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It’s that time of year again. School leavers from all around Australia are gathering to celebrate the milestone of finishing high school and to happily contemplate their bright futures.
Most ‘Schoolies’ will enjoy one another’s company and celebrate in relative safety but some will choose to involve themselves with illegal drugs in the course of their celebrations; this is a decision which can have far reaching consequences.
The immediate, and long term, health risks associated with illicit drugs are not the focus of this article – that information is widely available elsewhere. This article aims to inform the reader, whether they be a curious school leaver, a parent or other concerned party, of the legal risks associated with what might otherwise seem to be a harmless recreational pursuit.
Putting aside cases in which a person conducts a commercial business trafficking in drugs, there are generally two offences which will be committed when a person involves themselves with dangerous drugs (the term given to illegal substances under the Drugs Misuse Act and Regulation in Queensland); Possession, and Supply.
Dangerous drugs are separated into two ‘classes’ under Queensland law (pursuant to Schedules to the Drugs Misuse Regulation): Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drugs.
It is correct to view Schedule 1 drugs as being ‘more serious’ or ‘harder’ drugs (including drugs like Heroin, Cocaine and 3-4Methylenedioxymethamphetamine/MDMA) while Schedule 2 drugs might be thought of as slightly less harmful substances (including substances such as Cannabis, Codeine and Diazapam to name but a very small few)
It would be wrong, however, to conclude that a charge of possessing or supplying a schedule 2 dangerous drug is not a potentially serious offence.
Possessing Dangerous Drugs
I expect it is well known that possessing a dangerous drug is an offence at law in Queensland. A person is guilty of the offence is they have knowing possession, or control, of a substance which they know to be a dangerous drug. Normally, the offence is committed by a person having physical possession of, for example, pills or ‘green leafy matter’ but it can also be committed if it is proved a person had knowledge that a dangerous drug was, for example, secreted within a motor vehicle or hidden in a hotel room.
At their least serious, offences of possessing a dangerous drugs can be dealt with by way of Drug Diversion, without the imposition of a criminal conviction or the imposition of any financial (or other) penalty. ‘Drug Diversion’ is available to first-time (and some second time) drug offenders where they are alleged to have possessed less than a relevant amount of particular drugs (for example 1 gram of MDMA or 50 grams of Cannabis). Diversion can be offered by a Police officer or it can be ordered by a Court if criminal charges are laid.
At their most serious, offences of possessing dangerous drugs must be dealt with on indictment in either a District or Supreme Court and even a first time offender might expect to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment if they are guilty.
The seriousness of a ‘possession offence’ can be determined by the type and quantity of drug which is possessed. If a person possesses a schedule 1 drug in sufficient quantities (for instance, over 200 grams of MDMA or Amphetamine) their matter will be heard by a Justice of the Supreme Court and that person will expect to be sent into jail if they are guilty.
Supplying Dangerous Drugs
An offence of supplying dangerous drugs does not necessarily mean selling or otherwise conducting a business transacting in dangerous drugs (indeed, to do the latter would likely constitute an offence of ‘trafficking’ which is an extremely serious offence punishable by imprisonment for life).
An offence of supply can be committed where a person actually supplies a substance which they know to be a dangerous drugs (whether for gain or not) and also where the person does anything preparatory to, or in furtherance of, that supply. A common example of a supply offence involves a person acquiring a quantity of drugs, for example capsules or tablets of MDMA, which they take into a nightclub, or a hotel room, to share with their friends. The person might have no intention of selling the drugs to their friends, and they might even have acquired them without paying money themselves, but they are guilty of supply if it is proved that they intended to share the drug with others.
Often times people will talk themselves into a supply charge (which might not otherwise be provable) by answering questions asked by Police. A very common example is the person who is searched by Police while they wait in line for entry to a night club or music festival/venue. In this example, the search uncovers 4 MDMA capsules, totalling 0.75 of a gram. The person is more than likely guilty of possessing less than 1 gram of MDMA and could, on that basis, be eligible for Drug Diversion. Upon being asked by Police ‘why do you have 4 caps of MDMA?’ this example person responds ‘2 for me and 2 for my friend waiting inside’ and they are charge with supplying a dangerous drug.
In this example scenario, the penalty for a first time offender is unlikely to be a prison sentence, but the offence of supplying MDMA is a strictly indictable matter and must be heard in the District Court, meaning a lengthy court proceeding and significant legal costs.
If you or someone you know has been charged with possessing or supplying dangerous drugs it is very important that you obtain legal advice, and more than likely secure representation, at an early stage. In particular, you should speak with a lawyer before you answer any questions asked by Police. The Armstrong Legal criminal law team stand ready to assist should the need arise.
Image Credit – Cathy Yuelet © 123RF.com
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