Drug Offences & Penalties in Queensland
In Queensland, there are many criminal offences related to illegal drugs. Whilst the offences themselves may appear obvious, such as possessing, producing, supplying or trafficking in dangerous drugs, the law about what actually constitutes such activity can often be very unclear. It is sometimes therefore common for people to commit particular drug offences without even being aware of it.
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Imagine the following scenario. John holds a party at his house and many of John’s friends are drug users. During the party some of John’s friends inject some heroin. John isn’t a heroin user, but instead smokes cannabis. While sitting around with his friends, John shares with them some cannabis that he purchased earlier in the day; as they are his friends, he happily shares the cannabis without taking any payment from them.
The following day, the police arrive at John’s house with a search warrant. During the search, they locate an ecstasy tablet underneath the couch that John didn’t know about and the bag that earlier contained his cannabis. The bag appeared to be empty, however, upon further scientific testing, the bag is found to contain traces of cannabis.
John agrees to participate in an interview with the police. During the interview, he admits to letting his friends inject heroin at his house, giving his friends cannabis and owning the bag with traces of cannabis, but denies knowledge of the ecstasy tablet.
John is then charged by the police with several offences.
Have any offences been committed?
Firstly, John is charged with ‘permitting use of place for a drug crime’. In Queensland it is an offence for any person who is the occupier of a place to allow another person to commit a drug offence, including consuming drugs. Even though John didn’t use any of the heroin, because he allowed his friends to use heroin in his house, he would likely be convicted of this offence.
Secondly, John is charged with ‘supplying a dangerous drug’. In Queensland, it is an offence to give, distribute, sell, administer, transport or supply a dangerous drug. Therefore, it is an offence to give another person drugs even if it was in private, was among friends and was without payment. This is to be distinguished from the more serious offence of ‘trafficking’ in a dangerous drug, which will be discussed later. Therefore, John would likely be convicted of this offence.
Thirdly, John is charged with possessing the ecstasy tablet that was located underneath his couch. In Queensland, if drugs are located in a person’s house, car, or other place of which they are the occupier, then they are ‘deemed’ to be in possession of the drug unless they can prove otherwise. In other words, the police don’t need to prove that they knew about the drug; the person must prove that they didn’t know about the drug.
Possession has two elements: firstly, it must be shown that the person charged had ‘knowledge’ of the drug, which means that they must have known of its existence, and secondly, it must be shown that they had ‘control’ of the drug, which means that they must be able to exercise a claim of right over the drug. In John’s situation, he has been charged as he was the occupier of the house and it would therefore fall to him to prove that he didn’t know about the drug. As the ecstasy tablet was located underneath the couch, being an area that was probably out of sight, it is likely that he would be able to argue that he didn’t have knowledge of the drug. In that case, he would likely be able to successfully defend the charge.
Finally, John is charged with possessing cannabis that was located in the plastic bag. The law states that the drug must be visible to the naked eye before a person can be convicted. If the drug can only be detected by scientific testing, but not be able to be seen with the eye, then the charge could not stand. In John’s case, as the cannabis could not be seen, he would likely be able to successfully defend the charge.
The above scenario highlights how the law relating to drugs can often be very unclear, and as a result, people can be engaging in unlawful drug activity without even realising it.
Importation and trafficking in dangerous drugs
The most serious drug offences are importation and trafficking of dangerous drugs. Each of these offences carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
Importation of dangerous drugs
It is an offence in Queensland, and in every other state in Australia, to import dangerous drugs from another country. Great care must therefore be taken with your luggage and personal belongings when returning to Australia from overseas.
It is extremely unwise to agree to carry anything into the country unless you are absolutely certain of what it is that you are being asked to carry. The law recognises that often people will be asked to carry goods on behalf of other people. That is why a person is asked on their incoming passenger cards and by Customs officers if everything that they are carrying belongs to them. If they agree that they are aware of everything they are carrying and that everything belongs to them, and unlawful items are then found in their luggage, it would be extremely difficult for them to later prove that they didn’t know about the unlawful item.
Trafficking of dangerous drugs
Trafficking in a dangerous drugs means to ‘carry on the business’ of unlawfully dealing in drugs. There is no clear definition of what it means to ‘carry on a business’, but factors which are considered are whether or not cash is exchanged, the frequency of exchanges and the period of time over which the drug activity takes place. This charge is to be distinguished from the lesser charge of ‘supplying’ as discussed earlier, which is a distinct and isolated giving of drugs, whether for money or not.
On large scale trafficking operations, police will often employ a number of different methods of investigating a person. The police will often obtain telephone intercepts to monitor all calls or text messages to and from a particular phone number, engage a forensic accountant to pour through a person’s financial records, and more conventional methods such as physical surveillance of a person or ‘stop and search’ of suspects.
All information contained within this article should be considered as general advice only. If you require further information please contact Cridland & Hua Lawyers.