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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.

All schools, both government and private have a drug policy.  Generally, being involved in a drug incident at school would mean that your parents and the police (for illegal dugs) would be involved.  You could be suspended or excluded. Your school can also support you around drug issues you might have.

The police: Basically, there are 2 types of drugs offences the police could charge you with:

1) Drug Possession and Use; and

2) Drug Manufacture and Sale or Supply.

Possession and Use

Whatever way you do it, whether it’s smoking, inhaling, injecting or swallowing, using an illegal drug is an offence. It’s an offence to help someone else use drugs by injecting them or putting drugs in their mouth. It is also an offence to let someone give you drugs or help you use drugs.

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 jail term unless you can prove that you didn’t know that there were drugs there.

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

For any of these offences, you could be facing a fine of up to $2,000 or 2 years in jail or both. But if it’s marijuana, then the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500 only.

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.  

For example, if you have LESS than 2 grams of heroin you could be fined $2,000 or 2 years in jail or both. But, if you have MORE than 2 grams of heroin then you could face up to a $500,000 fine and/or life behind bars (depending on the quantity).

These 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.

Police Drug Diversion Initiative

If the police catch you with Cannabis (Marijuana) and/or equipment for consuming or smoking Cannabis in your possession – in your pockets, bag or in a place in your house where you are in control of them – 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 in your control and/or possession 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. All South Australian police must divert all offenders and there is no limit to the number of times an individual may be diverted.

If you are under 18 and are caught with drugs other than cannabis, you may be subject to a diversion or one of several other options available under the Young Offenders Act.  This may result in an informal caution, a formal caution (which may include community service work or other undertakings as required by the police officer), a family conference, or a formal charge to be heard either before the Youth Court or a Magistrate’s Court.

Manufacture and Sale or Supply

It is an offence to manufacture an illegal drug. Manufacture is defined broadly and includes when you are involved or take part in any process that extracts, produces or refines a drug. For example the legal definition of manufacture would include things like growing marijuana, harvesting magic mushrooms, making ecstasy tablets or cutting heroin.

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

‘Taking part’ in an offence

Taking part in a drugs offence includes things like helping your friends to dry Indian hemp, packaging the drugs into bags, providing money to your friends to produce drugs, letting your friends use your property to sell, make or grow drugs or arranging a meeting.

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
  • provide or arrange finance for a step in the process
  • provide or permit premises to be used
  • guard or conceal drugs or related materials or equipment
  • store drugs or related materials or equipment
  • carry, transport, load or unload
  • package
  • buy plants, equipment, substances or materials.

If you are caught doing any of these things you will be punished in the same way as the manufacture, cultivation or sale offences.

If you’re caught manufacturing or helping to manufacture drugs you will be in serious trouble. The amount you’re fined and the time you may be sent to jail for will depend on the amounts of drugs the police find you with. For example if you were found to be manufacturing a commercial quantity of pure heroin (100g) with an intent to sell you could be fined $200,000 or sent to prison for a maximum of 25 years.

Supply has a wide meaning. You will be supplying if you provide or distribute drugs or offer to provide or distribute drugs.  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.

The more drugs you produce or sell, the more trouble you could get in. The law sets limits to determine what kind of drug dealer you are. Depending on the amount of drugs you are found with you could be found to be a trafficker, a commercial supplier or a large commercial supplier.

Controlled Drug Large Commercial Quantity Commercial Quantity Trafficable Quantity
Heroin 0.75kg (pure)/1kg (mixed) 0.1kg (pure)/0.2kg (mixed) 2g
Amphetamine .75kg (pure)/1kg (mixed) 0.1kg (pure)/0.5kg (mixed) 2g
Cannabis 2kg (pure)/12.5kg (mixed) 1kg (pure)/2.5kg (mixed) 250g
Cannabis plants 100 plants 20 plants 10 plants
LSD 0.015 kg or 100 DDUs 0.005 kg or 20 DDUs 0.015g or 10 DDUs


For example if you are found with 1kg of mixed heroin you could be fined up to $500,000 or imprisonment for life, or both. If you are found with 0.2kg mixed heroin you could be fined up to $200,000 or imprisonment for 25 years, or both.  

If you’ve found with 5 or less cannabis plants the penalty is not as severe. For this offence you could be fined $2,000 or be imprisoned for 2 years, or both.

If the police only catch you possessing, using or growing a very small amount of marijuana, you might be able to get off by just 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. However, you have to be over 18 years of age and you can’t be caught doing it in a public place for police to give you a Cannabis Expiation Notice.

Did you know?….  There are even bigger fines if you supply or intend to supply drugs to children? If you’re caught supplying to children, or with possession of a controlled drug 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?

Cautions & Searches

The police can decide not to charge you if you admit guilt and are under 18 years old for minor drugs offences. If the offence is not very serious (e.g. relatively minor offences, such as possessing less than 0.015 grams of LSD, or possessing a bong to smoke illegal drugs), the police could instead give you a warning or a caution. Instead of charging you, the police can instead:

  • issue an informal caution – a general warning issued on the spot for minor offences if the police officer believes no more serious action is necessary.
  • issue a formal caution – a more serious type of caution given in writing given in front of your parents or guardian.
  • initiate more formal proceedings – this can include referring you to a Youth Justice Co-ordinator who may decide you need to attend a conference(a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the offence & work out the outcome. This is rare for drug offences) or undertake community service.

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 very 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. 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 then the search can’t be done unless a solicitor, adult relative or friend is present (if 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 fall short of a physical search of a person.

Drug Driving

You cannot drive while under the influence of a drug or alcohol. 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’ll 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. 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 $1100 or imprisoned for 3 months if it’s your first offence, or not less than $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 not less than 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 you can get help here.

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 for a set time, be fined or sent to prison.


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 free and confidential counselling, information and referral services on freecall: 1300 13 1340.
  • 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.

Last updated 10 April 2015


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