Drug Laws in NSW & Policing

The following drugs are illegal in Australia. Laws in Australia and NSW provide penalties for possessing, using, making, or selling them, or driving under their influence.

  • Cannabis, including some synthetic cannabinoids (unless prescribed by a medical provider)
  • Crystal Meth (methamphetamine hydrochloride)
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate)
  • Heroin
  • LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)

Note this is not an all-inclusive list of illegal substances, these are however some of the most used illicit substances.

The team at DanceWize NSW have a really detailed resources around NSW drug laws in NSW and what happens if you are caught with drugs. In most cases, you will either receive a cannabis caution, an on-the-spot fine or a court attendance notice. We’ve taken the explanations about these three actions from the DanceWize NSW website.

Cannabis Cautioning Scheme   

In NSW, people caught with less than 15g of cannabis can be issued a Cannabis Caution instead of being charged with an offence. A record of the caution will be kept but receiving a Cannabis Caution will not give you a criminal record, and you will not have to pay a fine.

It is up to police discretion (decision/choice) to decide whether to give you a caution. They can only give a cannabis caution if you admit to the offence and do not have prior convictions for sexual, violent, or drug-related offences

You can only receive two Cannabis Cautions.

On-the-spot fines

As of 2019, NSW Police now have the power to issue $400 on-the-spot fines for the possession of a ‘small quantity’ of drugs, on the spot fines may only be issued where patrons are attending festivals. A record of this will be kept, but you will not get a criminal record for possessing drugs if you pay this fine.

On-the-spot fine are only issued to people caught with a ‘small quantity’ of drugs. The exact amount/weight of what is considered a ‘small quantity’ of drugs is outlined in Schedule 1 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 and depends on the drug.

Court attendance notice 

‘Court attendance notice’ is a piece of paper saying you must go to a courthouse to have your case heard. If you go to court, you can either fight the charge or accept the punishment handed down to you by the magistrate.

The maximum penalty you could receive for possession of a ‘small quantity’ of drugs is up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $2,200.

Depending on your personal circumstances and your prior criminal history,  magistrates will often be lenient and it is rare to be given the maximum penalty. The Court may decide to completely dismiss the charges or give you a conditional release order without conviction. This means you will not receive a criminal record. Conditional release orders may require you to attend drug and alcohol treatment or ban you from associating with certain people or visiting certain places.

There are several drug offences in NSW, including:

Possession of a prohibited drug:  To be in possession of a drug, it must be in your custody or control, and you must know about it. If you are found to be in possession of a prohibited drug and you are issued a court attendance notice the maximum penalty is: a $2,200 fine and/or 2 years in jail. You may however be given a penalty notice and the penalty is $400 and you do not have to attend court.

Self-administration of a prohibited drug: You can be charged with using/self-administering a prohibited drug if you swallow, snort, inject, smoke, ingest or otherwise consume prohibited drugs. You can also be charged if you are caught attempting to do any of these things.

The maximum penalty is a $2,200 fine and/or 2 years in jail. (Note that it is NSW Police policy not to charge people with self-administration after a non-fatal overdose).

Possession of equipment for self-administration of a prohibited drug: The maximum Penalty is a $2,200 fine and/or 2 years in jail. (Note: it is not an offence to possess a syringe).

Possession of prescription drugs:  Possession of a prescription drug is only an offence if these drugs were not prescribed to you. The maximum penalty is a $2,200 fine and/or 2 years in jail.

What can the police do if I am drunk or out of it?

Police have the power to pick you up if you are intoxicated (on alcohol or any other drug) and behaving in a disorderly manner. Or need physical protection because of your intoxication.

Police may take you home or place you in the care of a responsible person (such as a friend or relative). If necessary, police may detain you at a police station while finding a responsible person. If no responsible person can be found, police may detain you until you are no longer intoxicated. Reasonable restraint may be used to ensure that you do not injure anyone (including yourself) or damage property.

Unless you commit an offence, you will not be charged or fingerprinted. The police are meant to keep intoxicated persons separate from people detained for criminal offences.

Getting legal help

If you get into legal trouble and must go to court, it is advised that you get legal representation. If you can afford it is recommended that you get a private criminal lawyer. However, if you cannot afford it you may access legal aid or another community legal provider.  The Fair Play team will be onsite at many Sydney WorldPride events and the team at the Inner-City Legal Centre can be contacted for additional support.

Making a complaint about the police

If you think police officers have done something wrong, you can make a complaint either to the NSW Police Force or to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC). The LECC is an independent body that provides oversight of the NSW Police Force. The LECC can receive complaints about the conduct of police officers and can investigate allegations of serious misconduct. The LECC refers most complaints to the NSW Police Force to consider, but staff from the LECC review how police handle the complaint to ensure the police response is adequate. To make a complaint to the LECC you can fill in the online form on their website. 

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