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Possession of Cannabis

Cannabis is more commonly known as marijuana. It is a common misconception that the possession of cannabis is legal in the Australian Capital Territory. In fact, it is illegal to possess marijuana in the ACT. The possession of a small amount for personal use, however, will usually be treated as a civil offence rather than a crime.

If possession is charged as a criminal offence, section 169 of the Drugs of Dependence Act provides that the offence can be punished by a maximum sentence of 2 years and/or a fine. In some cases, a court can choose not to record a conviction even if the accused is guilty of a possession offence. You should consult with a lawyer to find out whether alternatives to conviction might be available if you are charged with possession of cannabis.

Possession versus trafficking

The Criminal Code defines trafficking not just as selling a drug, but as possessing a drug with the intent to sell it. If you plan to sell cannabis to someone else, you can be charged with trafficking even if you have not sold any of the marijuana in your possession. Evidence of trafficking might include scales or baggies stored with the marijuana, or the testimony of someone who recently purchased marijuana from you.

A presumption of trafficking exists if you possess 300 grams or more of marijuana. That presumption can be overcome if you persuade the court that all of the marijuana was for your personal use. A daily user of marijuana might buy more than 300 grams at a time to get a price break or to avoid frequent trips to a dealer. If you are charged with trafficking cannabis but are only guilty of possession, you should talk to a lawyer about defences that are available in your case.

Cannabis offence notices

The police in the ACT have discretion to issue a cannabis offence notice to an accused who possesses for personal use:

  • 50 grams or less of cannabis, or
  • No more than 2 cannabis plants that were not grown in artificial light.

If the police issue a cannabis offence notice, the accused can deal with the offence by paying a fine. If the payment if made within 60 days, no criminal conviction will occur. Failing to pay the fine within 60 days may result in the commencement of criminal proceedings.

The police can still charge a criminal offence for possession of small amounts, particularly if they suspect that the cannabis was possessed with the intent to sell it. For instance, if the accused possesses ten small baggies that each contain 5 grams of cannabis, the police might conclude that the cannabis is packaged for sale. The accused could defend that charge by testifying that the cannabis was packaged that way when he or she bought it but that it was purchased for personal use. If you are charged with a criminal offence even though you possessed 50 grams or less of cannabis, you should talk to a lawyer.

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