Did you know? In 2017, 15% of all prisoners in Australia were incarcerated for offences relating to illicit drugs.
Illicit drug use is an issue worldwide for the vast majority of countries, and Australia is no exception. According to some data, Australia is on the higher end of the scale when it comes to the number of drug arrests per 100,000 people.
Of course, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
While we may not be criminologists or public health experts, as criminal lawyers, we can confidently tell you that not all drug-related offences will result in a lengthy prison sentence.
As a matter of fact, the vast majority of drug-related offences result in no prison time according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
So, what penalties might you face should you be arrested on a drug charge? And how can a criminal defence lawyer help you defend yourself from these charges and help you get the best possible outcome?
Drug laws in Victoria
In Victoria, all drug-related offences are governed by the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981). Under this Act, there are a range of different criminal offences relating to the use, distribution and possession of illicit drugs.
It doesn’t end there however – the Act also recognised two categories of illicit drugs:
- Drugs of dependence – these are drugs that are illegal to possess without a medical prescription, and covers Schedule 8 drugs (as well as a number of Schedule 3 and 4 substances)
- Drugs that are illegal under any circumstances – this includes cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and other substances
Under Victorian drug laws, both of these drugs are treated the same.
While they may affect the sentence you receive, crimes involving either ones of these drugs will still result in you being charged under the same laws, and facing the same maximum penalty.
The best way to avoid this outcome is to seek the assistance of a drug offence lawyer in Melbourne as early as possible.
As one of the most common drug-related offences, it’s only natural that we begin our discussion with possession.
Under Victorian law, possession is defined as “having physical custody or control of the drug”, either individually or shared with another.
Possession also applies when the drugs are on land or premises occupied or controlled by the alleged possessor.
In order to successfully charge you with this offence, the prosecution needs to establish certain facts:
- You knew the substance was an illicit drug
- You possessed it (based on the criteria above)
- You intended to possess it
The penalties for drug possession
As a less serious drug offence, drug possession typically comes with a lighter penalty – a fine or a prison sentence.
The specific penalty you may face for a drug possession charge may vary depending on the quantity of the drug, as well as the type.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis may not come with a fine – you may only receive a warning (a caution) depending on police discretion. More than 50g of cannabis however may come with a fine of up to 5 penalty units, and potentially a prison sentence of up to a year.
Other illicit drugs may result in you being fined 30 penalty units or sentenced to up to a year in prison.
While they may not be as harsh as some of the other offences we’ve talked about (and are about to talk about), that doesn’t mean that you should just accept it.
Our drug offence lawyers will work hard to ensure that you understand your rights, and fight to get you the best outcome possible given the circumstances.
If there’s evidence that you use illicit substances, you may also be charged with the offence of using a drug of dependence.
In Victoria, that means consuming any drug listed as a drug of dependence, whether by smoking, inhaling, swallowing, injecting or otherwise. These charges are often (but not always) issued alongside charges for possession.
The penalties for drug usage
Just as with the offence of drug possession, the penalties for drug usage in Victoria are relatively light.
For cannabis for example, usage is punished with a fine or a caution in some circumstances.
In the case of harder drugs however, the penalty for usage could be either a fine or imprisonment for up to a year.
Should you get behind the wheel while under the effects of drugs however, you may be hit with the charge of drug driving – an offence that comes with up to 270 penalty units or 18 months jail for repeat offences.
Victorian law defines drug trafficking quite broadly.
Just like theft, it’s an umbrella term, with legislation covering a wide range of different offences where the accused:
- Possesses a quantity larger than a single person would reasonably require
- Prepared or manufactured a drug
- Sold the drug
- Bought drugs on behalf of another party
Just as with the offence of drug possession, in order to prosecute a trafficking charge, the prosecution needs to establish that you had intent to distribute, purchase or produce an illicit substance.
How long can you go to jail for drug trafficking?
The penalties for drug trafficking are much higher than for possession, with the exact sentence you receive depending on the quantity you have and how old you are.
If we’re talking about maximum penalties for an adult, you might be looking at:
- 15 years jail and/or a fine of up to 1,800 penalty units
- 25 years jail and/or 3,000 penalty units for a commercial quantity of an illegal drug
For individuals under 18 years old, the maximum penalty may be lower – they could face detention in a youth justice centre or a fine.
Using their understanding of Victoria’s drug laws, our drug offence lawyers work hard to help you avoid the worst-case scenario.
The moment you are brought in for a drug trafficking charge, get in touch with our criminal defence lawyers.
Since 2016, it’s been legal to cultivate cannabis in Victoria for medicinal purposes.
However, unless said cultivation is carried out under tight controls after obtaining a medicinal cannabis license (in accordance with Section 8E of the revised Narcotics Drugs Act 1967), it remains an illegal act.
Outside of these strict parameters, cultivating cannabis remains an offence.
In Victoria, “cultivation” doesn’t just refer to growing cannabis plants themselves, but to a whole host of activities, including activities associated with preparing the soil, sowing, fertilising, tending and caring for the plants, as well as the act of harvesting the crop.
Penalties for unlicensed, non-medical cannabis cultivation
Whether it’s a single plant at home or a massive unlicensed operation complete with greenhouses and sprinkler systems, unlicensed cultivation comes with a range of penalties depending on the size of the crop and harvest:
- Any quantity – 20 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment (15 if the crop was intended to be trafficked)
- More than 100 plants or 25kg – 25 years imprisonment
- More than 1000 plants or 250kg – Life imprisonment
Cultivating cannabis without a license is a major offence, especially if you have a large operation.
However, it doesn’t always need to end with the maximum sentence – the right help from a criminal defence lawyer when you’re charged with cultivating cannabis can mean the difference between
And as with every serious criminal offence, it’s best to get the advice of a criminal defence lawyer to give you the opportunity to avoid the maximum penalty and receive a fair and just outcome.
Facing drug-related charges?
Why we’re the best drug defence lawyers to take your case
Drug offences aren’t like other areas of law. Some are regulated under federal laws, while others are controlled by state laws.
All of this means that it’s simply unfeasible for a lawyer who specialises in dealing with other types of crimes to simply parachute in and get you the best possible outcome in your drug case.
Each case is unique – while the charges might be the same, your circumstances mean that your defence strategy is totally unique, as are the facts your drug criminal defence lawyer will need to argue.
Our criminal law firm in Dandenong specialises in defending you from drug-related charges.
We’ll fight hard for you every step of the way, from helping you understand your rights during the initial police interrogation, to presenting your defence before the magistrate, all the way to appealing for a lighter sentence.
We have one goal: to help you get the best possible outcome given the circumstances.