As with other offences, drug offences in Queensland range in seriousness from the relatively minor through to the most serious and large scale trafficking or importation charges. These more serious offences are heard in the superior courts (District or Supreme) and can attract up to life imprisonment.
The main drug offences are:
To be found to have possession of a dangerous drug, it must be proved that a person both knew of the existence of the drug and its presence was within their physical control.
It is not an excuse that a person doesn’t technically own the drug. Possession offences also extend to possessing hypodermic syringes or needles, and items suspected of being used in the commission of a dangerous drugs offence; for example, kitchen scales with drug residue on them or a glass pipe.
If a person gives, distributes, sells, administers, transports or supplies drugs to another person, they may be found guilty of this offence.
This extends to preparing to do any of these things, or offering to do them. Penalties for this offence increase in certain circumstances, such as if drugs are supplied to a child or within a correctional facility.
Producing includes making, growing and harvesting dangerous drugs.
There are various factors a court will consider when assessing the seriousness of the charge including, the size of the production or plantation, if the production was for commercial benefit as opposed to personal use and sophistication of the project.
Trafficking is the commercial supply of a dangerous drug.
It is more serious than supplying dangerous drugs as it involves a higher level of commerciality and business sophistication. For example, a person who is trafficking may employ others who will supply dangerous drugs to customers.
Determinants of penalties for this offence are usually type, quantity and value of the drugs involved, and the sophistication and profit of the venture.
Importation of dangerous drugs is a Commonwealth offence. This offence usually involves more than one person. It involves not only bringing a substance into Australia, but also encompasses anyone who deals with a substance in connection with its importation.
Heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, and ecstasy are classified as Schedule 1 drugs, as are most steroids. Other drugs such as cannabis, steroids, and pharmaceutical drugs such as morphine or antidepressants/antipsychotics are classified as Schedule 2 or 5 drugs.
The type of offence a person has been charged with, the type of drugs involved, and the quantity of the drugs, all have a bearing on what court a drug charge can be heard in and what the applicable penalty will be.
Whether the quantity is above or below a specified amount determines whether the charge can be heard in the Magistrates Court (which is generally preferable), or whether the charge(s) must be heard in the District or Supreme Court.
As with most criminal cases, early engagement of specialist legal representation is vital.
This is particularly so in drug cases where the possibility of a successful defence can be damaged by an accused person being unaware of the danger of making admissions in records of interviews with the police, or being recorded over the telephone by prosecuting authorities.
It is particularly relevant for this category of offences because of the operation of the various proceeds of crime laws.