There is an array of drug offences in Victoria, ranging from the very minor drug possession and cultivation charges to the much more serious commercial and large commercial quantity drug trafficking, as well as the Commonwealth charges of drug importation. The nature of the charge will necessarily depend on the amount of drugs located or alleged and the circumstances of the alleged offending. Accordingly, getting the best possible legal advice as early as possible in the proceedings is essential to ensuring that you get the very best outcome.

In Victoria, most drug charges are contained in the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 and, mainly, between sections 70 and 80 of the actThis act contains all of the state-based drug offending, including:

  • Possession of drugs of dependence (s71A);
  • Trafficking drugs of dependence (s71AC);
  • Trafficking commercial quantities of drugs of dependence (s71AA); and
  • Trafficking large commercial quantities of drugs of dependence(s71).

In addition, the act contains charges arising from being in possession of items used to create ingest drugs of dependence, such as cocaine kits, ice pipes, cannabis water pipes and pre-cursor chemicals.

Penalties in the Magistrates Court & Drug Court

The penalty that can be imposed for drug charges depends, firstly, on which court the matter is resolved in. For relatively low level drug possession and trafficking charges, the Magistrates’ Court is usually the appropriate jurisdiction. People who plead guilty or are found guilty of drug offences in the Magistrates’ Court are usually sentenced to a fine or an order to be of good behaviour (an adjourned undertaking). Where the person has issues with drug abuse, and the offending is on the more serious end of the spectrum, they may be sentenced to a community corrections order, which will incorporate drug and alcohol treatment into the order. Alternatively, if the person has a chronic drug problem, they may be admitted into the Drug Court, which is a specialized treatment Court designed to assist people who commit drug offences in circumstances where they have a drug abuse problem. Ultimately, for any offence, the Magistrates’ Court has a sentencing limit of 5 years’ imprisonment for multiple offences and 2 years’ imprisonment for a single offence. However, imprisonment is only to be imposed where there is no other sentencing alternative, such as in cases where the individual has a significant prior criminal history.

For more serious drug offences, the proper jurisdiction for sentencing is the County Court of Victoria. This is because serious drug offences, such as trafficking a large commercial or commercial quantity have a higher maximum penalty and cannot be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court (dealt with summarily). In the County Court, imprisonment is a much more likely sentencing disposition because the offences that come before that Court are inherently more serious and often combined with offences, for example relating to money laundering or firearms. The maximum sentence that can be imposed in the County Court of Victoria is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court

Recently, the County Court instigated a pilot program to trial Drug Court in the County Court jurisdiction. Previously, only lower-level matters that proceeded through the Magistrates’ Court were eligible for Drug Court. The Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court now operates in Melbourne and provides an avenue for drug addicted people, who commit offences as a result of their addiction, to avoid imprisonment by being placed on a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (a DATO). Being placed on a DATO requires intensive treatment and supervision. Breaches of the Order result in terms of imprisonment. Continued compliance with the DATO is rewarded and the Court, presided over by specialist Judges, plays a supervisory role and encourages DATO recipients to complete their Order and maintain abstinence and sobriety.

However, if you are ineligible for a DATO and you plead guilty (or are found guilty) of serious drug offences, you can expect to receive a term of imprisonment. How long you will have to serve depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The amount of drugs alleged;
  • The value of the drugs;
  • Whether you have any prior criminal convictions;
  • Your age;
  • Your background;
  • The motivation for the offending (ie, was it need or greed?);
  • Whether you have any psychological or medical issues; and
  • What the case law reveals about the kind of sentences imposed in other matters for similar offending.

The Court will look at all of these factors and formulate a sentence which is, in the Court’s view, within range for the offending. If the Defence or Crown think that the sentence is outside of the range of sentences available for the offending, they can appeal to the County Court or Court of Appeal, depending on the Court where the sentence was imposed.

How Our Drug Offence Lawyers Can Help

When charged with drug offending, it is essential that you get the best advice and representation from the very beginning, so as to avoid having to appeal a sentence or conviction down the track. Contact our office to discuss your charges and get the best advice from our leading drug offence lawyers. Our drug possession lawyers are professional and experienced, and are dedicated to representing client interests, whilst showing them compassion and understanding.