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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. Use
  2. Possession
  3. Cultivation & Manufacture
  4. Trafficking

Drug use

Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, using an illegal drug is an offence.

Drug Possession

There’s nothing wrong with possessing prescription-only drugs if the doctor gave them to you because you’re sick, or you need them for a medical reason. However, it is illegal to possess prescription-only drugs (like Serepax or Valium) if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription for them.

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

Drug Cultivation

It is an offence to cultivate (grow), take part in the cultivation of, possess or supply an illegal plant, like cannabis (marijuana). These offences apply where you are directly involved in either growing the plant or in the chemical process of making the drug. ‘Cultivating’ includes things like planting the seeds, watering the plants, shading them from the sun and picking the leaves.  Both the cultivation of prohibited plants and the manufacture of prohibited drugs are illegal.

The amount of drugs you have determines how much the fine will be or how long the prison term will be. For example, if you grow 50 marijuana plants you could be fined $220,000 and/or go to jail for 10 years. But if you grow 1,000 marijuana plants (or 200 plants inside using special equipment), then the fine is much bigger – $550,000 and you could be in jail for twice as long.

Here’s another example: If you make 5 grams of ecstasy tablets you could get a maximum fine of $220,000 and 15 years jail, but if you make 2 kilograms of tablets then the fine is much higher – $550,000, and jail for life. So the point is, the more drugs you grow or make, the more trouble you could be in.

Drug Trafficking

The police can charge you with ‘trafficking’ if you supply (sell or give away) illegal drugs, or agree to supply illegal drugs to someone even if you don’t go through with the actual sale.

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 make drugs that you are planning to sell in the future;
  • You permit a drug sale to take place.

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 ‘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 (leaf or heads) – 300 grams.
  • Cocaine – 3 grams.
  • Ecstasy (MDMA) – 0.75 grams.
  • Heroin – 3 grams.
  • LSD – 0.003 grams or 15 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.

You are still guilty of supplying an illegal drug, even if the ‘drugs’ aren’t actually drugs. For example, if you convince someone to buy ‘heroin’ but it’s actually icing sugar, you are still guilty of supplying the illegal drug, heroin.

Large-scale supply

Basically, the more drugs the police find, the more trouble you could be in.

There are different categories of offences depending on how much the drugs weigh.

Here are the maximum penalties for different amounts of heroin or amphetamine. If you supply to someone under 16 years then the below penalties are increased substantially.

  • Less than 5 grams of heroin or amphetamine – a maximum fine of $2,200 or 2 years imprisonment;
  • 5 grams or more, but less than 250 grams of heroin or amphetamine – a maximum fine of $220,000 or 15 years imprisonment;
  • 250 grams or more, but less than 1 kilogram of heroin or amphetamine – a maximum fine of $385,000 or 20 years imprisonment;
  • 1 kilogram or more of heroin or amphetamine – a maximum fine of $550,000 or 20 years imprisonment.

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.

Drug Driving

You cannot drive while under the influence of drugs. Police in New South Wales 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 then they send the test away to a lab for a second test. So, even if your test shows as negative it could still be found as positive later by the lab. 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 convicted of driving under the influence of a drug you could be charged up to $1,100 if it’s your first offence, or $2,200 for second offences. You could also lose your license for up to 6 months, or if it is your second offence, up to 12 months.

Penalties for drug driving may be different if you are on a restricted licence. If you are on ‘L’ or ‘P’ plates and have a question about drug driving you can get help here. You can also read more about driving under the influence of alcohol on our Cars and Driving pages.

Drug Court

There are three drug courts in NSW, at Sydney, Parramatta and the Central Coast but you must be over 18 to apply. The area you live in NSW may also affect if you are allowed to go to a drug court. Offenders are offered the opportunity to participate in a rehabilitation program like counselling or therapy, instead of a punishment like a jail sentence.

An offender can be referred to the Drug Court if they:

    • plead guilty;
    • have a serious drug problem (not alcohol);
    • agree to the program and any conditions;
    • are charged with a offence which is ‘highly likely’ to lead to a jail sentence.

Cautions and 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 issue a:

 Formal police caution – this is for relatively minor offences, such as possessing no more than 0.0008 grams of LSD, or possessing a bong to smoke illegal drugs. The caution is not given on the spot but usually occurs a week or so later at a police station or elsewhere. The police must accept that the drugs are for your own use rather than supply, you must admit guilt, and there must be no other offences committed or suspected that would require you to go to court. A caution may only be given up to three times.

  • Warning – this is less formal than a caution and issued on the spot. You do not have to admit guilt but you must supply your name and address.
  • Conference – a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the offence and work out the outcome. This is rare for drug offences.

‘Taking part’ in an offence

You could get into just as much trouble for ‘taking part’ in a drug offence. ‘Taking part’ includes:

  • Helping out your mates or someone you know by letting them use your property to sell, make or grow drugs;
  • Arranging a meeting or being involved in organising to sell, make or grow drugs.

Did you know? . . .  That to knowingly ‘take part’ in the supply, cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs is an offence.

Personal searches

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


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 fact sheets from SANE Australia about drugs and mental health: http://www.sane.org/ or call 1800 18 7263.
  • Check out the Australian Drug Information Network: http://www.adin.com.au.
  • Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS): 9361 8000 or 1800 422 599 (for people outside Sydney).  ADIS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Chat to a telephone counsellor at Lifeline: 13 11 14.
  • Or ring up the Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800 (free call) or visit their website at https://kidshelpline.com.au/.

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