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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: Generally, there are 5 types of drugs offences that the police could charge you with:

  • Administering
  • Possession
  • Cultivation
  • Manufacture and production
  • Supply and Trafficking

Using drugs

Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, administering (using) an illegal drug is an offence. If you get convicted for using illegal drugs, you could face a maximum fine of $2,533 or 2 years in jail. It is also an offence if someone else gives you drugs or helps you use drugs by injecting you or putting drugs in your mouth.

Did you know? . . . It is illegal to use drugs such as morphine and testosterone if you don’t have a prescription from your doctor or your dentist.


It is an offence to possess illegal drugs.  The meaning of possession is defined broadly and covers a variety of situations. Possession is decided by who has control of the drugs. This means that possession can include:

  • when you have the drugs on you (in your pockets),
  • when the drugs are at your place or in your car; or
  • if someone else is minding the drugs for you.

You won’t be found guilty of possession if you can show that you didn’t know about the drugs or had no reason to believe that the drugs were there.

If the police catch you with drugs in your possession then how much trouble you will be in will depend on the type of the drug and the amount you have. Basically, the more drugs you have, the more trouble you could be in. The police will weigh the drugs or count the plants, and if you have lots of drugs you will have to pay a bigger fine or go to jail for longer. You also need to be aware that if you are found with a mixture of substances then the amount of the drugs you have is determined as if all the mixture was that drug.

Some examples:

If the police find a very small amount: less than 0.002 grams of acid (LSD) in private, the court could give you a fine of up to $5,960 or 2 years in jail. But if they find more than 0.1 grams, you could get a much longer sentence of up to 25 years in jail.

If you are found with less than 2 grams of speed (amphetamines) in private, you could face a maximum $2,533 fine, but if the police find more than 100 grams, then this is much more serious and you could go to jail for up to 14 years.

Did you know? . . . You will also be punished more if you are found with drugs in a public place instead of at home.


It is an offence to cultivate (grow), or take part in the cultivation of an illegal plant, like Cannabis (Marijuana). This means the gardening involved in growing marijuana or opium poppies or harvesting wild mushrooms etc. The more plants you grow, the more trouble you could be in.

So, if the police catch you with only 1 or 2 marijuana plants (and you’re over 18) you could get a $253 fine on the spot and if you pay it, you won’t get a record. If you’re under 18, you could be referred to a juvenile diversion program. But if the police find 5 or more plants then you could get 5 years in jail, and if there are over 20 plants you could get up to 14 years in jail.

It is also illegal to help your mates, provide cash for them to grow drugs, or let people grow drugs on your land or in your house.

Manufacture and production

It is an offence to manufacture (make) illegal drugs. Manufacture includes things like when you make the tablets or mix up the drugs. It’s also illegal to help other people make drugs, divide them up into doses or put them into bags etc.

The length of time that you may have to go to jail depends on the type of drug, and how much you made. So, if you manufactured LESS than 40 grams of cocaine you could get up to 25 years, but if you manufactured MORE than 40 grams you could get life in prison.

Here’s another example: If you produce LESS than 100 grams of amphetamine you could get 7 years, but if you produce MORE than 100 grams then you could be looking at 25 years in jail.

Did you know? . . . It is illegal to fake a doctor’s prescription or forge what’s written on it. There’s a maximum $2,533 fine or 2 year jail term for this offence.

Supply & trafficking

It is an offence to supply or take part in supplying illegal drugs. Supply has a very broad meaning and includes giving, selling, administering, transporting, distributing or dealing drugs to other people. It doesn’t matter whether a payment was made or not. You can be charged with supplying drugs when you give drugs to your friends, if you give money to finance drug supply or if you let someone use your house to sell drugs.

The police can charge you with ‘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).

You can also be guilty of trafficking if:

      1. You get the drugs ready to be sold; (e.g. by cutting them or putting them in plastic bags)
      2. You arrange to meet a buyer or allow trafficking to occur on your premises;
      3. You organise or provide money for the drugs;
      4. You make drugs that you are planning to sell in the future.

If you have a large amount of drugs on you or at your place, an inference may be drawn 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. This means that the police don’t have to prove that you were supplying. This is called ‘deemed supply’. It will be up to you to prove that you weren’t supplying.

The particular quantity of drugs is called the ‘trafficable quantity’ and the weight varies from drug to drug. Here are some trafficable quantities:

  1. Cannabis (any part of the plant) – 50 grams
  2. Cocaine – 2 grams
  3. Ecstasy (MDMA) – 0.50 grams
  4. Heroin – 2 grams
  5. LSD (Lysergic Acid) – 0.002 grams

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 that you obtained the drugs by medical prescription.

Large-scale supply

Basically, the more drugs the police find, the more trouble you could be in. When you are found with more than the minimum quantities listed of each drug, you move from being a user, to being deemed a supplier. There are different categories of offences depending on how much the drugs in your possession weigh. These categories are called traffickable and commercial. If you are found with a traffickable amount of drugs you will be in serious trouble. If you’re found with a commercial amount of drugs you will be in very, very serious trouble.

Here are the maximum penalties for different amounts of heroin, LSD and cocaine:

      1. Less than a trafficable quantity in a public place – a maximum fine of $12,665 or 5 years imprisonment
        • Heroin – less than 2.00 grams
        • LSD – less than 0.002 grams
        • Cocaine – less than 2.00 grams
      2. Trafficable quantity in a public place – a maximum of 14 years imprisonment
        • Heroin – 2.00 grams or more but less than 40.00 grams
        • LSD – 0.002 grams or more but less than 0.10 grams
        • Cocaine – 2.00 grams or more but less than 40.00 grams
      3. Commercial quantity – a maximum of 25 years imprisonment;
        • Heroin – 40.00 grams or more
        • LSD – 0.10 grams or more
        • Cocaine – 40.00 grams or more

There are also higher penalties if you supply children (or to an indigenous community). If you are over 18 and supply drugs to a young person under 18 you can be sentenced for longer. For example:

  • If you sell less than 40 grams of heroin to an adult you can be sent to jail for up to 14 years.
  • If you sell less than 40 grams of heroin to someone under 18 you could get life imprisonment.

Cautions & searches

The police can search you or your car without a warrant if they ‘reasonably suspect’ that you may 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.

Diversionary options

If you have not yet turned 18, and you have committed a minor offence, the police can decide not to charge you, including for minor drug offences. You must accept responsibility for your part in the offence, and the offence itself must not be too serious.

Instead of charging you the police can do any of the following:

  • Give a verbal warning – where the offence is very minor, the police may verbally warn you.  Your parents will be informed unless the matter is very trivial, or your parents cannot be easily located.
  • Give a written warning – these are also used for minor offences; however they are used in circumstances where a verbal warning is not considered sufficient such as where you may have received previous verbal warnings.  Written warnings are given to your parents while you are present.
  • Order you to attend Youth Justice Conferencing (where the offender and their family is brought together with the victim and their supporters).
  • Order you to attend a Youth Pre-Court Diversion Scheme. There are other types of diversion programs available including community based programs, and drug, alcohol or substance abuse programs and counselling.

If you commit a more serious drug offence, or if you have been referred to Youth Justice Conferencing or a diversion program on 2 or more occasions, police will not be allowed to offer you these options.

Drug Driving

You cannot drive while under the influence of a drug or alcohol. Police in the Northern Territory 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 $1490 or imprisonment for 12 months if it’s your first offence or $2980 or 12 months imprisonment for second offences. You could also lose your license for a minimum period of 6 months or if it is your second offence for a minimum period of 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.

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:

  • Call the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 (free call) or visit their website at www.kidshelpline.com.au
  • Ring up the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) – 24hrs free call 1800 131 350 for free and confidential counselling, information and referral services.

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

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