Small fine or jail time? A 2019 guide to cannabis laws in Australia

Find out how minor marijuana use is treated in your state or territory.

In February, the Aussie government announced that medical marijuana would become legal to import into Australia. Although this is progress in the right direction for any advocates out there, we are still a long way away from the access you’d expect in an American state like California.

Do recent changes to the laws of medical cannabis affect the legality of non-medical cannabis in Australia?

At this stage no. However, there could be some (positive) implications in the future as marijuana becomes more widely accepted by the medical community. In the meantime, we can look at the current state of how marijuana use is treated in Australia.


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Disclaimer

This guide is only a general reference and is not intended as legal advice. Make sure you speak with a qualified legal profession if you are seeking legal advice. You can also find more information in the specific legislation of your state or territory.


Is cannabis legal (right now) in Australia?

In short, no. When it comes to cannabis in Australia it’s generally illegal to:

  • Grow
  • Use
  • Posses
  • Sell

Not even one joint?

Technically speaking, someone won’t face serious jail time for a small amount of cannabis. The way you could be punished for use is different, depending on:

  • The amount of cannabis you have on you
  • The state or territory

For instance, in some states being caught with a small amount of pot will result in a $100 fine. Another state could have you face jail if caught, even with a small amount.

The definition of ‘small amount’ will vary according to the state or territory.

I heard in some states cannabis is ‘decriminalised’ doesn’t this mean it’s legal?

While it’s true that minor cannabis offences are decriminalised in some states, this isn’t the same as legalisation. Cannabis is still illegal, but it’s dealt with differently under decriminalisation e.g. a fine.

How will I be punished for use?

When it comes to small amounts of cannabis, states and territories will usually have two approaches to punishment:

  • In states where small amounts of cannabis is decriminalised, punishment is usually a fine.
  • In states where a small amount of cannabis is a criminal offence. Punishment for first time offenders can be ‘diverted’ with diversion.


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How do states and territories treat minor cannabis offences?

State or territory Approach to cannabis  Punishment for minor offences
SA, ACT, NT Decriminalisation Fine*
TAS, VIC, NSW, QLD, WA Criminal offence Diversion program*

*Refer to state by state breakdown for more details

*It’s generally up to the police officer to decide whether you can receive diversion. Repeat offenders or those with a history of violence may be ineligible. Exclusions for certain types of cannabis may apply. Make sure you check with the appropriate legislation in your state or territory.

Limits and fines in decriminalised states*

Below is the maximum cannabis (g) allowed for the offence to be considered minor and the maximum fine that’s dished out.

Penalties in the ACT for small amounts of cannabis were introduced in 1993.

Maximum amounts allowed to be considered a minor amount

  • Two non-hydroponic cannabis plants or;
  • 50 grams of marijuana

Fine

$100, with 60 days to pay it (instead of receiving a criminal charge).

Alternatives to paying a fine

Drug assessment and treatment program

Relevant legislation

The relevant legislation is the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 (DoDA). Within this legislation there is what’s known as the Simple Cannabis Offence Notice (SCON). This scheme is what allows small amounts of cannabis to be decriminalised. You can learn more about it here.

South Australia introduced decriminalisation in 1987.

Maximum amounts allowed to be considered a minor amount

  • 100 grams of marijuana or;
  • 200 grams of hash (resin from the plant) or;
  • One non-hydroponic cannabis plants or;
  • Equipment used to smoke marijuana

Fine

$50-300, with 60 days to pay it (instead of receiving a criminal charge).

Alternatives to paying a fine

Criminal conviction or drug treatment program.

Relevant legislation

The legislation that defines rules around decriminalisation in South Australia is the Controlled Substances (Controlled Drugs, Precursors and Plants) Regulations 2014

You can read more about it on the Legal Services Commission website or over here.

Northern Territory introduced decriminalisation in 1996 but I’m guessing it should ne Northern Territory

Maximum amounts allowed to be considered a minor amount

  • 50 grams of marijuana or;
  • 10 grams of hash or;
  • 10 grams of cannabis seed or;
  • 1 gram of hash oil (resin from the plant) or;
  • Two non-hydroponic cannabis plants or;
  • Equipment used to smoke marijuana

Fine

$200, with 28 days to pay it (instead of receiving a criminal charge).

Alternatives to paying a fine

Debt to state. If you’re a juvenile you are sent to assessment.

Relevant legislation

The legislation that’s related to minor use in the Northern Territory is the Misuse of Drugs Act. You can read more about it here.

Limits and cautions for states where minor use is a criminal offence*

Below shows the maximum amount of cannabis (g) allowed for it to be considered a minor offence that can be diverted.

What is diversion?

Diversion is an option in some states to allow first offenders of minor cannabis possession to avoid criminal conviction. The aim is to help non-violent drug offenders:

  • Avoid the criminal justice system
  • Get the appropriate education and rehabilitation services

Maximum amount you can have to be able receive a diversion

15 grams

Diversion program details

You would receive a caution.

Maximum cautions

2

Relevant legislation

The relevant legislation that defines minor use and diversion in NSW is the DRUG MISUSE AND TRAFFICKING ACT 1985. You can find the relevant legislation here.

Maximum amount you can have to be able receive a diversion

50 grams

Diversion program details

You may receive a caution and be referred to attend a cannabis education program.

Maximum cautions

2

Relevant legislation

The relevant legislation for Victoria is the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981). Within this legislation there is the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme (Diversion).

Maximum amount you can have to be able receive a diversion

50 grams

Diversion program details

You would receive a caution the first time that includes information. A second caution would include an intervention section. For a third caution, you would be assessed for drug dependence and have to attend a treatment program.

Maximum cautions

3 times in 10 years

Relevant legislation

The relevant legislation for Tasmania is the Misuse of Drugs Act 2001

Maximum amount you can have to be able receive a diversion

50 grams

Diversion program details

Assessment and an intervention program

Maximum cautions

1

Relevant legislation

The relevant legislation is the Drugs Misuse Act 1986. You read about the diversion program here.

Maximum amount you can have to be able receive a diversion

10 grams

Diversion program details

Intervention program

Maximum cautions

1

Relevant legislation

The legislation that determines minor cannabis use in Western Australia is the Cannabis Law Reform Act (2010). You read more about it here.

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