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.
Experimenting 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. So it's best to have all the information you can about drugs and their effects. That way you can make informed choices about drugs and being safe.
The drugs we’ll be talking about here are common illicit drugs like marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, heroin, methadone etc. Check out other '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, the police can charge you with 5 types of drugs offences:
- Cultivation & Manufacture
- Supply & Trafficking
- Drug Driving
Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, using an illegal drug is an offence. For this offence the Police have to prove that you consumed a prohibited drug. They can only get a doctor to conduct a blood test after you’ve been arrested. So most of the time, the Police will rely on people admitting that they’ve taken drugs. The police may arrest you if they think you are acting weird and suspect it is because you have taken a drug/s.
It is also a crime to help someone else use drugs by injecting them or putting drugs in their mouth.
The Police can also arrest you if you’ve got drug related equipment like spoons and swabs. The police have to show that you either used it or intended to use it to take illegal drugs, or the equipment was designed for illegal drug taking.
BUT it is NOT a crime to have a needle or syringe. Having a needle or syringe does not mean you are doing drugs because you could just have a medical condition where you need to have injections. Using a new sterile needle of your own is much safer than using someone else’s.
If you do get convicted of any of the crimes relating to drug use, you could get a fine of up to $7,000 or 2 years imprisonment.
It is an offence to possess illegal drugs. This is where the police catch you with drugs in your pockets, bag, locker, room or car etc. These are the most common drug offences. In Tasmania, if the police catch you with drugs, you will be charged with an offence unless you can prove that you didn’t know the drugs were there. You could be charged even if someone else’s drugs are found in your house but you knew it was there.
There’s nothing wrong with possessing prescription only drugs if the doctor gave them to you because you’re sick. It’s only illegal to possess prescription only drugs (like Serepax or Valium) if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription for them.
If the police charge you with any of these possession offences you could face a $7,000 fine or 2 years in prison. You may be let off with a caution depending on the amount of drugs found in your possession and how serious the drug is considered to be.
Did you know? . . . You can be found guilty of possession even if you just take custody & control for a moment (e.g. accepting a joint being passed around).
It is an offence to cultivate (grow) illegal plants such as cannabis (marijuana) or manufacture (make) an illegal drug. These crimes are where you grow or are involved in chemically making of the tablets.
Both the cultivation of prohibited plants and the manufacture of prohibited drugs are illegal. Just being in possession of a recipe for the manufacture of any illegal drug or drug making apparatus is an offence.
If you are found guilty, you could be fined up to $6,000, or be sentenced to two years in prison, or both.
The police can charge you with ‘supply’ or ‘trafficking’ if you sell illegal drugs or offer to sell them for someone else (even if you don’t go through with the actual sale). The penalty for supply can be $13,000 or 4 years in prison.
You can also be guilty of trafficking if:
- You get the drugs ready to be sold (e.g. by cutting them or putting them in plastic bags);
- You arrange to meet a buyer;
- You transport the drugs to sell them or for someone else to sell them;
- You guard or hide the drugs with the intention of selling them or for another person who intends to sell them;
- You have possession of the drugs with the intention to sell them;
- You make or grow drugs that you are planning to sell in the future.
If you are found guilty of trafficking, you could be sentenced for up to 21 years in prison.
Deemed supply and trafficable quantity
If you have a large amount of drugs on you or at your place, the police will probably think that you weren’t going to use all the drugs yourself, and that you must have been planning to sell them to other people. If your drugs are over a certain weight (even if you say that they were for your personal use), then the court will presume that you were supplying unless you can prove otherwise. This is called ‘deemed supply’. The particular quantity of drugs is called the ‘trafficable quantity’ and the weight varies from drug to drug.
Here are some trafficable quantities:
- Cannabis - 1 kg or 20 plants;
- Cocaine – 20 packages or 25 grams;
- Ecstasy (MDMA) – 10 grams;
- Heroin – 20 packages or 25 grams;
- LSD – 2 mg or 20 tabs.
So if you have these amounts or MORE, it will be assumed that you are guilty of the more serious crime of ‘drug trafficking’. It is then up to you to prove to the court that you were not intending to ‘supply’ the drugs (i.e. that they were for your personal use), or you obtained the drugs by medical prescription.
Cautions & Searches
The police can decide not to charge you if you are under 18 years for minor drugs offences. If the offence is not very serious, the police could instead give you a warning or a caution. Instead of charging you, the police can instead issue a:
Informal police caution - available where you admit to committing the offence, and a police officer forms the opinion that the offence is relatively minor, and that the matter does not warrant any formal action.
More formal proceeding/Formal caution - available where you admit to committing the offence, and the police officer forms the opinion that more formal action is warranted. In this situation, a police officer may require that you be formally cautioned, or otherwise attend a community conference or be the subject of an official complaint to the Court. You may also be ordered to pay restitution or compensation, perform community service, apologise, or do anything else that may be appropriate in the circumstances of the case. This might also include a health diversion that requires you to attend counselling, support and health treatment services.
Community conference order – a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the offence and work out an outcome. The meeting is also be attended by a facilitator, a police officer and anyone else invited by the facilitator. This is rare for drug offences.
‘Taking part’ in an offence
Helping out your mates or someone you know by letting them use your property to sell, make or grow drugs, or arranging a meeting or being involved in organising to sell or make or grow drugs could get you into trouble.
Did you know? . . . It is illegal to knowingly ‘take part’ in the supply, cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs.
The police can search you or your car without arresting you if they ‘reasonably suspect’ that you might possess drugs.
If you are searched, make sure you say very 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. A police officer above the rank of sergeant can request that a doctor examine you in custody without your consent (if it is relevant to the charge).
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 Tasmania have the power to randomly stop drivers and take a saliva swab to test for drugs. The test is done in two parts. The first test is done by the police and if your test is positive it will be sent away to a lab for a second test. 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 restricted licence then the penalties may be different. If you’re on a ‘L’ or ‘P’ plate licence 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:
Call or visit the Alcohol and Drug Service in the following locations:
New Town: Address: St Johns Park, New Town 7008 Ph 6230 7901
Launceston: Address: 13 Mulgrave Street, Launceston 7250, Ph 6336 5577
Ulverstone: Address: 11 Grove Street, Ulverstone 7315 Ph 6429 8555
Or ring up 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.
This page was last updated 13 April 2015.