution to the child - (relatively minor offences, such as possessing no more than 50 grams of cannabis, or possessing a bong to smoke illegal drugs, can be dealt with by a caution if the police choose. The caution is not given on the spot but usually occurs a week or so later at a police station or elsewhere and means you cannot be prosecuted for that offence and does not form part of your criminal history. You must admit guilt and consent to being cautioned);
- Refer the offence to a conference - (a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the offence & work out the outcome. This is rare in drug offences. You must admit guilt);
- Issue an offer to attend a diversion assessment program which offers professional health advice, education about the effects of marijuana and assistance to stop using marijuana.
The Court may also order you attend a diversion program for minor drug offences. Permitting use of your place is an offence. Helping out your mates or someone you know by letting them use your property (including your car) to sell, make or grow drugs could get you into trouble.
Did you know? . . . That to knowingly ‘take part’ in the supply, cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs is an offence.
The police can search you or your car without arresting you and without a warrant if they ‘reasonably suspect’ that you might possess a dangerous drugs or equipment that may be used or is being used to take a dangerous drug.
If you are searched, make sure you say clearly that you do not want to be searched, & ask for that fact to be written down – this makes it harder for the police to claim that they had your consent to conduct the search.
The police can also search you after arrest. They can also use drug detection dogs in order to detect drugs on people, in vehicles and at certain places.
Did you know? . . . It is illegal to drive while under the influence of any drugs, even marijuana. If you do, you could lose your licence or be fined or sent to prison.
You cannot drive while under the influence of a drug or alcohol. Police in Queensland have the power to randomly stop drivers and take a saliva swab to test for drugs. The test is done by the police and if it is positive they send the test away to a lab for further analysis. If the test is negative then you are free to go. It’s important to know that the offence to drive under the influence of drugs is not decided by the amount you have in your system – it is if ANY is found in your system. This means that if you have taken drugs several days earlier your test could show as positive.
If you are on a full driving licence and are convicted of driving under the influence of a drug you could be charged up to $3200 or be imprisoned up to 9 months if it’s your first offence or $6830 or 18 months for second offences that have occurred within 5 years. You could also lose your license for up to 6 months or if it is your second offence up to 12 months.
If you are on your learner’s, probationary or provisional licence and are caught drug driving you could be fined up to $1600 or be imprisoned for up to 3 months and lose your licence for up to 9 months. If you are on ‘L’ or ‘P’ plates and have a question about drug driving please send us a Lawmail.
While some people suffer nothing more than a bad ‘come down,’ drug use can mess up your head, causing depression or suicidal thoughts.
If you’re worried about your drug use or a friend’s drug use, you can:
- Check out the Australian Drug Information Service
- 1800 177 833 ADIS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Speak to someone at the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 (free call) or visit their website.
If you have a question about drugs that we haven't answered here please send us a Lawmail with your query.
This page was last updated 20 April 2015.