Is it illegal to possess drugs for personal use?

By Jaimee-Lee Jessop, Criminal Lawyer

What is the meaning of possession?

In Queensland, it is illegal to possess dangerous drugs even in small quantities and for your own personal use. There are strict laws surrounding drug offences and it is important to understand how the law operates due to the broad definition of possession. Unfortunately, possessing an illegal drug is not always associated with owning it.

You do not have to be the owner of the drug but simply in possession of it to commit a criminal offence. For example, two friends attended a festival. One friend agreed to mind a bag of ecstasy pills for a few minutes. That conduct would be deemed to be in possession of dangerous drugs and subsequently be committing a criminal offence. The same would apply in circumstances where you were the occupier of a house and an illegal drug was found. If a person merely has knowledge of the drug in a house, it is enough to be charged by police.

Remember that you can still be charged with possession of a dangerous drug even if you did not buy the drug/s, use them or they belonged to someone else.

What is personal use?

In Queensland, possessing dangerous drugs for personal use means that the drugs were to be used by the owner and were not intended to be supplied or trafficked. The use of illegal drugs for a recreational and/or personal use will still constitute a criminal offence and does not amount to a defence.

Generally, the quantity of the drug that is found in your possession will determine whether the prosecution constitute your possession as being for a personal use or commercial purpose. If you are charged with possessing a small amount of drugs, your matter will be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. If you are charged with a larger quantity of drugs, the prosecution may allege that you had a commercial purpose (i.e. intended to make a profit from the drugs) and your matter will be dealt with in the District or Supreme Court.

Medicinal Cannabis

There can be genuine grounds for possessing cannabis for medical reasons. The Queensland government controls treatment with cannabis to ensure that procedures and processes are conducted lawfully. Medicinal cannabis is currently very limited and only provided in strict circumstances.

Medicinal cannabis is only legal in Queensland if it has been prescribed by a doctor with the necessary government approvals. If the cannabis is not being held in your possession for personal use lawfully, it will constitute a criminal offence.

Will I receive a recorded conviction?

In general, the courts have a discretion about whether to record a conviction for a first-time minor drug possession offence.  This is because a drug conviction may have a significant impact in your life, including for employment, travel, insurance and other areas.

If you have been previously convicted of a drug or other offence, then the risk of a recorded conviction is higher.

In certain circumstances, you may be required to disclose that you were charged with and/or convicted of a drugs offence even if no conviction was recorded.  We strongly recommend that you seek legal advice about whether you fall into this category.

Will I go to jail?

The penalties for drug possession offences will vary depending on the type of drug, the nature of any previous conviction/s, when they occurred, and the quantity of drugs involved. You are at risk of receiving a higher penalty than a first-time minor drug possession offence if you are repeat offender. We strongly recommend seeking legal advice if this is not your first offence.

Do I need a criminal lawyer for a drug charge?

In our experience, people often achieve a better outcome when they are legally represented (or have at least obtained legal advice).

There are some situations where getting the best outcome may be particularly important.

People are often surprised to learn that a drugs conviction can affect their career prospects.  If you work for the government or are in a professional occupation, you may be required to disclose a conviction to your employer or other professional bodies. If that may apply to you, getting early legal advice is crucial.

We also strongly recommend that you seek legal advice if you are a repeat offender or if you need extra support or referrals to other experts in relation to your drug use. Early intervention and legal advice can hugely affect the outcome.

Going to court can be an extremely stressful experience, especially if you have never been in trouble with the law before.  Having an experienced advocate by your side can provide reassurance and peace of mind.  It is ultimately a personal decision whether to obtain legal representation.