Aussie cannabis laws are a mixed bag. While the days of the heavy-handed ‘War on Drugs’ are (mostly) behind us, we are all still faced with navigating a society that stigmatises and punishes weed users in many ways. This is without mentioning that we live in a federation. Each state has its own set of laws, requiring their own unique strategies.
This series will address the key legislation and policies you’ll need to be aware of as a resident stoner in Australia. We’ll be focusing on recreational use and growing for personal use— if you’re a dealer and you get busted, that’s on you.
Last time, we covered the essential bud-law you need to know for getting stoned in WA.
This week: South Australia.
Minor Possession and Expiation
There’s a common misconception when it comes to cannabis law in SA, so let me clarify: weed is still very much illegal. To possess, smoke, or distribute it constitutes an offence under the Controlled Substances Act 1984. That said, the expiation system in place there makes it far less of a risk to possess small amounts than in other states.
Under the Expiation of Offences Act 1996, simple cannabis offences can be expiated by a police officer. An expiation is a small fine, given in lieu of prosecution, to be paid within 28 days. They can be given for possession for the following:
- Cultivating one cannabis plant without artificial enhancement (non-hydro, no artificial lighting, no commercial fertilizers)
- Possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis
- Possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis resin
- Smoking cannabis (except in a public place)
- Possession of smoking implements
Expiation notices are subject to the following conditions:
- The recipient must be aged 18 or over
- They may relate to up to three offences arising from the same incident
- They won’t be given for charges of possession/cultivation for commercial purpose or supply, even if the total amount is less than the ‘simple cannabis offence’ threshold
- If given an expiation notice you may choose to opt for prosecution instead (Dunno why you would ever do this, but maybe $300 is worth more to you than a criminal record)
Expiation fines are currently as follows based on the Controlled Substances (Controlled Drugs, Precursors and Plants) Regulations 2014.
- Less than 25 grams of cannabis: $150
- Between 25 and 100 grams of cannabis: $300
- Less than 5 grams of resin: $150
- Between 5 and 20 grams of resin: $300
- Equipment for preparing or consuming cannabis or resin: $150 (+$30 when accompanied by another simple cannabis offence)
- One cannabis plant: $300
- Smoking or consuming cannabis or resin (except in a public place): $150
Expiation notices must be given if found committing those offences in SA, so you are relatively safe from prosecution so long as you keep your quantities low and don’t smoke in public places. And pay your expiation fines on time! Taking more than 28 days will incur a late notice and another fine, any longer than that and you’re risking prosecution.
Once you move beyond one plant, or you start using ‘artificial enhancement’ in your growing, you become subject to much harsher penalties in SA courts. Artificial enhancement is defined in the Controlled Substances Act (1984) as:
- cultivation in a solution comprised wholly or principally of water enriched
with nutrients; or
- cultivation involving the application of an artificial source of light or heat;
Quantities and maximum penalties for cultivation offences are as follows:
- 1 plant (no artificial enhancement): expiation notice & fine of $300
- 2 to 4 plants: $1000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment
- 6 to 9 plants: $2000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment
- trafficable quantity (10 to 19 plants): $75,000 fine and/or 15 years imprisonment
- commercial quantity (20 to 99 plants): $500,000 and/or life imprisonment
- large commercial quantity (100+ plants): $500,000 and/or life imprisonment
These maximums are rarely if ever reached. Actual penalties tend to be significantly lower, except in cases involving organised crime or seriously negligent legal advice.
- Supply and low-level cultivation offences (growing hydro) will be prosecuted in SA, and each carry a maximum $2000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment.
- Charges for trafficking or cultivating cannabis are tried summarily (by a judge without a jury) in the Magistrates Court. If the sentence is likely to exceed 5 years, cases will be transferred to the District Court. You’ll be indicted and tried before a jury. The maximum penalty for an offence in this case is up to $50,000 and 10 years imprisonment — $75,000 and 15 years for an aggravated offence.
- Trafficking, sale, or cultivation or a commercial or ‘large commercial’ quantity can carry sentences of up to $200,000 and 25 years imprisonment. Charges in this range are generally applied for entire grow houses, so recreational stoners have nothing to worry about here.
- If an expiation notice is not paid, simple cannabis offence charges typically carry a $500-$1000 maximum fine. The criminal record that comes with prosecution will likely be much worse than the damage to your bank account.
Due to the non-prosecutorial nature of South Australian cannabis legislation, small offences are hard to study. I’ve included two examples of larger offences listed in the courts — useful examples of the sorts of sentences that are handed down for larger-scale possession and trafficking charges.
R V SIMON MATTHEW BUCKINGHAM (2019)
41-year-old man charged for trafficking a commercial quantity of cannabis. Found with 2.3 kgs of packaged cannabis, two hydroponic plants, and equipment for sale. Defendant had a distant history of prior drug possession offences.
Sentenced to four years imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years.
R V VASILIOS MANIATIS (2019)
45-year-old man with no prior convictions, convicted for trafficking a large commercial quantity of cannabis, as well as cultivating a commercial quantity and possessing associated equipment. Found with 4.6 kg dried cannabis, plus 33 plants at various stages of development.
Sentenced to five years imprisonment, reduced to three years for an early guilty plea including 18 months without parole.
If you’re on your way out of Adelaide and into Melbourne, then you’re in luck – so are we.
The Cannabis Law Cheat Sheet will be back next week with everything you need to know about buds and Victorian state law. Til then!