Possession of a dangerous drug is an offence. The penalty for this offence depends on the type of drug, and the quantity of that drug. The most common type of drug offence is possession of a small amount of marijuana. People convicted of this offence are usually, but not always, fined. At the other end of the scale, the maximum penalty for possessing a drug like heroin is 25 years imprisonment. However, it would be a very exceptional situation where a person would receive the maximum penalty.
The concept of possession is central to the offence, and a number of other offences contained in the Drugs Misuse Act. For a person to be in possession of a drug, they generally have to be aware of its existence, and be exercising control over it. The person must also know that the substance is a drug, or have reason to suspect that it is a drug.
A person does not have to own the drug to be in possession of it, nor do they have to intend to consume it. For example, a person who is minding a bag of marijuana for a friend, and who has the bag for only a few seconds, is still in possession of the marijuana. Similarly, a person who finds a bag of marijuana on the ground, and places it in their pocket, is in possession of the marijuana. However, in this last example, if the person could prove that they were on their way to a police station to hand in the marijuana, this would be a defence to a charge of possession of marijuana. Similarly, if the person could prove that they did not know that the contents of the bag were drugs, and had no reason to believe so, then they would succeed in defending the charge.
If a drug is found in a place where a person is an occupier, then that drug is deemed to be in that person’s possession unless they can show that they neither knew, nor had reason to suspect that the drug was in that place. For example, if a drug is found in a person’s house or car, then that person can be convicted of the offence of possession of a dangerous drug unless they can show that they did not know about the drug.
Persons charged with possession of small amounts of drugs usually must have their matters dealt with in the Magistrates Court. A person convicted for the first time for an offence of possession of a dangerous drug usually will not suffer the recording of a conviction against their name. However, it is most likely that a person convicted of a second offence will have a conviction recorded. Any person who is in this position should not contemplate self-representation if the maintenance of a conviction-free record is critical.
Possession of a small amount of marijuana is the most common charge that comes before courts. Usually these charges result in fines of between $300.00 and $1,000.00, unless the person has a significant criminal history.
After a person is convicted of drug offences, such as possession of dangerous drugs, the court orders that the drugs are forfeited to the Crown, to be destroyed by police.