Disclaimer: The material in this factsheet is a general guide only. It is not legal advice. For legal advice about your own particular situation we encourage you to call the Free Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424. The legal information was correct at the time of publishing (March 2016), however may change without notice.



The Legal Services Commission gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the National Children’s and Youth Legal Centre in allowing the Legal Services Commission of South Australia to use and adapt existing content.

In this section you will find information on:

  • Drug offences
  • Drugs at school
  • Getting searched for drugs
  • Drug driving


Note: Penalties for drugs can be difficult to understand. For some offences young people under 18 can be punished as if they were an adult. If you have a question about a particular drug offence please call our free legal advice telephone line on: 1300 366 424.

If you have 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.

The drugs we talk about in this factsheet are common illegal drugs like marijuana, ice, meth, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, heroin, methadone etc.

Drugs offences

There are 2 main types of drugs offences the police could charge you with:

1) Drug Possession and Use; and

2) Drug Manufacture and Sale, Trafficking, or Supply.

There are many other laws, such as those about having equipment to use or make drugs, getting a child to take drugs, having the ingredients that make up drugs (precursors), and others.

There are also laws against making, selling and supplying drugs that are sold as “legal” drug alternatives (even though they are not), such as synthetic cannabis, and other drugs designed to have similar effects to illegal drugs (controlled drug alternatives).

Drug Possession and Use

What could I get charged with if I’ve got drugs on me or use them?

Using drugs:

Whatever way you do it, whether it is smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing: using an illegal drug is an offence. It is an offence to help someone else use drugs. It is also an offence to let someone give you drugs or help you use drugs.

Having drugs or other drug related things on you:

If the police catch you with drugs in your possession (in your pockets, bag or in a place in your house where you can control them) you may face a fine and/or time in custody unless you did not know that there were drugs there.

If the police find you with bongs, scales, weights and other items for taking drugs you might also get charged.

Even if the amount is small, you could be facing a fine of up to $2,000 or 2 years in custody or both. But if it’s marijuana, then the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500.

Generally, the more drugs the police find you with, the more trouble you will be in.

If you have more than a certain amount of drugs, the police can presume you were planning to sell the drugs to other people (unless you can prove it was for your personal use only). Much heaver penalties will then apply.   

Penalties will not apply if you have a lawful prescription or permit allowing you to possess and/or use them. There are strict limitations on this and the drug has to be one that can be prescribed by a doctor.

What if I get in trouble for a marijuana offence?

If the police catch you with Cannabis (Marijuana) and/or equipment for consuming or smoking cannabis in your possession you can be referred to a health professional and your parents will be notified. This is called a drug diversion (a part of the Police Drug Diversion Initiative for simple cannabis offences).

Depending on the outcome of the referral to the health professional, you may have to attend further sessions. If you comply with the requirements of the diversion, the drugs you had will be destroyed and you will not be charged. If you do not comply, you can be referred back to the police who will then have the drugs found in your possession analysed and you might then be up for a fine unless you can prove that you didn’t know that you were in control or possession of the drugs.

If you are under 18 and are caught with drugs other than cannabis, you may be able to go through a similar diversion program, or other options may be:

  • informal caution by the police;
  • a formal caution by the police (which may include community service work or other undertakings as required by the police officer);
  • a family conference; or
  • you might have to go to court.


Drug manufacture and Sale, Trafficking, or Supply

If you are caught manufacturing or helping to manufacture drugs you are likely to be in serious trouble. The consequence will depend on the amount of drugs and the type of drugs that the police find you with.

You can get in trouble for cultivating (growing) marijuana or manufacturing drugs when you are involved or take part in any process that extracts, produces or refines a drug. This would include things like harvesting magic mushrooms, making ecstasy tablets or cutting heroin.

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

What counts as ‘taking part’ in a drug offence?

Taking part in a drug offence includes things like helping your friends to dry cannabis, packaging the drugs into bags, providing money to your friends to produce drugs, letting your friends use your house or car to sell, make or grow drugs or arranging a meeting between dealers and potential buyers.

You will be considered to be taking part in the manufacture, cultivation or sale of drugs if you:

  • take or cause any step to be taken in the process of making, growing, or selling drugs;
  • provide or arrange money  for a step in the process making, growing, or selling drugs;
  • provide or let a place to be used;
  • guard or hide drugs or related drug materials or equipment;
  • store drugs or related drug materials or equipment;
  • carry, transport, load or unload drugs;
  • package any drugs; or
  • buy plants, equipment, substances or materials related to making or growing drugs.

If you are caught doing any of these things you will be punished in the same way as if you were the person making or selling the drugs.  

What counts as ‘supply’?

Supply has a wide meaning. You can be caught for supplying if you provide or distribute drugs or offer to provide or distribute drugs. This could be, for example, giving some to a friend or handing out a stash around school.

It is also illegal to offer to sell drugs to someone (even if you don’t go through with it) or help your friends sell drugs.

Giving drugs to other people is also illegal. So if you pass joints around you can still be charged with supplying drugs even if you weren’t paid money for them.

Remember that the penalties for supplying (and selling) drugs in a school zone are very serious. A school zone counts as the grounds of the school as well as any area within 500 metres from the boundary of the school.

What’s a Cannabis Expiation Notice?

If you are 18 years old or over and the police only catch you with a very small amount of marijuana which is for your own personal use, you might be able to get off by paying a fee. This is called the Cannabis Expiation Notice. The fee is usually between $30 and $300 depending on how much marijuana the police find and whether it is your first offence. If you pay the fee, you don’t have to go to court and you won’t get a record.

You won’t be able to get a Cannabis Expiation Notice if:

  • you are under 18 years old;
  • the cannabis you are caught with is hydro;
  • you are caught using/smoking or having the cannabis on you in a public place; or
  • you are caught using/smoking or having the cannabis on you in a car, train, tram or any other vehicle while the car, train, tram or other vehicle is in a public place (for example, smoking a joint in a car in a shopping centre car park).

If you are not able to get a Cannabis Expiation Notice because of one of the reasons above, you will face other types of penalties.

What happens if I supply drugs to someone who is under 18 years old?

There are even bigger fines if you supply or intend to supply drugs to young people under 18 years old. If you are caught supplying drugs to children, or caught with drugs and it can be proven that you either intended to sell, or sold drugs in a school zone you could be fined up to $1 million and / or sent to prison for life.

These laws also apply to young people under 18 who are caught selling or giving drugs to other young people under 18 years old.


Drugs at School

All schools have rules about drugs. Generally, being involved in drugs is taken very seriously at school and you could be suspended or excluded. If you are involved in a drug incident at school then the school will usually contact your parents. If a teacher or a principal suspects that you have illegal drugs on you, they might also call the police.

Penalties for selling or supplying drugs in a school zone are very serious. A school zone counts as the grounds of the school as well as any area within 500 metres from the boundary of the school.

Can a teacher search me for drugs?

Generally only the police can search you for drugs, not your teacher or principal. Your school can ask that you remove your jacket, turn your pockets inside out or take your shoes off.

The police have special powers to search you or your property or locker for drugs. 


Getting searched for drugs

When can a police officer search me for drugs?

The police can search you or your car without arresting you if they reasonably suspect that you might have drugs on you, in your bag, or in your car. For example, if they walk past you and can smell cannabis, or if a drug sniffer dog at a train station picks up the scent of drugs on your belongings, then this is enough to make a police officer reasonably suspect that you might have drugs on you which means that they are allowed to search you.

If you are searched and you don’t want to be, make sure you say very clearly that you do not want to be searched, and ask for that fact to be written down by the police officer – 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 they have arrested you. A police officer can request that a doctor examine you in custody without your consent (if it is relevant to the charge). However if you are under 18 years old then the search can’t be done unless a solicitor, adult, relative, or friend is present (the police don’t have to comply with this they believe that the matter is one of urgency).

The police can also carry out general drug detection using dogs or electronic devices.  That general drug detection should not include a physical search of a person.


Driving under the influence of drugs

Can I get in trouble from driving when I’m under the influence of drugs?

It is an offence to drive while under the influence of an illegal drug. Police in South Australia have the power to randomly stop drivers and take a saliva swab to test for drugs. The test is done in two parts. If the first test is positive you will then be asked to do a second test at either a drug bus or police station. If the second test is also positive your sample will be sent off to a laboratory for further analysis.

You will be guilty of an offence if there is any amount of the drug detected in your system – even if it’s a small amount. This means that if you have taken drugs several days earlier your test could show as positive if the drugs are still in your system.

If you are convicted of driving under the influence of a drug you could be charged up to $1100 or imprisoned for 3 months (first offence), or a minimum of $1900 or imprisonment for 6 months for subsequent offences. You could also lose your license for up to 12 months or, if it is your second offence, for a period of at least 3 years.

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 please contact the Free Legal Help Line on: 1300 366 424.

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