Cannabis & Crime

This section provides information about cannabis-related crime (including arrests and trafficking), as well as Australian legislation regarding cannabis use.

The data source utilised in this section is the Australian Crime Commission's 2013-14 Illicit Drug Data Report. This report contains illicit drug data collected annually by the Australian Crime Commission from state and territory police services, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Services, and forensic laboratories.

How many cannabis-related arrests are there each year in Australia?

Cannabis arrests account for the greatest number of illicit drug arrests in Australia. In 2013-14, there were a record 66,684 cannabis arrests in Australia. Of these, 87% were consumer arrests and 13% were provider arrests

Source: Australian Crime Commission (2015) Illicit Drug Data Report 2013-14.

Consumer Arrests: The Australian Crime Commission differentiates between people who have been apprehended for trading in, as opposed to using, illicit drugs. Those charged with user-type offences (possessing or administering drugs for their own use) are classified as consumers.

Provider Arrests: The Australian Crime Commission differentiates between people who have been apprehended for trading in, as opposed to using, illicit drugs. Those charged with supply-type offences (importation, trafficking, selling, cultivation and manufacture) are classified as providers.

How much cannabis is seized by police each year in Australia?

In 2013-14, there were 53,404 cannabis seizures in Australia, amounting to a total weight of 7,074 kilograms. The largest number of cannabis seizures occurred in New South Wales, but the largest quantity of cannabis was seized in Victoria. 

Source: Australian Crime Commission (2015) Illicit Drug Data Report 2013-14 (NCETA secondary analysis, 2016).

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

How much cannabis is trafficked each year in Australia?

In 2013-14 there were 2,840 cannabis border detections in Australia. These detections amounted to a total weight of 158 kilograms (95% of which was seed). One large detection of 126 kilograms accounted for 80% of the total weight of cannabis detected during this period. 

Source: Australian Crime Commission (2015) Illicit Drug Data Report 2013-14.

How does cannabis use affect a person’s driving ability?

Cannabis use can impair:

  • reaction time
  • decision-making
  • time and distance perception
  • short-term memory
  • hand-eye coordination
  • concentration.

As a result, driving under the influence of cannabis can increase the risk of a crash by up to 300%. Furthermore, driving skills can be negatively affected for up to five or more hours after using cannabis. Using cannabis and alcohol together, even at low doses, also has a larger negative effect on driving than either cannabis or alcohol use alone.

For more information about cannabis visit the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

What is the legislation in regard to cannabis use and drug driving?

It is illegal to drive under the influence of illicit drugs (including cannabis) in Australia.  Driving under the influence of cannabis carries penalties including disqualification from driving, heavy fines, and/or imprisonment. The penalties imposed vary from state to state, and whether the offender is committing their first or subsequent drug driving offence.  

In all Australian jurisdictions, legislation has been passed or drafted that allows for roadside saliva testing for drug driving, including tests for cannabis.  

For more information about cannabis visit the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

What are the legal penalties for using cannabis?

It is illegal to use, possess or sell cannabis in Australia. The penalties for cannabis offences are different for each state and territory.  

Three Australian jurisdictions (Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Northern Territory) have decriminalised minor cannabis offences.

In other jurisdictions, any cannabis offence is a criminal offence. If someone is charged with possession of cannabis in these areas and found guilty, they could receive a large fine or jail time and will have a criminal record. However, it is unlikely that someone caught with a small amount of cannabis for the first time would receive a criminal conviction, because of the diversion programs that run in these states. Diversion programs aim to divert non-violent drug offenders away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate assessment, education and treatment services. (See FAQ: What is cannabis diversion? for more information on diversion).

A summary of the penalties for cannabis offences in each Australian jurisdiction is presented below.

New South Wales (NSW)

If someone is caught with up to 15 grams of cannabis in NSW they may receive a ‘caution’ from the police officer, which includes information about the harms associated with cannabis use and a number to call for drug-related information or referral. Only two cautions are allowed to be given to the same person.

Victoria (VIC)

In VIC, a police officer may give someone a caution and offer them the opportunity to attend a cannabis education program if they are caught with no more than 50 grams of cannabis. Like NSW, only two cautions are allowed to be given to the same person.

Queensland (QLD)

Police officers in QLD offer people the option of diversion if they are found in possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis. This is the only state in which diversion must be offered to a minor cannabis offender – elsewhere, it is up to the police officers whether or not they offer diversion or charge the offender. Diversion in QLD includes a mandatory assessment and brief intervention program. Only one offer of diversion is allowed per person.

Western Australia (WA)

In WA, individuals in possession of less than 10 grams of harvested cannabis and/or a used smoking implement who have no prior cannabis offences are required to attend a Cannabis Intervention Session within 28 days or receive a cannabis conviction for the offence. All cannabis cultivation offences attract a criminal conviction.

South Australia (SA)

In 1987, SA was the first state to decriminalise minor cannabis offences. The possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, 20 grams of hash (the resin from the cannabis plant), one non-hydroponic plant, or cannabis smoking equipment leads to a fine of between $50 and $150, with 60 days to pay.

Tasmania (TAS)

Someone found in possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis in TAS can be given a caution up to three times in 10 years.  For the first caution, information and referral is provided. A brief intervention is given with the second caution. On the third and final caution, the offender must be assessed for drug dependence and attend either a brief intervention or treatment program.

Northern Territory (NT)

Since 1996, NT adults found in possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana, one gram of hash oil, 10 grams of hash or cannabis seed, or two non-hydroponic plants can be fined $200 with 28 days to pay the fine rather than face a criminal charge.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT introduced a civil penalty system for the possession of ‘small amounts’ of cannabis in 1993. If someone is caught with up to two non-hydroponic cannabis plants, or up to 25 grams of cannabis (cannabis plant material), they receive a $100 fine with 60 days to pay the fine instead of a criminal charge. Instead of paying the fine, the person may choose to attend a drug assessment and treatment program.

For more information about cannabis visit the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

What is cannabis diversion?

Drug diversion programs (including cannabis diversion) aim to divert non-violent drug offenders away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate assessment, education and treatment services. These programs seek to break the criminal cycle associated with illicit drug use by addressing the underlying causes of criminal activity and encouraging offenders to tackle their drug problems early.

The term ‘diversion’ applies to processes that are at the very front-end of the criminal justice system (that is, at the pre-apprehension stage before any formal charges are laid) and are focused on diverting eligible individuals into education and/or treatment services, rather than to alternative forms of processing. In practice, diversion initiatives can be divided into several major clusters of interventions:

  • police drug diversion programs
  • court-based diversion programs (including pre-court and pre- and post-sentence diversions, as well as programs at the higher end of the court system that include intensive pre- and post-sentencing drug court options such as long-term intensive treatment)
  • drug treatment correctional centres which operate at the custodial level

The table below summarises cannabis diversion in select Australian jurisdictions.

For more information about cannabis visit the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC).

Jurisdiction (year of legislation)Maximum amount of cannabis allowed for option of diversionMaximum number of cautions allowedDiversion program description
TAS (1998)50 grams3 in 10 yearsFirst offence: caution plus information and referral. Second offence: brief intervention. Third offence: assessment and either treatment or brief intervention.
VIC (1998)50 grams2Cautioning notice plus voluntary education program
NSW (2000)15 grams2Caution, plus information and referral
QLD (2001)50 grams1Mandatory assessment and brief intervention session
WA (2011)10 grams1 for adults and 3 for juvenilesCaution plus Cannabis Intervention Session