Australia Cannabis Laws: New South Wales


Australian Cannabis Laws are basically a mixed bag. While the days of the heavy-handed drug war are mostly behind us, we all are still required to do the navigation of a society that condemns and punishes the use of cannabis in a huge number of ways. And since we are living in a coalition, we can’t even count on a bit of consistency for making it easy on our bud-soaked brains; each state is having its different laws that have the requirement of its own strategies for navigation.

It is absolutely about time that Australians are aware of what they were up against. If you are a resident stoner of Australia then this series will address the key legislation and policies you require to be aware of.

Penalty Units

If you have closely followed the ‘Cannabis Law Cheat Sheet’- or if you have spent any of your time in Tasmania or Victoria, then you might be familiar with the penalty unit system. If not then it is better to say those penalty units are a way for governments to do the measurement of the intensity of their fines. More units mean a bigger fine.

NSW penalty unit as of 2019 is equal to $110.


Possession and use of cannabis is a criminal offense in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and Queensland. It is said that it is not possible in these states that anyone who is caught with a small amount of marijuana will be considered convicted. Diversion programs are aimed at redirecting offenders into assessment, education, and treatment.

If you are caught with up to 15 grams of marijuana in New South Wales, up to two cautions might be issued at police discretion.

On the Spot Fines

Section 333 of the NSW Criminal Procedure Act (1986) facilitates police with the caution to issue penalty notices to those people who have committed a ‘penalty notice offense’. NSW Schedule 4 Criminal Procedure Regulation (2017) states that all the penalty notice offenses are inclusive of the possession of marijuana.

If you are caught possessing an illegal substance, then as of the end of January 2019, a police officer can now issue an on-the-spot fine of $400 or a penalty notice. However, most often penalty offenses are avoided by those who are found under possession due to the existence of the cannabis cautioning scheme.

The police are having the authority of issuing on-the-spot fines. It means that they are not having to, and any on-the-spot fine is instantly a decision that is left up to law enforcement. Taking this thing into consideration, when you are speaking to officers, what you say and how you say at that moment could make a huge difference.

If you are given a penalty notice it doesn’t mean that it will result in a criminal conviction against your name. You will not be held liable for attending the court in front of a Judge or Magistrate for facing the charge unless you have chosen not to pay the fine and the court has elected to dispute it.

In that situation, you will be given a date by the court, where you will be required to get appeared before a Local Court Magistrate, where you might either plead guilty or not guilty.

If you are found guilty after disputing it, then the Court may impose a penalty that is carried of a criminal conviction, unless you have got a conditional release order or Section 10 dismissal without conviction.

Courts & The Marijuana Discretion Scheme

The NSW Police since 2000 has operated marijuana cautioning scheme that facilitates police with an authority to let you off with caution on the condition that you are caught with a very small amount of marijuana.

You are eligible for receiving a caution only if you are caught possessing 15 grams or less amount of cannabis than that and you are not having any previous convictions for drug or violence or sexual assault-related offenses.

If you are caught with less than 15 grams of marijuana then you will not be issued a caution. Police will also not be required to give you a caution. It means that it is extremely crucial for you to be polite with police officers especially when you are caught with less than 15 grams of marijuana.

You can only be issued with caution twice. On the second time, you will be required to attend a mandatory Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS).

  • You are found possessing not more than 15 grams of marijuana; and
  • You were having drugs for your personal use; and
  • You have admitted that you were having it in your possession; and
  • You are not having any prior record for offenses which were inclusive of drugs, sexual assault, or violence; and
  • You have never been cautioned for the possession of drugs on more than 2 prior occasions.


If you are found possessing cannabis in NSW, then you will have to face imprisonment of up to 2 years, and/or you might be imposed a fine of up to $2,200 under section 21 of the Drug Misuse & Trafficking Act 1985.

A person who is accused of possessing cannabis in New South Wales can be found guilty of the charge only if the police was successful in proving each of the following elements to the charge under section 10(1) of the Drug Misuse & Trafficking Act 1985:

  • A substance was found with the person that is a prohibited drug under the law; and
  • The accused person was found with the substance or he had physical custody or control of that substance; and
  • The accused person was either aware that the substance was there or he was at least aware of the likelihood of the existence of the substance from where it was found.

Unless the prohibited drug or plants has been prescribed or supplied lawfully, it is absolutely an offense to possess it. You are required to keep this thing in your mind that cannabis is a drug that is prohibited in New South Wales, regardless of what is being said by anyone about it for being “decriminalized”.

It is a summary offense to possess the drug for your personal use. It means that it is dealt with by the court of children or local court. The maximum penalty for possessing cannabis in New South Wales is $2,200 or 20 penalty units, and/or imprisonment for 2 years. The fines for the possession of cannabis in practice usually range from $110-550 which averages around $220.

If you are caught with an illicit quantity of marijuana approximately about 1000 grams, then you will be supposed to possess the marijuana for the purpose of supplying. It means that ultimately you will have to face much higher penalties unless you are eligible in proving that the drugs were for your own personal use that might be hard for you to do so. You must be careful in that situation!

Supplying & Trafficking

New South Wales makes use of a mixed weight system for doing the calculation of threshold quantities for trafficking. The police and prosecutors of NSW take the whole weight of the seized drug sample (e.g. joints, points, caps, tablets, pills, mixtures, or preparations) to be the total quantity of the prohibited drug when they are charging you.

The supply of a large commercial quantity in New South Wales of marijuana has a maximum penalty of $5,50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years. Smaller, yet still illegal quantities of marijuana lead to a maximum fine between $2,20,000-$3,85,000 and/or imprisonment of 10-15 years. You are required to keep this thing in your mind that these are the maximum sentences.