This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (state and federal industrial tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Offences Involving Cocaine


In the ACT, it is an offence to possess, manufacture, sell, supply, traffic or administer cocaine. This section covers each of these offences and their maximum penalties, which range from fines of 50 penalty units to life imprisonment, depending on the offence.

Cocaine is commonly referred to as coke, blow, rack, dream, Charlie, snow, blunt, flake, rail, white, nose candy, snow white, white dust, white powder, line, powder and icing.

Administering Cocaine

In the ACT, it is an offence to administer cocaine to another person, yourself or an animal without being authorised to do so. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of 100 penalty units and/or 1 year imprisonment.

The Offence of Administering Cocaine

The offence of administering cocaine is contained in Section 37 of the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 2008. It prohibits the administration of a declared substance to another person, yourself or an animal, unless you are authorised to do so.

Conviction for this offence can result in a fine of up to 100 penalty units, 1 year imprisonment or both.

Cocaine is classified by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as a “medicine”, being a declared substance under Schedule 8 of the Federal Poisons Standard. Substances classified as “medicines” are considered declared substances because they require additional restrictions to reduce misuse or dependence.

What the Police Must Prove

The prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that the substance in question is a declared substance; and
  • that you administered the declared substance to either:
    • another person; or
    • yourself; or
    • an animal; and
  • that you were not authorised to do so.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

This matter is a summary matter and will be dealt with in the ACT Magistrates Court.

Possessing Cocaine

In the ACT it is an offence to be in possession of cocaine. The maximum penalty is a fine of 50 penalty units and/or 2 years imprisonment.

The Offence of Possessing Cocaine

The offence of possessing cocaine is contained in Section 169 of the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 which states that a person shall not possess a drug of dependence. Cocaine is defined as a drug of dependence under Section 4 of the Drugs of Dependence Regulation 2009.

The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of 50 penalty units, imprisonment for 2 years or both.

What Is Possession?

The prosecution must prove all of the following beyond reasonable doubt:

  • the substance was in your custody or control; and
  • you knew that you had custody or control of the substance; and
  • the substance was cocaine.

In order to have custody you must have immediate physical possession of the cocaine. For example, you have cocaine in your pocket.

In order to have control you must have a right to do something with the cocaine. For example, you are at a party and you take the cocaine out of your pocket, place it on the table and walk out onto the balcony to join your friends. At this point you have lost custody of the cocaine but you still have control as you have the right to keep, consume or share the cocaine.

In each of these circumstances you must also have knowledge that you had custody or control of the cocaine. For example, if a friend placed the cocaine in your bag without you realising, you may have custody of it but you do not have the requisite knowledge to be guilty of the offence.

What Actions Might Constitute Possession?

Because of the broad interpretation of “possession”, you can possess something even if you only hold it momentarily. For example, if your friend passes you cocaine in the toilet cubicle and the police arrive, you are in possession of the cocaine even if it has only just been passed to you.

Examples of what would NOT constitute possession:

  • You own an apartment that is rented out. The tenants have been found to have cocaine at the apartment but you were unaware until you were contacted by police. This is not possession because although you own the apartment, you do not own all of the things in it and do not have any right to use and/or sell the contents.
  • You live in a share house with 3 other housemates. Police find cocaine in the living room which is a shared space that all 4 of you use regularly. Unless someone makes a statement to police admitting that the cocaine is theirs, or implicating someone else, it is likely that no one will be charged because police cannot determine which one of you had custody or control of the cocaine.
  • You host a party at your house and you know some guests had left a bag of cocaine on your outdoor table. You called them the next day and asked them to collect it but before they get to your house, the police arrive. You tell police that you were waiting for someone to collect it. In this case you have knowledge that the cocaine is there, however you have not laid claim to it and have not done anything to exercise control over it.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict you of possessing cocaine, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you had possession of the substance; and
  • that substance was cocaine.

However, if you possessed cocaine for the purpose of selling or supplying it to someone else, you will likely be charged with Sale or Supply of Cocaine.

Possible Defences for Possessing Cocaine

The common ways to defend this charge are:

  • to maintain your innocence if you did not commit the act; or
  • to argue that you did not have possession of the substance; for example, that you had custody but did not know you had custody of it, as in the example above of the cocaine placed in your bag without your knowledge; or
  • to argue that the substance was not cocaine.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

This is a summary matter and will be dealt with in the ACT Magistrates Court.

Selling or Supplying Cocaine

It is an offence in the ACT to sell or supply cocaine. The maximum penalty is a fine of 500 penalty units and/or 5 years imprisonment.

The Offence of Selling Or Supplying Cocaine

The offence of sale or supply of cocaine is contained in Section 164 of the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 which states that a person commits an offence if they:

  • sell or supply a drug of dependence to any person; or
  • participate in the sale or supply of a drug of dependence to any person; or
  • possess a drug of dependence for the purpose of sale or supply to any person.

Cocaine is defined as a drug of dependence under Section 4 of the Drugs of Dependence Regulation 2009.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 500 penalty units, imprisonment for 5 years or both.

What Is Sale Or Supply?

The ordinary meaning of the word “sell” is extended in the dictionary of the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 to include:

  • offer or expose for sale.

The ordinary meaning of the word “supply” is extended in the dictionary of the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 to include:

  • offer to supply but does not include administer.

What Actions Might Constitute Selling or Supplying?

Examples of selling or supplying cocaine include:

  • You meet up with your supplier before a night out to buy some cocaine for you and your friends. When you get to the nightclub you find your friends on the dance floor and hand out small bags of cocaine to each of them.
  • You are at a house party doing lines of cocaine. Your friend’s girlfriend approaches you, asks if you have more and offers to pay you cash next time she sees you. You tell her you need the money tomorrow and give her an eight ball.
  • You hang around 200m from the entrance of a music festival where you make a nice profit selling cocaine to festival goers.

What the Prosecution Must Prove

To convict you of selling or supplying cocaine, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you sold or supplied a substance; and
  • that substance was cocaine.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

These matters may be dealt with in either the ACT Magistrates Court or the ACT Supreme Court, depending what the prosecution and/or you elect to do.

Trafficking in Cocaine

It is an offence in the ACT to traffic cocaine. The maximum penalty ranges from fines of 1000 penalty units to imprisonment for life, depending on the quantity of cocaine.

The Offence of Trafficking In Cocaine

Trafficking of cocaine is divided into offences based on the quantity of cocaine trafficked. These offences are contained in Section 603 of the Code which states that a person commits an offence if they:

  • traffic in cocaine (contrary to Section 603(7) of the Code).
  • traffic in a commercial quantity of cocaine (contrary to Section 603(3) of the Code).
  • traffic in a large commercial quantity of cocaine (contrary to Section 603(1) of the Code).

The penalties for this offence range from a fine of 1000 penalty units to life imprisonment, depending on the quantity of cocaine trafficked. The specific penalties are set out below.

Quantity of Cocaine Maximum Penalty
Less than a commercial quantity (less than 3kg) 1000 penalty units and/or 10 years imprisonment
Commercial quantity (3kg or more) 2500 penalty units and/or 25 years imprisonment
Large commercial quantity (6kg or more) Life imprisonment

These quantities are set out in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Code Regulation 2005.

What Is Trafficking?

To understand why you may be charged with this offence, it is important to acknowledge the broad definition given to the act of trafficking. The term “traffic” is defined in Section 602 of the Code which states that a person traffics in a controlled drug if the person:

  • sells the drug; or
  • prepares the drug for supply either with the intention of selling any of it or believing that someone else intends to sell any of it; or
  • transports the drug either with the intention of selling any of it or believing that someone else intends to sell any of it; or
  • guards or conceals the drug either with the intention of selling any of it or helping someone else to sell any of it; or
  • possesses the drug with the intention of selling any of it.

If you have done any of the above, you may be charged with trafficking cocaine. You do not have to prepare, transport, conceal, possess and sell cocaine in order to be found guilty of this offence.

What Actions Might Constitute Trafficking In Cocaine?

Examples of trafficking cocaine include:

  • You weigh and divide cocaine powder into zip-lock bags with the intention of giving them to someone else to sell.
  • You know your friend sells cocaine and you are at his house when he receives a request from a buyer. He asks you to conceal the cocaine in the back seat of the car and come with him to meet up with the buyer.
  • You hang around 200m from the entrance of a music festival hoping to sell cocaine to festival goers as they arrive.

What the Prosecution Must Prove

To convict you of trafficking cocaine, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you trafficked in a substance; and
  • that substance was cocaine; and
  • that the quantity of cocaine is equal to, or greater than, the quantity you are charged with trafficking.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

These are indictable matters and will be dealt with in the ACT Supreme Court.

Manufacturing Cocaine

In the ACT it is an offence to manufacture cocaine. Conviction for this offence can result in a fine of up to 1000 penalty units and/or 10 years imprisonment.

The Offence of Manufacturing Cocaine

The offence of manufacturing cocaine is contained in Section 609 of the Code which states that a person commits an offence if they manufacture a controlled drug (which includes cocaine). The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of 1000 penalty units, imprisonment for 10 years or both.

What Is Manufacturing?

To understand why you may be charged with this offence, it is important to acknowledge the broad definition given to the act of manufacturing. The terms “manufacture” and “manufactures” are defined in Section 606 of the Code which states that:

A person “manufactures” a substance if the person:

  • engages in its manufacture; or
  • exercises control or direction over its manufacture; or
  • provides or arranges finance for its manufacture.

The “manufacture” of a substance is any process by which the substance is produced (other than the cultivation of a plant), and includes the process of:

  • extracting or refining it; or
  • transforming it into a different substance.

If you have been involved in any of the above you may be charged with manufacturing cocaine. It is not necessary for you to have been involved in the manufacture from start to finish, or to have been solely responsible for the manufacture in order to be found guilty.

What Actions Might Constitute Manufacturing Cocaine?

Examples of manufacturing cocaine include:

  • You arrange to have men pick the leaves from coca plants.
  • You direct the processing and purification of coca leaves.
  • You cut the cocaine powder with talcum powder, caffeine and amphetamines.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict you of manufacturing cocaine, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you manufactured a substance; and
  • that substance was cocaine.

However, if you:-

  • intended to sell any of it; or
  • believed that someone else intended to sell any of it; or
  • you manufactured a trafficable quantity (6 g or more) of cocaine

then you will likely be charged with Manufacturing Cocaine for Selling.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

This is an indictable matter and will be dealt with in the ACT Supreme Court.

Manufacturing Cocaine for Selling

In the ACT it is an offence to manufacture cocaine for selling. This includes manufacturing cocaine with the belief that someone else intends to sell it. You can be convicted of this offence even if you have only manufactured a small amount. The penalties for this offence range from a fine of 1500 penalty units and/or 15 years imprisonment for manufacturing even a small quantity of cocaine for selling, to life imprisonment for manufacturing a large commercial quantity of cocaine for selling.

The Offence of Manufacturing Cocaine for Selling

The offence of manufacturing cocaine for selling is contained in Section 607 of the Code which states that a person commits an offence if they manufacture cocaine:

  • with the intention of selling any of it; or
  • believing that someone else intends to sell any of it.

The penalty for this offence depends on the quantity manufactured and is detailed below.

Quantity of Cocaine Maximum Penalty
Less than a commercial quantity (less than 3kg) 1500 penalty units and/or 15 years imprisonment
Commercial quantity (3kg or more) 2500 penalty units and/or 25 years imprisonment
Large commercial quantity (6kg or more) Life imprisonment

These quantities are set out in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Code Regulation 2005.

What Is Manufacturing?

To understand why you may be charged with this offence, it is important to acknowledge the broad definition given to the act of manufacturing. The terms “manufacture” and “manufactures” are defined in Section 606 of the Code which states that a person “manufactures” a substance if the person:

  • engages in its manufacture; or
  • exercises control or direction over its manufacture; or
  • provides or arranges finance for its manufacture.

The “manufacture” of a substance is any process by which the substance is produced (other than the cultivation of a plant), and includes the process of:-

  • extracting or refining it; or
  • transforming it into a different substance.

If you have been involved in any of the above and you either:-

  • intended to sell any of it; or
  • believed that someone else intended to sell any of it.

then you may be charged with manufacturing cocaine for selling. It is not necessary for you to have been involved in the manufacture from start to finish or to have been solely responsible for the manufacture in order to be guilty of manufacturing cocaine for selling.

What Actions Might Constitute Manufacturing Cocaine for Selling?

Examples of manufacturing cocaine include:

  • You arrange to have men pick the leaves from coca plants.
  • You direct the processing and purification of coca leaves.
  • You cut the cocaine powder with talcum powder, caffeine and amphetamines.

Doing any of the above with the intention of selling any of it, or believing that someone else intends to sell any of it, will constitute manufacturing cocaine for selling. Manufacturing does not require you to have been involved from start to finish or to have been solely responsible for the manufacture in order to be found guilty of manufacturing cocaine for selling.

What the Prosecution Must Prove

To convict you of manufacturing cocaine for selling, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you manufactured a substance; and
  • that substance was cocaine; and
  • that you either:
    • Intended to sell any of the cocaine; or
    • Believed someone else intended to sell any of the cocaine; and
  • that the quantity of cocaine manufactured is equal to, or greater than, the quantity you are charged with manufacturing.

Although the prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you intended (or believed someone else intended) to sell the cocaine, it should be noted that there is a legal presumption that this was in fact the case if you manufactured a trafficable quantity (6g or more) of cocaine. This presumption is contained in Section 608 of the Code. What this means is that if you manufactured a trafficable quantity (6g or more) of cocaine, the onus is on you to rebut the presumption and show that it was not your intention to sell or have someone else sell the cocaine. This presumption exists because it is presumed that a trafficable quantity is too much to be merely for personal use, and therefore must be intended for sale.

Which Court Will Hear My Matter?

This is an indictable matter and will be dealt with in the ACT Supreme Court.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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