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Penalties for drugs can be difficult to understand. For some offences young people under 18 can be punished as an adult.

The drugs we’ll be talking about here are common illicit drugs; marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, heroin, methadone etc. Check out our other teen issues pages for info on alcohol and smokingIf you’ve just been charged with a drug offence, make sure you get legal advice as soon as possible because the courts treat drug offences very seriously.

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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 –

  1. Possession
  2. Cultivation
  3. Manufacture
  4. Trafficking (sale and supply)
  5. Drug driving

Drug Use

Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, if you have used drugs, this suggests that you were in possession of drugs which is an offence.  For more information on this offence, see the section below on drug possession.

It is an offence to take illegal drugs yourself. It is also an offence to inject someone else with a drug or put a drug into another person’s mouth, unless you are a doctor, pharmacist, nurse or midwife.

There are treatment centres, such as at hospitals or other health facilities that people who have used drugs can be sent to by a court in order to help them with the treatment of drug addiction.  

Drug Possession

It is an offence to possess illegal drugs. These are the offences where the police catch you with illegal drugs in your pockets or in your bag or room etc. These are the most common drug offences. The police have to show beyond reasonable doubt that you intended to possess the illegal drugs.

But if there are drugs in your house and somebody else has control of them (i.e. they own them & have the right to use them), you will not be guilty of possession.

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 $7,500 fine or 2 years in prison or both.  But, if the police only find less than 50 grams of Marijuana, then the maximum fine is just $150.  

If you are found guilty of a drug offence (or any offence where the Court thinks you did it because of drugs) you may be ordered to have treatment.

Did you know? . . . You can be found guilty of possession even if you just take possession for a moment (e.g. accepting a joint being passed around).

Drug Cultivation

It is an offence to cultivate (grow) and take part in the cultivation of an illegal plant, like Cannabis (Marijuana). If you do the gardening stuff involved in growing marijuana or opium poppies or harvesting magic mushrooms etc, then you could be up for a fine and/or time in jail. It is also a crime to help your friends grow drugs, let them grow bushes in your garden or provide cash for the planting of drugs.

The maximum penalty for the offence of growing one or two marijuana plants is $150.  However, the penalties increase for the artificial cultivation of one or two marijuana plants that have been grown hydroponically or by using artificial light ($30,000, imprisonment for 2 years or both).  

Growing three or more marijuana plants (whether or not artificially) can also give rise to a penalty of $30,000, imprisonment for 2 years or both. Other penalties may apply for the offence of cultivating other illegal drugs.

BUT, if you are growing illegal drugs to sell to other people, then the fines are much bigger and the jail terms are longer. This gets even more serious if you grow lots of plants.

Sale and Supply and Drug Trafficking

The police can charge you with ‘sale or supply’ of small quantities of drugs if you:

  • Sell or supply a drug of dependence to any person; or
  • Participate in the sale or supply of a drug to any person; or
  • Possess a drug for the purpose of sale or supply.

For supplying a small quantity of drugs, you could be hit with a $75,000 fine, or imprisonment for 5 years.

Trafficking is a more serious offence that involves larger amounts of drugs.  Trafficking can include:

  • Selling drugs;
  • Preparing drugs to be sold;
  • Transporting drugs; or
  • Guarding or concealing drugs to be sold.

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 trafficking unless you can prove otherwise.

There are 3 levels of trafficking offences depending on whether a trafficable, commercial or large commercial quantity of drugs is involved.  The quantity that you require to fall into any category varies from drug to drug. The law sets out the amount of each drug with the fines and jail terms. But the thing to remember is that the more drugs the police find you with, the bigger the fine can be and the longer the jail term can be.

Drug driving

In the ACT it is an offence to drive while under the influence of drugs. Police have the power to road side drug test drivers and driver trainers for drugs. This includes prescription drugs.

The police will test you for drugs by asking you to place a test pad on your tongue. It can take up to ten minutes to get a result. If the test is positive you will be told not to drive for 12 hours and your drug test pad will be sent to an independent laboratory for confirmation. If the second test is positive you will need to attend court. You could be charged up to $1500 for your first offence or $3750 or up three months imprisonment, or both, for a repeat offence.

Penalties for drug driving may be different if you are on a restricted licence. If you are on ‘L’ or ‘P’ plates or a restricted licence and have a question about drug driving you can get help here.

Offence notices & searches

Cannabis – Offence Notice

If the police catch you with 1 or 2 cannabis plants or less than 50 grams of cannabis, you or your parent may be given an offence notice instead of being arrested. You have 60 days to pay the $150 fine and if you do you won’t get a criminal record.  The police still have the discretion to charge you formally. You may also be referred to the Drug Diversion program which involves a compulsory assessment and attendance at treatment sessions. The Drug Diversion program is an alternative to a fine or charge.

‘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 ‘participate’ in the supply of illegal drugs is an offence.

Personal Searches

If you have been arrested, the police can search you and your bags if they think you have drugs or other things on you related to the offence they think you committed.

Help & information


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:

  • Ring up the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) – 24hrs for the cost of a local call: T: 02 6207 9977 for free and confidential counselling, information and referral services.
  • Or ring up the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 (free call) or visit their website at www.kidshelpline.com.au.

If you have a question that we haven’t answered here you can get help here.

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