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.
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.
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.
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).
Source: Adapted from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) (2014)