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:
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.
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?
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.