Aussie cannabis laws are a mixed bag. While the heavy-handed drug war days are mostly behind us, we do still all have to navigate a society that stigmatises and punishes weed use in a variety of ways. And since we live in a federation, we can’t even count on a bit of consistency to make it easy on our bud-soaked brains; every state has different laws that require their own strategies to navigate.
This series will address the key legislation and policies you need to know as a resident stoner in Australia. We’ll be focusing mostly on recreational smoking and growing for personal use — if you’re a dealer and you get busted, that’s on you.
This week: Queensland.
Staying on Schedule
If you have followed the ‘Cannabis Law Cheat Sheet’ series closely – or if you’ve spent any time in Victoria or Tasmania – you may be familiar with the penalty unit system. If not… it suffices to say that penalty units are a way for governments to measure the intensity of their fines. More units = a bigger fine. As of 2019, one QLD penalty unit is equal to $130.55.
Queensland drug legislation is also divided into schedules. Illicit drugs are broken down into schedule 1 (meth, cocaine, heroin, etc), schedule 2 (cannabis, codeine, ketamine), all the way down to schedule 6. Needless to say, we’ll be focusing on schedule 2.
Subtleties of Possession
We’d love to tell you that possession law starts and ends with actual cannabis, but that just isn’t the case. Under the Drugs Misuse Act (1986), it is an offence to possess any quantity of cannabis, as well as any drug paraphernalia (bongs, pipes, etc), instructions for cannabis production, or cannabis plants.
Similar to other states, the legal peculiarities of possession also apply:
- Possession does not require use, intent to use, ownership of the drug or that it was sold to the possessor
- More than one person can be in possession of the same drug (e.g. the housemate of someone keeping cannabis at home could also technically be ‘in possession’)
- Possession does not have to be physical, it only requires “control” (i.e. owning the car the drug is found in)
Possession of drug paraphernalia is punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. The maximum penalties for possession of cannabis are as follows:
- Less than 500 grams: 15 years maximum imprisonment
- More than 500 grams: 20 years maximum imprisonment
Fines may also be applied for all cannabis possession offences. These depend on the court applying them and the circumstances of the offence.
Courts & Diversion
Offences with a maximum penalty of less than 15 years, and not involving a commercial purpose, imprisonment are generally tried summarily in the QLD Magistrates Court. Penalties imposed in the Magistrates Court cannot exceed 3 years imprisonment. Penalties greater than this must be given in a higher court as part of an indictment.
If found in possession of less than 50 grams of cannabis and/or a smoking implement, police are required to offer offenders a drug diversion. This outcome avoids going to court or receiving criminal charges, and is subject to the following requirements:
- Not having received a drug diversion before
- Not having been arrested for any indictable offence associated with the possession (e.g. stealing the smoking implement or the cannabis, or money used to purchase them)
- Admitting the possession in a recorded interview
- Not having any prior criminal record of violence
- No prior imprisonment for drug charges relating to supply, cultivation/production, or trafficking
A court-ordered drug diversion can also be offered. These are offered by a Magistrate in court at their discretion, and can be given if the offender has received one police or court ordered diversion before. Court diversions are also available for schedule 1 substances in small quantities.
Thankfully, court diversions do not result in a criminal conviction. They require that a ‘Drug Education and Assessment’ session is attended, and that a good behaviour bond is met.
Trafficking & Supply
Trafficking in a “dangerous drug” is an indictable offence, with a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.
Supply of a schedule 2 drug carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, except in aggravated cases involving a minor under the age of 16 (25 years) or a minor over 16 (20 years). A 20 year maximum also applies to supplying individuals who are either intellectually impaired, within an educational institution or a correctional facility, or are unaware they are being supplied a drug.
The Drugs Misuse Act 1986 does not distinguish the maximum penalty by quantity for either trafficking or supply offences.
Cultivation of less than 500 grams or 100 plants of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment. For amounts exceeding 500 grams, the maximum is 20 years.