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Drugs and breaking the law 

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Please note: If you were arrested or received a Notice to Appear or a Summons before 1/10/11, the procedures may be slightly different.  If this applies to you, you should get legal advice.

There are lots of drugs that are defined as dangerous drugs, and if you have them (except when lawfully prescribed) you are breaking the law. The law in Queensland divides illegal drugs into schedule 1, schedule 2, and schedule 2A drugs. If you're caught with drugs listed in schedule 1, the penalties are more severe than for drugs listed in the other schedules.

What are the most common illegal drugs?

Schedule 1 drugs (more severe penalties apply to these drugs):

  • heroin
  • cocaine
  • amphetamines
  • methlyamphetamine (commonly known as ice, crystal meth)
  • phencyclidine (commonly known as angel dust)
  • lysergide (commonly known as LSD)
  • methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, commonly known as ecstacy)
  • paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA a drug sometimes sold as ecstacy but more powerful)

Schedule 2 and Schedule 2A drugs (less severe penalties apply to these drugs) are much longer lists. Schedule 2 includes:

  • cannabis
  • morphine
  • pethidine

Schedule 2A includes all 'anabolic and androgenic steroidal agents'.

I've been charged with a drug offence. What does this mean?

You are breaking the law if you:

  • possess illegal drugs – and possession is not the same as ownership. You can be in possession of a drug even if you don't own it and haven't used it. For example, if you know there are drugs in your share house, the law can regard you as being in possession of them even if they belong to someone else.
  • supply illegal drugs – there is a very wide definition of 'supply' – it includes:
    • to give, distribute, sell, administer or transport or
    • to offer to give, distribute, sell, administer, transport or supply or
    • preparing for/furthering/for the purpose of giving, distributing, selling etc
  • traffic illegal drugs. Trafficking means supplying drugs in circumstances of a commercial character. This usually involves larger amounts of drugs, or several acts of supply, or an organised business.
  • cultivate or produce illegal drugs. This covers the growing, preparing, manufacturing, packaging and production of drugs.
  • possess things used to take drugs (e.g. bong, pipe, syringes) or things to produce drugs (e.g. scales, lights, agricultural equipment) if they have been used for a drug offence or are intended to be used for a drug offence.

So just giving your friend one of your pills is enough for a charge of supply. And there are other things to do with drugs that are breaking the law.

If you are charged with any offence like the ones mentioned here you should talk to a lawyer and get legal advice immediately.

I've been sniffing paint and I know that's not breaking the law. The police can't do anything, can they?

Yes, they can, even though sniffing paint, or ingesting some other dangerous substance (sometimes called chroming) is not breaking the law by itself. But, if the police:

  • reasonably suspect you have on you something which can hurt you that you've inhaled or are about to, they can search you and see if you do have something on you which can hurt you – for example, if they find you with paint on your lips
  • find you with something on you which can hurt you, and the police reasonably suspect you've inhaled it or are about to, they can ask you to explain why you have the thing, and if you don't give them a reasonable explanation they can take it from you for good.
  • are satisfied you have been chroming and are affected by it, they can keep you from leaving until they can take you to a place of safety (like a hospital or your home) where somebody can look after you to help you recover from the chroming – somebody there must agree to look after you.
  • are satisfied that from the way you are behaving there is a risk of harm to other people, they can leave you at a place of safety.

Even if the police take you to a place of safety, you can leave at any time afterwards unless you are kept there under an order, like at a hospital under a mental health order.

Can the police search me or do other things without a warrant if they think I've got drugs on me?

Yes, they can. They have the power to:

  • search you (including a strip search as long as it is done by an officer of the same sex) or your vehicle if they have a reasonable belief that drugs are present - they must state their name, rank, station and number to you
  • search premises if they reasonably believe that delay would allow evidence to be destroyed or hidden
  • use drug detection dogs in certain places
  • require you to give your date and place of birth (as well as your name and address)

The police need a court order to use listening devices, and while the police can order a cavity search, the actual search has to be done by a doctor.

I have to go to court for drugs. The piece of paper says it's the magistrates court, but someone told me I'll have to go to a higher court. Is that right?

It could be. You'll start off in the magistrates court, but even if you admit that you've broken the law and you want to plead guilty, you may have to go to the district or supreme court to finish your case.

Some drug charges (like trafficking) always have to go to the higher courts to be finalised. Many less serious drug charges can be finalised in the magistrates court. It depends on what the drug is and how much of it is involved.

If the law lets your case stay in the magistrates court (for example if you're charged with possession of up to 500g of cannabis), it's still not your choice whether your case can stay in the magistrates court, it's up to the prosecution.

You can see the duty lawyer at the magistrates court on the day you have to go to court. If you want to plead guilty on that day, as long as the prosecution has chosen to keep your case in the magistrates court, you can get the duty lawyer to talk for you in court and tell the court you are pleading guilty. Your case will be finalised then and there and you won't have to go back to court. Or you may be able to go through the court diversion program.

If you plead guilty, have no previous convictions and only had a small amount of the drug, you'll usually get a fine and no conviction recorded.

If you have to go to court for a drugs case, always ask a lawyer for legal advice.

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Do I need legal advice?

You should get legal advice if you have been charged with a drug offence.

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Where can I get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland may give legal advice about drug offences. Legal Aid Queensland cannot provide you with a lawyer to attend a police interview.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or you have an urgent matter, we may suggest you apply for a grant of legal aid if you are eligible, or seek private representation, rather than waiting for a legal advice booking.

The following organisations may also be able to provide you with legal advice.

Community legal centres may give free preliminary legal advice and information on some criminal law matters. Most CLCs do not provide legal representation. Check with your closest CLC whether they can assist with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor who can provide advice and representation.


Before seeking legal advice about a criminal charge, you should collect your QP9 from the police prosecutor at your first court date. If you were unable to collect it at your first court date, you should apply to the police/prosecutions office for your QP9. You will need to present photo identification and a written request to the police prosecutor. Contact your local police station if you are unsure where to apply.

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Who else can help?

The following services may also be able to help you. They do not give legal advice.

Queensland courts provide information about Court Diversion for a Minor Drug Offence.  

Alcohol and Drug Service  provides information, counselling and referral for anyone with concerns related to the use of alcohol or other drugs.

Drug Arm provide a range of services including counselling, family assistance, family support, information and referral and an illicit drugs diversion initiative.  

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Disclaimer - Copyright © 1997 Legal Aid Queensland. This content is provided as an information source only and is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer. Legal Aid Queensland believes the information is accurate as at 7 September 2011 but accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions and denies all liability for any expenses, losses, damages and costs you might incur due to the information being inaccurate or incomplete in any way.

Last modified: 17 April 2014 2:32PM
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Drugs and breaking the law