Factsheets

Drugs and the Law

It is against the law to possess, use, make, import or sell illegal drugs. Possession of drug-using equipment (e.g. a cannabis bong or pipe) is also against the law in most states and territories. If illegal drugs are found in a person’s locker, home, car, etc., they will be charged, unless they can prove that the drugs do not belong to them.

The two most common drug offence types are ‘possession’ and ‘supply’. So what do these offences mean?

Possession: this includes carrying an illegal drug, or having it at the person’s home or car, etc. Possession also includes jointly possessing a drug together with another person.

Supply or trafficking: this means providing an illegal drug to another person. Traditionally a trafficker is considered someone who exchanges drug(s) for money, property or services.  However, if any illegal drug is passed onto others (even friends) this is also considered to be ‘trafficking’.

The penalties for drug offences vary depending on the age of the offender (adult or minor), type of drug, quantities involved, previous offences, and the state or territory in which the offence happened.

Minor Drug Offence

Most states and territories will allow police to divert someone from going to court if charged for a minor drug offence. An example could be possession of very small amounts of some illegal drugs.

This can result in:

A caution

A formal warning recorded on a database for police records.

A youth justice conference 

A meeting where issues surrounding the offence are discussed with the parent/guardian, police, and health professionals.

Assessment and education session

This involves being assessed for drug use and undergoing an education and counselling session.

Major Drug Offence

If someone is caught with a larger quantity of illegal drugs or is a repeat offender, they may not qualify for a diversion or caution and could face other penalties such as: 

A fine

This can be up to $100,000.

A criminal penalty

This can include a heavy fine and/or imprisonment which may be up to 25 years.

What about “Legal Highs”?

In recent years, many ‘new’ drugs have arrived on the market. These are often advertised as ‘legal highs’ , despite the fact that in many cases they are not legal. These substances are also marketed as ‘synthetic drugs’, ‘party pills’, ‘research chemicals’, or ‘plant food’, and are often used as substitutes for other illegal drugs. They are sold as ‘legal’ and ‘safe’, however, many contain ingredients that are illegal and potentially very dangerous.

For more information, see Synthetic Cannabinoids.

Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW and the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University. See Illegal Drugs and the Law: Detailed Resource for more information.