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 illegal drugs like marijuana (or cannabis), 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 4 types of drugs offences:
- Cultivation & Manufacture
- Trafficking and Conspiracy
Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, using an illegal drug is an offence.
If you use illegal drugs you can be fined up to $4500 or sentenced to 1 year in jail, or both. For using Cannabis (Marijuana), you can be fined up to $750, but there is no jail penalty.
Did you know? . . .It is also illegal to inject drugs into someone else or put drugs in their mouth etc.
It is an offence to possess illegal drugs. These are the offences where the police catch you with drugs in your pockets or in your bag or room etc. These are the most common drugs offences.
The law says that if an illegal drug is found in your house or unit etc, you will be guilty of possession if the police can prove that you had physical control or custody of the drug or that you had knowledge of the presence of the drug or an intention to possess it. This is called ‘deemed possession’. So if drugs are found in your room, or your car, or your garden etc. you have to prove that you didn’t know that the drug was there or that you did not intend to possess it.
If the court finds you guilty of possession of a trafficable amount of drugs the biggest fine you could get is up to $59,000 or 5 years in jail or both. But if you possess less than 50 grams of marijuana, the fine is about $740. Generally, the smaller amount of drugs you have, the less trouble you will be in.
It is an offence to cultivate (grow) and take part in the cultivation of, an illegal plant, like Cannabis (Marijuana). 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 tablets. Both the cultivation of prohibited plants and the manufacture (making) of prohibited drugs are illegal.
‘Cultivating’ includes things like planting the seeds, watering, tending or nurturing the plants, shading them from the sun and picking the leaves etc. ‘Manufacture’ means the process of making illegal drugs, including mixing any poison or controlled substance.
Did you know? ……. Just watering one marijuana plant or harvesting one leaf is an offence. If the drug isn't being grown for personal use only, then you may be charged with trafficking. Just being in possession of a recipe or equipment for the manufacture (making) of any illegal drug is an offence.
The amount of drugs you have will affect how much the fine will be or how long the prison term will be. Drugs are measured by the amount of the drug or the ‘pure’ amount of the drug that is in drugs seized.
For example, if you grow 10 marijuana plants you could be fined about $2950 and/or go to jail for 1 year, however if there is a purpose to traffic the plants then you could go to jail for 15 years. If you grow 1000 marijuana plants, then the fine is much bigger – about $738,000 and you could be in jail for life.
Here’s another example: If you make 5 grams of ecstasy tablets you could get 15 years jail, but if you make 2 kilos of tablets then you could get a fine of $721,800 and jail for life.
Police can charge you for trafficking drugs including:
- Preparing a drug of dependence for sale, for instance by drying cannabis or packaging heroin for distribution);
- Manufacturing or making a drug of dependence; or
- Selling, exchanging, agreeing to sell, offering for sale, or possessing for sale, a drug of dependence.
The kinds of things police look for to prove a person is trafficking include:
- Direct evidence;
- Possession of large quantities of a drug;
- Admissions by the person who has the drugs.
If you have a large amount of drugs on you or at your place, the police will probably think that you were not 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 a ‘trafficable quantity’.
Here are some trafficable quantities:
- Cannabis - 250 grams or 10 plants (includes fresh or dried parts of plants);
- Opium plants - 100 grams;
- Coca plant - 800 grams;
- THC (ie hashish or hashish oil) - 25 grams.
- Cocaine - 3 grams;
- Heroin - 3 grams;
- Speed - 3 grams.
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.
The penalty for drug trafficking can include a maximum of 15 years in jai. Trafficking to a minor (a person under the age of 18) carries 20 years imprisonment.
Basically, the more drugs the police find, the more trouble you could be in. Higher penalties apply for trafficking ‘large commercial quantities’ of drugs.
Some commercial quantities include:
- Cannabis - 25 kilograms or 100 plants;
- Hashish - 1 kilograms (pure);
- Cocaine - 250 grams (pure);
- Heroin - 250 grams (pure).
The penalty for trafficking a commercial quantity is up to 25 years to life imprisonment.
The police can decide not to charge you for minor drugs offences. Instead of charging you, the police can issue a:
Formal police caution - relatively minor offences, such as using an illegal drug or possessing no more than 50grams of cannabis or small quantities of other illegal drugs or possessing a bong to smoke illegal drugs, can be dealt with by a caution if the police choose. The caution is not usually given on the spot but usually occurs a week or so later at a police station or elsewhere with your parents or guardians present. The police must accept that the drugs are for your own use rather than supply, this must be your first offence, you must admit guilt, agree to attend a drug program and there must be no other offences committed or suspected that would require you to go to court anyway. A person gets up to two cautions only. Any further offences will result in more serious punishment.
‘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? . . . . 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 at any time in a public place if they ‘reasonably suspect’ that you might possess drugs. The police can only search you at school if the principal agrees.
Police can also search you if you are under 18 and they suspect you are going to inhale a volatile substance (chroming). If the police find any substances, they can take them from you. Police don’t need a warrant to do this.
If you are searched, make sure you say clearly that you do not want to be searched, and 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.
If the police stop and search you, they must make a record of this. Even if you do not see them doing it, they must make a record. You can ask for a copy of the record at the time or later.
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 Victoria have the power to randomly stop drivers and test you for drug impairment. If the police believe that you are drug impaired they can ask you to provide a urine or blood sample to a health professional. 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.
There are three drug impairment offences that you can be charged with:
- Driving while drug impaired;
- Refusing to undergo a drug impairment assessment;
- Refusing to provide a blood or urine sample after a drug impairment assessment.
Penalties can vary depending on whether you are driving on a full licence or restricted licence.
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 that you or a friend is using and might be at risk, you can:
- Chat to a counsellor at DirectLine – Victoria’s 24hr 7 Days drug counselling service. Free call: 1800 888 236 or see their website: Department of Health Victoria
- Or ring up the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 (free call) or visit their website at ‘Kids Help Line’
This page was last updated 20 April 2015.