Drugs and the law

Cannabis seziure

Penalties in the ACT

The severity of penalties for drug use or possession is ultimately at the discretion of the court. For serious offences a person can face fines of up to $250 000 and life imprisonment.

For information on drug related offences and their penalties refer to the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989,  the ACT Criminal Code 2002 and the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995.

New cannabis rules

From 31 January 2020, there are new rules around personal use of cannabis in the ACT. Some rules will change, and some will stay the same. Cannabis is not legal in the ACT, amendments have been made which exempt individuals from criminal liability in certain circumstances.   

What’s changing?

From 31 January 2020, under the ACT law if you’re aged over 18 and in the ACT, you can:

  • possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis or up to 150 grams of fresh cannabis
  • grow up to two cannabis plants at your home per person, with a maximum of four plants per household.

From 31 January 2020, it’s an offence under the ACT law to:

  • smoke or use cannabis in a public place
  • expose a child or young person to cannabis smoke
  • store cannabis where children can reach it
  • grow cannabis using hydroponics or artificial cultivation
  • grow cannabis plants where they can be accessed by the public.

Some rules are staying the same

From 31 January 2020, it’s still illegal:

  • to sell, share or give cannabis as a gift to another person
  • for people aged under 18 to grow, have, or use cannabis
  • to drive with any amount of cannabis in your system.

For more information on the ACT Government’s changes to its cannabis rules, including frequently asked questions visit the ACT Government website.

Possession of small amounts of cannabis and one or two plants remains an offence under the amended Drugs of Dependence Act, however the Act creates exceptions for certain groups of people. These offences remain simple cannabis offences under the Act. If a police officer reasonably believes that an individual has committed a simple cannabis offence, and is not an exempt person, they may issue a Simple Cannabis Offence Notice (SCON). Those under the age of 18 are not exempt people under the Act and may be issued a SCON or diverted to a drug and alcohol diversion program.


The ACT currently uses several legislative instruments for drug offences including the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 (DODA), the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT) and the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 2008 (ACT).

Under these legislative instruments there are offence provisions for a range of drugs including modern synthetic types. The ACT is always updating legislation to keep pace with changes in drug markets.

Commonwealth law is also applicable across Australia, including in the ACT, and all police officers are empowered to enforce these laws. Key Commonwealth legislation includes the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 and the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth). ACT Policing officers have the discretion to utilise ACT or Commonwealth laws and will use their discretion depending on the situation. As such, police can seize cannabis as evidence of a potential offence under the Commonwealth law and subsequently destroy it.


Essentially, ‘precursors’ are the raw chemical components of a controlled drug. Many precursors are present in products that are readily available off-the-shelf in pharmacies, supermarkets and hardware stores and are commonly extracted in backyard laboratories to manufacture controlled drugs, particularly amphetamine type stimulants.

The use of ’precursors’ and controlled drug manufacture has increased over recent years, and accordingly DODA includes a range of offences to deal with those who:

  • manufacture, sell or possess ‘controlled precursors’ to manufacture controlled drugs
  • manufacture controlled drugs
  • possess equipment for manufacture including pill presses.

Penalties relating to these types of offences range from $100 000 fines and/ or 10 years imprisonment up to life.

Child protection

A number of offences included in the legislation are for the protection of children. These include offences for procuring a child to traffic drugs, supplying drugs to a child for the child to sell, and smoking cannabis in the presence of children


It is also an offence to drive while under the influence of illicit drugs, including any amount of cannabis. Unlike alcohol, there is a zero tolerance for drugs in your system when driving. For more information, visit the drug driving webpage and the Justice and Community Safety website.

Information for businesses

Common household items sold in retail stores can be used in the manufacturing of illicit drugs. When purchased alone the items below do not represent illicit drug activity. However, frequent and large quantity purchases of one or more of the items below or similar items may be an indication of illicit drug manufacturing.

If you suspect a suspicious purchase has occurred in your store, try to:

  • keep a copy of the receipt as proof of the transaction
  • keep a copy of the credit card details, if used
  • make note of the time of purchase and physical description of the person
  • keep hold of CCTV footage of people behaving suspiciously
  • record a vehicle registration if safe to do so.

Report suspicious illicit drug activity to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via the online reporting form.


Visit the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission website for statistical overview of illicit drug arrests and seizures as well as profiling the current situation, national impact and the emerging trends and threats of illicit drugs in Australia.

ACT Policing Online News

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