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Drug Reform in Australia

For more than five decades, the “war on drugs” has sought to fine, arrest and incarcerate Australia out of drug use. As the failures of this policy have become well-documented, more people are speaking out about the need for drug law reform and the need to reshape the way we view drug use in this country.


What’s Really So Broken About It? 

Some of the most significant harms to society from using illicit drugs are because they are illegal.

Illegal drug production is unregulated and is governed and owned by the black market, profited by various organised crime structures. Users can't be sure how potent it is, so the risk of adverse reactions are high. While prohibition keeps the money flowing into the black market, an independent costing of the drug policy submitted by The Greens showed that a tobacco-style 25% excise on each legal cannabis sale with a 10% GST on top, would net Australia roughly $3.5 billion a year in tax revenue. 


Police and illicit drugs


In addition to an unregulated and dangerous product, a large proportion of the work of the justice system (police, courts and prisons) is occupied with drug-related offences. Tens of thousands of people have a criminal record for possessing a small quantity intended for personal use, which can have a devastating effect on a range of aspects in their lives. What's also not discussed is the fact that around 65% of drug arrests in Australia are cannabis-related! This statistic shows the enormous and unnecessary strain that cannabis arrests have on our police and judicial system. Time and money that could be allocated and focused on other areas of concern within our society. Of the more than 2 million Australians who use cannabis every year, there are more than 80,000 cannabis-related arrests. This figure includes 90% of those who are low quantity consumers while 10% who are providers.

To make matters a little murkier, each state in Australia has its own slightly different drug laws around cannabis, something that we go into a little later!


The Different Types of Drug Policy


Drug Policy


There are several different legal frameworks and options for drug policy that can be implemented and are seen throughout the world. 

  • Full prohibition: The use, possession and supply of drugs are criminal offences and will result in a criminal record and sometimes a stint in prison.
  • Depenalisation: drug use and possession are still criminal offences but with much lighter penalties (referral for assessment, education and/or treatment); The supply of drugs remains a criminal offence.
  • Decriminalisation: Remove criminal penalties for drug use or possession. Illicit drugs remain illegal, but criminal penalties are replaced with civil penalties (such as fines). Those who use or possess drugs can still be charged, especially if they do not comply with paying the imposed fines or attending the assessment. The supply of drugs remains a criminal offence.
  • Legalisation: use of a drug is legal as is the supply. This can be seen in recreational cannabis markets in the U.S and Canada where the buying and selling of cannabis are entirely legal given you are over the legal age to do so. Same concept as purchasing alcohol and cigarettes.

Where Does Australia Fall with All This? 


So where does Australia stand in the drug reform?


Like a lot of this, it's not straight forward, and different states have different laws! Below is a snapshot, of the legal status of cannabis throughout the various Australian states and territories, but for a deeper-dive make sure to check out our other blog on this topic.


South Australia  

  • Cannabis is decriminalised here to a certain degree.
  • A household is allowed the cultivation of up to 5 plants.
  • Maximum penalty of $2,000 or 2 years imprisonment (or both).

Northern Territory

  • A household is permitted up to 50g of cannabis, 1g of oil, 10g of hash or 2 non-hydroponic plants.
  • Maximum 7yrs jail time if found in possession of between 50g-500g.


  • Nothing is legal. Sorry guys.
  • Possession of cannabis under 50g (if not committing any other crime simultaneously) will be offered to attend a drug diversion program.

New South Wales

  • Again - nothing. You will be given up to 2 'cautions' for carrying up to 15g of dry cannabis.
  • Drug diversion programs are encouraged to reduce the number of people caught up in the court system for small possession charges. Sydney is known for searching passengers on the train system and having sniffer dogs at entry and exit points.


  • Legal for possession up to 50g of dry material, 150g wet material, individuals are allowed the cultivation of 2 plants - up to 4 plants per household as of 31 Jan 2020.
  • For serious offences, a person could be fined up to $250,000 and/or face up to a lifetime prison sentence.


  • What's legal? Not a lot.
  • Possession of up to 5g of cannabis results in a max 2yrs jail time.
  • Possession of over 25g resin or 1kg of plant material has a max of 21yrs in jail. Yikes!


  • You get one guess… Even the land of Melbourne’s trendy hipsters doesn’t have cool laws for cannabis just yet.
  • Like NSW, Victoria adopts the caution and education avenue, which allows the court system to stay free of small scale possession convictions. But if you become a repeat offender, then fines could be on the cards, but there is no jail time for possession charges.
  • Getting caught growing to supply could land you with the maximum of a life sentence in Victoria.

Western Australia 

  • Nice try, nothing. 
  • Possession of 10g or less could potentially constitute a Cannabis Intervention Requirement notice (another initiative to keep low-level 'offenders' out of the court system). These are only given to first-time offenders and is at the discretion of the arresting officer.
  • Possession of up to 100g of cannabis will incur a fine of $2000 or 2yrs in jail (or both).

Who is Leading the Charge in Australia? 

There are more and more organisations forming around the need to change the drug policy in Australia. From The Greens to smaller NGO's, below is a list of organisations where you can continue to read up on the topic!