Northern Territory

Which drugs are illegal?

In the Northern Territory illegal drugs are called dangerous drugs. Illegal plants are called prohibited plants.

The definition of “dangerous drugs” extends to include substances which are chemical analogues of, or chemically related to, listed dangerous drugs.

This may mean that new synthetic type drugs which are chemically derived from, or related to, a dangerous drug will also be illegal even if it is not
specifically listed in the schedules.

Dangerous Drugs Prohibited Plants
  • Heroin
  • Cannabis
  • THC cannibinols
  • Cathinone (Mephedrone, MCAT, meow)
  • PCE
  • PCP
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy/MDMA
  • GHB
  • Meth-amphetamine (ice/speed)
  • Mescaline
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Ketamine
  • Amphetamine
  • Dexamphetamine
  • Buprenorphine
  • Cocaine
  • This list is not the full list of all dangerous drugs. The full list is set out in schedules 1 and 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act under the heading ‘Column 1 Dangerous drugs’.
  • Any plant from which a dangerous drug can be derived or extracted.
  • Cannabis
  • Opium poppies
  • This list is not the full list of all prohibited plants. The full list is set out in schedules 2 & 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act under the heading ‘Column 1 Dangerous drugs and prohibited plants’.

General information

Knowledge of the particular drug

For offences involving dangerous drugs or prohibited plants in the NT the police generally have to prove that you knew or should have known that the drugs or plants were dangerous drugs or prohibited plants.

They don’t need to prove you knew which particular drug or plant you had in your possession. This means, for example that you can be charged with trafficking in speed, even if you thought you only had a legal synthetic substance.

If you hold out or pass off a substance or plant as a dangerous drug or prohibited plant, for the purpose of supply, you can still face the same penalties as if it were a dangerous drug. This means, for example that you can be charged with suppling cocaine, even if you are trying to rip someone off by suppling icing sugar.

Mixtures of drugs and trafficking

A mixture of substances which contains an amount of a dangerous drug will be regarded as a dangerous drug. This means that if you sell cocaine cut up with washing powder you can still be charged.

Rules for determining total quantities of different drugs or mixtures of drugs for the purpose of determining which offence you will be charged with, which Court your case will be heard in, and what penalty you face on conviction, are very complicated.

The NT uses a mixed weight system of calculating threshold quantities for trafficking. NT police and prosecutors take the total weight of the seized drug sample (e.g., pills, tablets, caps, points, joints, mixtures, or preparations) to be the total quantity of the dangerous drug when charging you.

The purity of the drugs is not relevant when determining what quantity of drug you possess and therefore what charge you face in court (e.g., possession for personal use or trafficking).

This means that it doesn’t matter how pure your drugs or drug mixtures are. The prosecution only has to show that the weight of the pills, tablets, caps, points, joints, or other mixture is greater than the trafficable quantity for you to be charged with trafficking.

Does the harm of the drug matter?

No. The perceived harm potential of a drug is NOT relevant to determining which offence you will be charged with (or the quantity you were alleged to traffic). A court might take your motives and aggravating circumstances (see ‘Aggravating circumstances’ section below) into account when sentencing you for an offence, but certain dangerous drugs should not be treated as more or less harmful than others.

For example, if you possess 5g of heroin, and your friend possesses 5g of cocaine in the same circumstances, you should both be subject to the same charge of trafficking and receive a similar penalty. You should not be punished more severely for possessing drugs like heroin or ice, which are considered to be ‘really harmful’, ‘more evil’ or ‘harder drugs’ than for ‘party drugs’ like cocaine or ecstasy.

You should not be punished more severely for some drugs than for others based only on a ‘scale’ of the perceived harm of different drugs.

General charges for being involved in a drug offence

Generally, if you help or assist someone else to plan or carry out a drug offence, you are also committing an offence by being involved. You can be charged with:

  • taking part in an offence if you are involved in the offence, even if you don’t make any profit from the offence (e.g., you pack or transport or manufacture or cultivate an illegal drug or plant; or provide finance or direction for the offence);
  • being an accessory to an offence if you are involved in the offence without directly handling or dealing with the drugs (e.g., by being security or a guard or look out for a drug deal);
  • aiding and abetting or inciting an offence if you encourage or induce or provide incentives for a person to commit a drug offence (e.g., you tell someone they can use your shed to grow cannabis in); or
  • conspiracy to commit, or attempting to commit an offence if you intend to, or plan, or make preparations, or try to commit an offence.

Generally police will not charge you with additional charges such as being an accessory to supply if you are a user and arrange to score off a dealer. However you can still be charged with possession or trafficking depending on how much you buy and where you buy it.

In the NT if you are charged with an offence that has a maximum penalty of more than 7 years, you will almost certainly be sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment unless you are less than 21 years old or are considered to be a drug dependent person.

However, if you are charged with an offence, which has a maximum penalty of less than 14 years, the prosecution may choose to try you summarily in a local court. This means that the maximum penalty is reduced to $12,240 or imprisonment for 2 years.
In the Northern Territory cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP and LSD are treated much more seriously than other dangerous drugs and the penalties for supply, trafficking and manufacture of these drugs are significantly higher.

Possession

It is an offence to possess a ‘dangerous drug’ unless a doctor or other medical practitioner has lawfully prescribed that drug to you.

Proving possession

There are three elements relevant to proving possession: knowledge, custody and control:

  • Knowledge means that you must know that the substance is a drug and that it is in your custody;
  • Custody usually means having the drugs in your physical possession (for example, in your pocket or wallet or under you pillow). However, custody can also extend to include such places as your house or car;
  • Control means that you have the right to do something with the drugs (for example, keep or use them).

Knowledge

Knowledge that a drug is in your possession can be inferred from the circumstances. That is, if you have a drug in your pocket or in your room, the Court will infer you knew what it was.

Knowledge can be based on personal observation or information from another person. In other circumstances it does not have to be firm or absolutely certain. In some cases, awareness that something is highly likely to be a drug, or proof that there was a real and significant chance that a substance was a drug is enough to demonstrate knowledge.

There will be circumstances where, if you don’t admit to owning the drugs or knowing about them, possession will be difficult to prove to the court as required by the law.

Do not admit to possessing drugs without speaking to a lawyer!

Custody and deemed possession

Despite the general requirements of knowledge, custody and control, NT law deems that drugs are in your possession if they are found in premises, which you occupied as a tenant, or you owned or managed, unless you can prove you didn’t know about the drugs and had no reason to suspect that drugs might be located in your premises. Effectively, this law creates a presumption that you had possession of any drugs found in your house or business. This reverses the burden of proof and puts it on you, to prove your innocence, which may be very hard to do.

Custody and joint possession

Generally if you live in a shared house and get caught with drugs in a common area like the kitchen or lounge room, it may be difficult for police to establish exactly who owned had custody or control of the drugs, unless people make admissions.

The police must prove more than the facts that you knew drugs were there and that you didn’t report the drugs or object to them being there. Therefore if you share a house and police find drugs in non-private parts of the house (say, the kitchen, lounge room or bathroom), it can be difficult to establish who has the sole custody or control of the drugs.

However it is not impossible for police to prove that possession was jointly held. Possession can be shared between people if there was agreement between them, (for example, say you and your flatmates have a stash that you all have access to). Shared, or joint, possession is generally hard to prove if no one admits to owning the drugs.

Possession without physical custody.

In some circumstances it may be possible to find you in possession of a drug even if it was not physically in your custody. For example if you know you have a package of drugs waiting for you in the post office which only you can pick up that will be enough to establish possession because you are the only person who can obtain the drugs.

If you have drugs in a bag or coat pocket which you check into a cloak room outside a club, you can still be found to be in possession, because you would be the only person with knowledge of the drug and the ability to control it when you retrieved your bag or coat. A conviction in these circumstances is possible, but it would be difficult for the prosecution to rule out the possibility that someone else had planted drugs there.

Similarly, if police find drugs under the tarp in your ute tray, or locked in the boot of your car, but you don’t have the keys with you at that time, police may not be able to show that you had custody and control.

You can be charged with possession if you hid a drug somewhere and forgot about it. The police do not have to prove you knew exactly where the drugs were for them to be found in your possession.

If you are proved to have hidden or concealed a drug so well that no one else could find it and exercise control over it that will be enough to show you had knowledge, custody and control, even though you weren’t in physical possession when the drugs were found.

Control

Control may be proved if there is evidence that a person had done or intended to do something with a drug. If someone leaves drugs on your balcony or in your car and police see you throwing the drugs away this might be enough evidence that you exercised control over the drugs.

However, if someone leaves drugs in your house after a party and you know they are there but police cannot prove that you ever did anything or intended to do anything with the drugs, except throw them out, possession might not be proved.

Temporary possession

Possession can be found even if it is momentary or temporary. If you get passed a joint from someone you can be found to be in possession of the joint.

If you are looking after drugs for someone else, you can still be found guilty of possession, because the drugs are in your custody and control. However, if you can prove that the possession was temporary and that you intended to return the drugs to their actual owner, you might not be convicted of possession. This is known as the ‘Carey defence’.

Penalties

Possession of a drug (for your own personal use) is an offence. Penalties in the Northern Territory depend on the amount and type of drug possessed and where you are found in possession. See below for tables setting out quantities and their associated different maximum penalties.

Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD

Possession of a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Possession of a trafficable quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty:

  • if possessed in a public place: 14 years imprisonment.
  • if possessed in a private place: 7 years imprisonment.

Possession of a quantity less than the trafficable quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty:

  • If possessed in a public place: $12,240 or 5 years imprisonment.
  • if possessed in a private place: $5,760 or 2 years imprisonment.
Possession Less than the trafficable quantity (grams) Trafficable quantity (grams) Commercial quantity (grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum Penalty:Public: $12240 or 5 yearsPrivate: $5,760 or 2 years Maximum Penalty:Public: 14 yearsPrivate: 7 years Maximum Penalty:25 years imprisonment
Heroin < 2g 2g 40g
Cocaine < 2g 2g 40g
Meth-amphetamine/ice < 2g 2g 40g
PCP < 2g 2g 40g
LSD < 0.002g 0.002g 0.1g

Other dangerous drugs (not cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD)

Possession of a commercial quantity of any other dangerous drug:

Maximum penalty: 14 years imprisonment.

Possession of a trafficable quantity of any other dangerous drug:

Maximum penalty: $12,240 or 5 years imprisonment.

Possession of a quantity less than the trafficable quantity of any other dangerous drug:

Maximum penalty:

  • if possessed in a public place: $5,760 or 2 years imprisonment.
  • if possessed in a private place: $ 2,448.
Possession Less than the Trafficable quantity(grams) Trafficable quantity(grams) Commercial quantity(grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum PenaltyPublic: $5,760 or 2 yearsPrivate: $2448 Maximum PenaltyPublic: 14 yearsPrivate: 7 years Maximum Penalty:14 years imprisonment
Amphetamine < 2g 2g 100g
Cannabis < 50g 50g 500g
Cannabis Plants < 5 5 20
Methadone < 2g 2g 100g
MDMA < 0.5g 0.5g 25g
DMT < 2g 2g 100g
Dexamphetamine (Dexies) < 2g 2g 100g
Bufotenine < 2g 2g 100g
2CB < 0.5g 0.5g 25g
Ketamine < 0.002g 0.002g 0.1g
Morphine < 2g 2g 100g
Opium < 20g 20g 100g
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms) < 0.10g 0.10g 5g
GHB < 2g 2g 100g
Cathinone (Mcat, Meow) < 2g 2g 100g
NBomes < 0.5 g 0.5 g 25g

It is also an offence, if you are authorised to use, have, manufacture, supply, produce or import a dangerous drug, to fail to comply with any conditions which accompany the authorisation.

For example if you have possession of a dangerous drug that has been lawfully prescribed to you (such as methadone or dexamphetamine) but you take it in a way which is not authorised – by injecting methadone or stockpiling doses or using the drug recreationally you are committing an offence.

Maximum penalty:

  • for an individual – $ 28,800 or 2 years imprisonment.
  • for a company or business – $144,000.

Use and administration

It is illegal to self-administer (use) a dangerous drug or to permit another person to use without lawful authority. It is illegal to inject another person even if they have asked you to or given you consent.

Maximum penalty: $5,760 or 2 years imprisonment.

Charges of self-administration are difficult to prove without someone making an admission combined with some other evidence (for example, evidence of prior drug use or knowledge about drugs) Sometimes the police don’t bother to charge people with self administration, even if an admission has been made. However, you should be careful of what you say to the police.

If, for example, you meet police on your way home after smoking a joint in the park and they ask you if you have been smoking – don’t admit to it. This would give police the reasonable suspicion that you are in possession they need to search you. If they find some cannabis on you that might give them grounds to get a warrant to search your house. Admitting that you have used drugs recently can quickly lead to more serious drug charges.

Do not admit to possessing drugs without speaking to a lawyer!

It is an offence, even if you have a lawful prescription to use a dangerous drug such as methadone or dexamphetamines to use or possess any drug that you have not obtained from a doctor or pharmacy lawfully. That means you cannot self prescribe or self-administer an improperly obtained dangerous drug.

Maximum penalty: $72,000 or 2 years imprisonment.

It is also an offence to administer drugs which you have obtained lawfully, such as prescription drugs like codeine, Valium(diazepam), Dexamphetamine, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, and methadone without following the doctor’s or pharmacist’s directions for use. This means that it is illegal to inject methadone, because prescriptions for methadone are based on an oral dose. It is also an offence to ask another person to administer a prohibited drug to you, whether by injection or oral dose or any other method.

Maximum penalty: 28,800 or 2 years imprisonment.

If you administer a prohibited drug to another person who subsequently dies from an overdose (‘OD’) you could be charged with manslaughter. Nevertheless if you are using with someone who overdoses you should call an ambulance. Police have guidelines about overdoses to ensure that people who overdose or witness an OD are not discouraged from seeking medical assistance.

Police in the Northern Territory will not normally attend an overdose unless:

  • they are requested to do so by ambulance paramedics or medical personnel (because ambulance officers cannot control people present at the scene or due to a threat of violence);
  • a death has occurred or there are suspicious circumstances (like attempted murder);
  • another person called the police; or
  • they were the first on the scene.

Police guidelines direct police who do attend an overdose to use their discretion not to charge people at the scene or the person who overdoses with administration or other minor drug offences such as possession.

Obtaining

It is an offence in the Northern Territory to obtain or attempt to obtain prescription drugs by lying or making false representations, including by forging or altering a prescription.

Maximum penalty: $5,760 and/or imprisonment for 2 years.

Theft of a dangerous drug

It is an offence in the Northern Territory to steal a dangerous drug.

  • Maximum penalty for theft of cocaine, heroin, meth-amphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD: 14 years imprisonment.
  • Maximum penalty for theft of any other dangerous drug: 7 years imprisonment.

Supply

It is an offence to supply a prohibited drug without lawful authority. Supply has a very broad definition and you could be guilty of an offence even if no drugs or money change hands.

Supply in the Northern Territory means to:

  • sell;
  • give away;
  • distribute;
  • administer; or
  • transport.

Supply can include:

  • offering or agreeing to supply, even if no deal ever takes place;
  • being knowingly concerned in supply, for example, introducing someone to a dealer;
  • supplying a legal substance which you claim is a prohibited drug, for example, selling aspirin and passing it off as heroin;
  • helping someone else take a drug;
  • pooling money and splitting up purchased drugs between the group of buyers;
  • having drugs in your possession for the purpose of supply.

If you are caught with drugs in your possession, police are more likely to charge you with supply if they find things like scales, deal bags, and cash.

Because sharing a deal or helping someone score is part of drug-using culture, many users act as suppliers from time to time. A charge of supply can even rest on an offer to score on another person’s behalf or sharing your gear with other people. There are also a number of other charges that can be made in relation to supply, including participating in supply and attempt or conspiracy to supply.

Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD

Supply of a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD to a child:

Maximum penalty: life imprisonment.

Supply of a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Supply of a quantity that is less than a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD to a child:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Supply of a quantity that is less than a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty: 14 years imprisonment.

SUPPLY Less than a commercial quantity (grams) Commercial quantity (grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum penalty:To a child: 25 years imprisonmentTo anyone else: 14 years imprisonment Maximum penalty:To a child: life imprisonmentTo anyone else: 25 years imprisonment
Heroin < 40g 40g
Cocaine < 40g 40g
Meth-amphetamine (ice) < 40g 40g
PCP < 40g 40g
LSD < 0.1g 0.1g

Other dangerous drugs (not cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD)

Supply of a commercial quantity of any other dangerous drug to a child:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Supply of a commercial quantity of any other dangerous drug:

Maximum penalty: 14 years imprisonment.

Supply of a quantity that is less than a commercial quantity of any other dangerous drug to a child:

Maximum penalty: 14 years imprisonment.

Supply of a quantity that is less than a commercial quantity of any other dangerous drug:

Maximum penalty: $12,240 or 5 years imprisonment.

For supply in an Indigenous community: 9 years imprisonment.

SUPPLY Less than the commercial quantity(grams) Commercial quantity(grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum penalty:To a child: 14 years imprisonment.To anyone else: $12,240 or 5 years imprisonment.In an Indigenous community: 9 years imprisonment. Maximum penalty:To a child: 25 years imprisonment.To anyone else: 14 years imprisonment.
Amphetamine < 100g 100g
Cannabis < 500g 500g
Cannabis Plants < 20 plants 20
Methadone < 100g 100g
MDMA < 25g 25g
DMT < 100g 100g
Dexamphetamine (Dexies) < 100g 100g
Bufotenine < 100g 100g
2CB < 25g 25g
Ketamine < 0.1g 0.1g
Morphine < 100g 100g
Opium < 100g 100g
Psylocibin (Magic Mushrooms) < 5g 5g
GHB < 100g 100g
Cathinone (Mcat, Meow) < 100g 100g
NBomes < 25g 25g

Receiving property or proceeds from unlawful supply or trafficking of dangerous drugs

In the Northern Territory it is illegal to have knowingly possession or receive property or proceeds which have come from the unlawful supply or trafficking of dangerous drugs. This means that if you keep money or goods given to you which you know come from selling drugs, you are committing an offence. The property can be anything from money, to cars, to personal items, to houses even if those goods have been exchanged or changed hands by a process of ‘money laundering’. The reason that you have possession is not relevant.

Receiving property or proceeds from unlawful supply or trafficking of dangerous drugs is an offence.

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Trafficking

The act of trafficking will be prosecuted on charges of supply. There is no separate offence of trafficking however, in the Northern Territory the law requires that the Court declare that you are a drug trafficker if you have been convicted of two or more drug offences (supply or manufacture of any amount, or cultivation or possession of a trafficable or commercial amount) in the previous 10 years. This means on your third offence you will be declared a drug trafficker. It doesn’t matter if the offences occurred inside the Northern Territory, anywhere else in Australia or even overseas.

If you have offended previously and are charged with a drug offence, you cannot be tried summarily in the local court, which means you are much likelier to go to prison.

The consequence of being declared a drug trafficker means that all your property (houses, land, cars, boats, money, shares and personal possessions) can be forfeited to the State government and permanently seized. Your property can be taken even if it was not connected to a drug offence and was lawfully obtained or acquired.

Manufacture/production

It is an offence to manufacture, or take part in the manufacture of, a dangerous drug without lawful authority.

Manufacturing is defined as including extracting or refining the drug from another substance.

Production has a wide meaning in the Northern Territory and includes any act of preparing, manufacturing, cultivating, packaging or producing a dangerous drug.

Manufacturing or producing a commercial quantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty: life imprisonment.

Manufacturing or producing aquantity of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (ice), PCP or LSD:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Manufacture/Production Less than a commercial quantity (grams) Commercial quantity (grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum penalty: 25 years Maximum penalty: Life
Heroin < 40g 40g
Cocaine < 40g 40g
Meth-amphetamine (ice) < 40g 40g
PCP < 40g 40g
LSD < 0.1g 0.1g

Manufacturing or producing a commercial quantity of any other drug:

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Manufacturing or producing aquantity of any other drug:

Maximum penalty: 7 years imprisonment.

Manufacture/Production Less than the commercial quantity (grams) Commercial quantityb(grams)
Dangerous drug Maximum penalty: 7 years Maximum penalty: 25 years
Amphetamine < 100g 100g
Cannabis < 500g 500g
Cannabis Plants < 20 plants 20
Methadone < 100g 100g
MDMA < 25g 25g
DMT < 100g 100g
Dexamphetamine (Dexies) < 100g 100g
Bufotenine < 100g 100g
2CB < 25g 25g
Ketamine < 0.1g 0.1g
Morphine < 100g 100g
Opium < 100g 100g
Psylocibin (Magic Mushrooms) < 5g 5g
GHB < 100g 100g
Cathinone (Mcat, Meow) < 100g 100g
NBomes < 25g 25g

In the Northern Territory it is also an offence to be in possession of a document containing instructions about how to produce a dangerous drug, if you are also found in possession of equipment or substances used in the manufacture of dangerous drugs. For instance, if you have instructions detailing how to process meth-amphetamine and you possess a distillation head or pure pseudoephedrine (a precursor) you can be charged with this offence.

It is a defence to this charge if you can prove that you didn’t intend to use or didn’t actually use the instructions to produce a dangerous drug.

Possession of instructions for the production of a dangerous drug

Maximum penalty: 7 years imprisonment

It is also illegal to possess equipment or precursor chemicals used for the production of dangerous drugs.

Cultivation

Cultivation of prohibited plants is also a serious offence.

Cultivation is defined to include:

  • sowing or scattering the seed produced by the prohibited plant;
  • planting, growing, tending the prohibited plant;
  • nurturing or harvesting the prohibited plant.

Other actions like watering the plant or fertilising it will likely be considered cultivation.

Despite what you might have heard, in the Northern Territory you are not allowed to grow cannabis plants for your personal use.

Cultivation of a commercial quantity of a prohibited plant (more than 19 plants):

Maximum penalty: 25 years imprisonment.

Cultivation of a trafficable quantity of a prohibited plant (between 5 and 19 plants):

Maximum penalty: 7 years imprisonment.

Cultivation of a prohibited plant (less than 5 plants):

Maximum penalty: $5760 or 2 years imprisonment.

Aggravating circumstances

Aggravated offences

It is an aggravated offence to supply or possess of a dangerous drug in or on:

  • a licensed premises such as a bar or club;
  • school grounds;
  • a playground;
  • a youth centre (e.g. disco, roller-skate rink, skate park, basketball court)
  • a video facility (like a video arcade); or
  • a public swimming pool;

Any offence involving a prisoner or connected to a prisoner is also considered an aggravated offence.

If you are charged with such an aggravated offence the court must impose a term of actual imprisonment (of more than 28 days), unless you can prove that you are a drug dependent person or are younger than 21.

Supply or manufacture in presence of children

Selling, supplying, trafficking, manufacturing or cultivating prohibited drugs around children is a much more serious crime and will lead to much higher penalties. The child will never be blamed or held responsible for being involved with drugs or controlled plants.

Supplying a controlled drug to a child under 16 is an offence with penalties up to life imprisonment depending on the circumstances.

Supply in indigenous communities

As noted in the section on ‘supply’ above, there are increased penalties for supplying a dangerous drug in an indigenous community.

Cannabis infringement notices

Under Northern Territory law, adults found in possession of:

  • up to 50 grams of marijuana;
  • 1 gram of hash oil;
  • 10 grams of hash or cannabis seed;
  • or 2 non-hydroponic plants;

can be issued with an infringement notice instead of being taken to court.

The police will fine you $245 and give you 28 days to pay their fine. If you pay the fine no conviction will be recorded.

Children under 18 cannot receive an infringement notice.

Difference between decriminalisation and legalisation

Cannabis has been decriminalised to possess or use in the Northern Territory. Decriminalisation means that you will not automatically face criminal charges if you possess small amounts of cannabis.

Infringement notices, or on-the-spot-fines can be issued by police for possessing or growing small amounts of cannabis instead of charges being laid.

Police have a choice whether to issue a caution or an on-the-spot fine, so it may assist you to be calm and polite when caught in possession of cannabis. You do not have a right to get a caution or on-the-spot fine and the police will usually only give you one when you are a first-time offender and you admit to possession of the illegal drug.

Synthetics, legal highs, and new, and emerging drugs

What are synthetics?

Synthetic drugs are newly developed substances that are designed to mimic or re-produce the effects of illegal drugs and plants. Many well known drugs are also synthetic (which means that the drug is manufactured from chemicals rather than extracted from plants) but the term synthetic drugs has come to mean newly emerging drugs or ‘designer’ which have come onto the streets but which are not well known to most drug consumers.

Synthetics are often marketed as ‘legal highs’, ‘herbal highs’, ‘designer drugs’, ‘party pills’, or ‘social tonics’, but often they may not be legal, and may not be safe or tested for human consumption. Often packaging will state that they are ‘bath salts’, ‘research chemicals’ or ‘plant food’.

Synthetics can have very serious health consequences, because even if you have taken them before, the chemical formula may change from batch to batch and within a batch. If you do overdose or have a bad trip ambulance paramedics or medical practitioners may not know exactly what you have taken or how to treat you.

There are synthetics which mimic the effects of MDMA, LSD and cannabis as well as many others, but these can be much more potent than the drugs they are imitating. Synthetics can come as pills, powders or dried herbs.

In recent years police and government have tried to control synthetics because of concerns that they produce the same effects and highs as illegal drugs but can be easily bought from alternative tobacconists, tattoo parlours and adult shops.

Synthetics are also produced and released by manufacturers quickly, without all possible side effects being known or tested. This means that synthetics may be more risky, legally and from a health perspective, than well known illegal drugs because you won’t know what you’re getting.

New laws governing synthetics (outlined below) mean that many synthetic substances marketed as ‘legal highs’ are now actually illegal and can attract the same or similar penalties as the drugs they mimic. It is very hard for the average person to tell which chemicals are in a synthetic substance, which means you might be breaking the law without realising.

Common synthetics

Cannabis Type Synthetics Hallucinogenic Type Synthetics
  • Kronic
  • Voodoo
  • Spice
  • White Revolver
  • Ash Inferno
  • Black Widow
  • All JWH cannibinols
  • Mephedrone/M-CAT (Meth-Cathinone)
  • Amped (synthetic cocaine)
  • Zoom
  • Cloud Nine
  • Ivory Wave
  • N-BOMes ‘ N-Bombs” (synthetic LSD)
  • Pandora
  • Smiles

Are synthetics legal?

In the Northern Territory there is now a law that automatically imports the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP) formerly known as the Australian Poisons Standard. The standard is a list of substances that the Australian government has restricted or made illegal for sale or use without authorisation. This means that synthetics can be quickly added to the Poisons Standard by the Australian Government and then become illegal to possess or supply in the Northern Territory. The new law sets out criminal offences for the supply, sale, and possession of prohibited substances.

Synthetics are legally risky because the Australian government can make them illegal almost overnight. What might have been legal yesterday may actually be illegal today.

Most synthetic drugs which have been on the streets for the last year or two will now be illegal, because the Australian government and other state and territory governments have recently cracked down on them after a number of incidents where people have died after taking synthetic drugs.

Other Australian government laws can temporarily ban the sale or display of substances, without making them illegal.

Penalties

In the Northern Territory it is an offence to possess, use, supply, produce, manufacture or import a prohibited substance, listed in Schedule 8 or 9 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP)(which has not already been separately listed and made illegal by the Northern Territory).

Maximum Penalty:

  • for an individual: $ 72,000 or 5 years imprisonment.
  • for a company or business: $360,000.

Searching and drug detection

General search powers

A police officer may search you, your clothing or property which you have on you and may seize any thing they find, without a warrant, if the police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you are in possession of a prohibited drug, or plant, or have possession of anything connected to an offence.

Police can only search you or your property if:

  • they suspect on reasonable grounds that you have a drug in your possession, and that because the circumstances are serious and urgent, mean that you might dispose of, hide or conceal the drugs, if they don’t search you immediately;
  • they suspect on reasonable grounds that you have possession of things related to an offence, like a weapon on your body or in your possession;
  • you consent or agree to the search;
  • you are arrested and taken into custody by the police;
  • the police have a warrant or court order to search you.

What is a reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is a complicated legal concept, and whether police were correct to believe they had a reasonable suspicion is a matter for the court to decide.

The issue is not whether the police officer was correct or right to hold a suspicion leading to a search, but whether the suspicion was reasonably supported by fact.

A reasonable suspicion is an honestly held suspicion or opinion which is based on more than a mere possibility or hunch, but which can be less firm or less supported by evidence than reasonable belief.

This is what the court will consider when determining whether the police suspicion to search you was reasonable.

For example if you are in a place known to be used for dealing drugs, and are known to police as a user and police see you meet another person for a few minutes in an alleyway this might be enough to establish a reasonable suspicion.

The fact that you are a user alone might not be enough to form a reasonable basis for a suspicion that you are in possession of drugs. Police will consider your behaviour, the time of day and location.

If police ask you to roll up your sleeves and see track marks that would not be a sufficient reason to search you. You have a right to refuse police to show them your arms if they haven’t told you what offence they suspect you of committing. Police must have more evidence than the fact that you have used drugs in the past.

If the suspicion is proved to be unreasonable in court then the search might be considered to be illegal and any evidence of drug offences such as drugs, large amounts of cash, fits or paraphernalia might not be allowed to prove your guilt.

The court will examine what facts were the basis of the suspicion, and the source of those facts in the light of the whole of the surrounding circumstances.

It is important to remember that even if the search was illegal or the evidence illegally obtained, the court can still allow the evidence to be used, if it is in the public interest, or if the “desirability of admitting the evidence outweighs the undesirability of admitting such evidence”.

When considering the desirability of admitting illegally obtained evidence the court will weigh up several questions including:

  • whether the evidence is useful in proving something important or is key evidence in the proceedings;
  • the nature of the subject matter of the case and the relevant offence;
  • the seriousness of the offence and whether it was deliberate;
  • whether the evidence has been used before or is likely to be relied upon in a future case; and
  • the difficulty of obtaining the evidence legally or without contravention of an Australian law.

If the improperly obtained evidence is necessary for obtaining a conviction for a serious drugs offence the Court will be more likely than not to exercise its discretion to allow the improperly obtained evidence to be used in the case.

Conduct of searches

General or frisk searches

Police can frisk search you by asking you to remove your jacket and patting you down. If you refuse to be searched the police can arrest you and use force to search you. Females can only be searched by a female officer, a female authorised by police to conduct the search, or a medical practitioner.

Police conducting a search can ask you to open your mouth or shake out your hair, but cannot force you to open your mouth without an order from a Magistrate as this is considered an intimate search.

Strip searches

Police can strip search you if they suspect on reasonable grounds that such a search is necessary and that the circumstances are urgent and serious. If you are asked to strip so they can search you must follow their directions to remove the items of clothing they request you to take off.

Police are not allowed to strip search you in public, but must make the search as private as the circumstances allow. They are not allowed to touch you during a strip search. A search can only be conducted by an officer of the same sex as you. If you are transgender you can choose the sex of the officer to search you.

Police must respect your privacy and dignity as much as possible while conducting a strip search.

This means that they must ask for your co-operation and tell you which pieces of clothing you need to remove and why.

The search must be conducted in the least invasive manner practicable in all the circumstances. It must be done as privately and quickly as possible.

Police should let you dress as soon as the search is over, and if they take any clothing they should give you some suitable clothing to wear as a replacement.

Forensic procedures

Police are not normally allowed to conduct forensic procedures (often thought of as internal or cavity searches) without getting a warrant from a Magistrate or obtaining your informed consent although there are some exceptions where the police wish to undertake less invasive sample taking, such as taking your fingerprints. There are additional protections for children under 18 and vulnerable people such as people with a mental disability or people who cannot speak English well.

Forensic procedures are actually a category of procedures that are normally performed on suspects (such as in sexual assault cases) after arrest.

The procedures can include taking DNA samples, genital swabs or internal searches. Forensic procedures are divided into non-intimate and intimate procedures. The law on forensic procedures is very complicated, but police would not normally need to perform a forensic search on you for a drug offence, unless they believed you had swallowed a bag of drugs for trafficking.

Non-intimate procedures can often be performed by a police officer who has the rank of a Sergeant or higher. Any intimate forensic procedure must be performed by a medical practitioner. The medical practitioner can request help from police to carry out the search.

Intimate forensic procedures include:

  • searching your cavities, or making detailed external examination of your genitals or anus, scanning your body with an X-ray and taking samples of your pubic hair, anal, external genital or breast swabs, saliva, blood and urine samples, DNA samples, mouth scrapes or dental impressions.

Non-intimate procedures include:

  • taking samples of hair, fingernail or toenail scrapes, external swabs or washings, and taking fingerprints, handprints and toe prints.

Police must make sure that you give informed consent, which means that you must understand how the search will be carried out, and the consequences of the search. Police cannot ask you to consent if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Don’t give consent to a forensic procedure without speaking to a lawyer!

Searches of vehicles

Police can also stop your vehicle or search your vehicle without a warrant if they suspect on reasonable grounds, that you have possession of a drug or other item (like paraphernalia, stolen property or weapons) associated with an offence. An example of reasonable grounds to search your car would be if you are stopped at a random breath test and your car smelt of cannabis, or if you are stopped because you ran a red light and police see you put something in the glove box, while they approach your car.

Searches of private premises

Police cannot normally enter your house without a warrant unless:

  • you let them inside, after they knock and ask to come in;
  • they have a reasonable belief that there is a breach or disturbance of the peace (such as a fight, domestic violence, house fire, out of control house party);
  • they believe on reasonable grounds that you have an offensive weapon, ammunition, explosives or anything connected to an offence and that the circumstances are serious and urgent, meaning that there is a risk of further serious offences being committed, or evidence being destroyed or concealed;
  • someone is at risk of being seriously injured in the premises;
  • the police are pursuing a suspect or escapee or intend to arrest a person of a serious offence punishable by at least 6 months imprisonment.

A reasonable belief must be based on stronger evidence than a reasonable suspicion. For example if police hear yelling and screaming and smashing glass from inside a house, and have already been called by neighbours then they would be able to form a belief that someone was at risk of violence, and would be lawfully entitled to enter the house using reasonable force as necessary.

Drug premises

There are a specific set of laws that relate to premises (houses, flats, basements, cellars, garages, sheds, farms, offices or factories) that are being used for the purpose of supply, manufacture, or cultivation of prohibited drugs or plants.

Drug premises are any premises that are being used for the supply or manufacture of prohibited drugs, or cultivation of prohibited plans by enhanced indoor means.

The Police Commissioner can apply for a court to make an order that a place is a drug premises if:

  • there are indications that a residential premises has been used for the supply of drugs; or
  • police find dangerous drugs on the residential premises on 2 occasions within twelve months after giving two warnings to the owner; or
  • there are indications that an owner or person acting on behalf of an owner of a licensed premises (e.g., a bar, club, pub) has in the last 12 months supplied drugs from the premises; or
  • police find a drug in a licensed premises (e.g., a bar, club, pub) in possession of an owner, landlord or tenant, or in a room accessible only to an owner, landlord or tenant.

The court must make a drug premises order if it is satisfied that on the balance of probabilities, the evidence indicates that the premises are being used for the supply of drugs. Where an application is made for a drug premises order no notice is given to landlord, tenants, residents, or licensees affected and there is no requirement that those people be present at court when the order is made. The order lasts for 12 months.

The court may grant an order even though no finding of guilt has been made in a court regarding either possession or supply of dangerous drugs at the premises.

The police will be able to satisfy the court that there are indications that a premises is being used to supply drugs if it is visited by lots of different people at various times of day and night, or is guarded by people keeping lookout, or there are sophisticated alarm and security systems.

Other evidence of a property being a drug premises is if syringes, weapons, large amounts of money or computer documents which indicate that the property is being used to manufacture or cultivate or supply drugs are found.

Police and the court will also be suspicious about generators that are always running, an unusual numbers of fans, or air vents, blacked out windows, growing chambers, powerful electric lights and heaters, cannabis seeds or cuttings, and nutrients and fertilisers which are normally associated with growing cannabis.

If a place is declared to be a drug premises it is a lot easier for police to charge any person found on or entering the premises.

Police can break in and enter, using all reasonable force necessary at any time without a warrant. They can search any person in the place or any part of the premises. Tenants and residents can be evicted from a drug premises. If the premises is a licensed premises such as a bar or club, the business can loose its liquor license.

It is an offence to raise an alarm or alert other occupiers of a drug premises to a police search, or to try to obstruct or prevent the police from entering and searching a drug premises.

Maximum penalty: $28,800 or 2 years imprisonment

All residents in a residential drug premises will be taken to be in joint possession of any dangerous drugs found in common areas of the premises.

Sniffer dogs

In the Northern Territory police use sniffer dogs to carry out both general (‘random’) drug detection and to assist with searches of your person or property.

General drug detection

General drug detection occurs where a dog is used to conduct ‘random’ drug detection. In this case if police are conducting general drug detection and the sniffer dog indicates you, by sitting down next to you, this will be enough for police to form a reasonable suspicion that you are holding and they can then search you.

Assisting with searches

Sniffer dogs can be further used to help search you, or your property or vehicle after police have formed a reasonable suspicion that you are in possession of a drug.

Is general drug detection a search?

Random sniffer dog drug detection is not considered to be a search. This is because the sniffing is done passively and is not a physical intrusion into a person’s privacy or property. For example, a sniffer dog that wanders past a suitcase with cannabis inside is not searching the suitcase. Police who ask a bus driver to pull over and let them put a dog in the luggage compartment are not conducting a search.

However, if the dog touches you before it sits down, or if the dog stays in contact with you or digs its nose into your pockets or forcefully bumps and nudges into you, this may be considered to be an assault.

You should try to avoid touching or patting a drug detection dog as this may be considered to be obstructing or hindering police.

If there has been an assault before reasonable suspicion that you possessed drugs was formed in the minds of the police you may be able to challenge in court any evidence (drugs) that the police find on you.

In a NSW case a sniffer dog was bunting and ferreting and nudging a man around his groin before it sat down. In this case the evidence of drugs found after the police searched the man was found to be inadmissible in court and the man’s conviction was overturned.

This means that when the police use sniffer dogs to carry out random general drug detection they must keep the dog under control and must take all reasonable steps to prevent the dog from touching you.

You should try to avoid touching or patting a drug detection dog as this may be considered to be obstructing or hindering police.

Where can police use sniffer dogs?

Sniffer dogs can be used for random drug detection of people entering, leaving or being in the following places:

  • in pubs, clubs and licensed places where alcohol is served;
  • at entertainment events such as sports matches, festivals, concerts, dance parties and street parades;
  • on public transport and stations.

If you are approached and sniffed by a dog, don’t panic and run, because this will also give police reasonable grounds to detain you and search you.

Sniffer dogs may not always be accurate, so even if you are not holding any drugs co-operate with the police while they search you. You can ask for their name, rank and station. Ask why you are being searched. If you are asked to give your name, ask if you have to tell them. If they say no, don’t, because those details can be entered into their database. If they say yes, tell them and seek legal advice to make a complaint.

If police do find drugs in your possession you will have to tell them your name and address, but nothing more than that. You have a right to silence. If you do speak to the officer it is always good advice to be polite and calm – if you only have a small amount of drugs they might let you off with a caution. If you swear at the police or resist them you can be arrested and charged with additional offences.

Drug and drink driving

General information

The law imposes strict requirements that drivers are fit to drive whenever they get into the car.

Driving while being under the influence of drugs and alcohol is an offence, regardless of whether the drug was legally prescribed or not. In addition driving while you have a certain concentration of alcohol in your breath or blood (Blood Alcohol Concentration – BAC) or certain prohibited dangerous drugs in your oral fluid or blood is an offence.

Driving includes attempting to drive a vehicle or put a vehicle in motion or being in charge of a vehicle in a road or road related area.

Driving also includes attempting to drive a vehicle or attempting to put a vehicle in motion, or if you are in charge of a vehicle. This means you can be charged if you:

  • are sitting in the driver’s seat;
  • turn on the headlights;
  • engage the gears; or
  • put the keys in the ignition.

All drivers have a general responsibility to report any mental or physical incapacity that is likely to adversely affect the driver’s ability to drive safely. This includes a drug or substance dependency. A driver with an impairment must report as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the impairment or when applying for a renewal or grant of license.

Maximum penalty: $2880.

If you have an illness, injury or incapacity you are not automatically banned from driving. Depending on the nature and circumstances of your impairment you could be granted a conditional licence or even an unrestricted licence once a health practitioner has assessed you.

For example, if you are stabilised on methadone or buprenorphine for you opioid dependency you may not have a higher risk of a crash, providing the dose has been stabilised over some weeks and you are not abusing other impairing drugs.

If you are driving or have stopped in a road related area (such as a freeway service centre or truck rest stop) NT police have the power to request to see your driver’s licence and to ask your names and address.

It is an offence to refuse to provide your licence or to state your name and address if requested.

Maximum penalty: $2880

If you are convicted of drink or drug driving, you will have to undergo a drink and drug driving awareness course before you can get your license back. In the NT if you are convicted of a second or subsequent ‘relevant drink driving offence’ the Court must also impose an interlock period of between 6 months to 3 years duration, on your license. Relevant drink driving offences include medium (>0.08g) and high range drink driving offences, driving under the influence, or failing to provide a breath or blood sample for testing.

An interlock is a breath testing immobiliser device that is fitted to your car and prevents you from starting the car unless it tests the driver as having no alcohol in his or her breath. If you are subject to an interlock period you can choose to either participate in the interlock scheme for the period imposed by the court or serve out the interlock period as an additional period of disqualification.

You will have to pay for the Interlock to be fitted to and removed from your vehicle plus the monthly rent of the interlock device and an interlock driver’s licence. All up participation in the NT interlock scheme can cost as much as $3500 per year.

For more information on the NT interlock scheme see:

http://www.transport.nt.gov.au/mvr/alcohol-ignition-locks

Driving under the influence or while impaired

It is an offence to drive where you are so under the influence of alcohol or any other drug that you are impaired and incapable of being able to properly control your vehicle.

This means that it is illegal to drive on prescription medications such as codeine, Valium, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, and methadone if your ability to drive properly is impaired as a result of your being under the influence.

There is no defence to this charge that you were under the influence of legal prescription medication.

Police can conduct a test of your impairment by drugs or intoxication by alcohol if they have reasonable grounds to believe you are under the influence of drugs. This involves a preliminary assessment (‘impairment or sobriety‘ test) of physical factors such as your behaviour, balance and coordination. If you look drowsy, or are unable to walk straight or keep your eyes focused, or otherwise seem uncoordinated or behaving in a manner that indicates that you may be impaired by alcohol or a drug, you will be required to provide breath, saliva, blood and/or urine samples.

A drug-screening test can test for all drugs by analysing breath, urine or blood samples. While police process the tests and await confirmation, you may be arrested and taken to a police station to be charged and re-tested.

Police will be more likely to make you take a drug impairment assessment if you were involved in an accident or if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving culpably, dangerously or recklessly. They will almost certainly test you if you crash.

Maximum penalty:

  • For a first offence – $1440 or imprisonment for 12 months with a mandatoryminimum disqualification for at least 6 months.
  • For a second or subsequent offence – $2880 or imprisonment for 12 months with a mandatoryminimum disqualification for at least 12 months.

It is an offence to fail to stop for a random breath or drug test.

Maximum penalty: $28,000 or imprisonment for 12 months.

It is also an offence to fail to submit to or properly comply with a breath, saliva or blood test requirement.

Maximum penalty:

  • For a first offence: $14,400 or imprisonment for 12 months with a mandatoryminimum disqualification for at least 12 months.
  • For a second or subsequent offence – $2,880 or imprisonment for 12 months with a mandatoryminimum disqualification for at least 12 months.

Drug driving

It is an offence to drive with a prohibited drug in your blood.

For this offence a “prohibited drug” includes:

  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Methylamphetamine (Ice; meth)
  • 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Amphetamine (speed)
  • Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA)
  • Monoacetylmorphine (heroin metabolite)
  • Benzoylmethylecgonine (cocaine)
  • Benzoylecgonine (cocaine metabolite)

For this offence it does not matter whether your driving or control of the vehicle is impaired, you can be convicted if any quantity of cannabis, amphetamines or ecstasy is found in your system, even if you could drive properly and safely.

As well as random breath testing for alcohol, police in the Northern Territory now have the power to carry out roadside drug testing on any driver. This is done by an “oral fluid” test, requiring the driver to lick the test pad of a device. This tests for the presence of THC (cannabis), amphetamine (speed, ice, crystal meth) and MDMA (ecstasy).

If a positive sample is detected, you will be required to provide a second sample that will be run through another oral screening device. If a second positive test is found, a sample of your saliva will be taken and sent to a laboratory for confirmation. You will not usually be charged at this stage, although you may be prohibited from driving for 24 hours. It is an offence to refuse to submit to a random breath test or drug test.

However for this charge there is a defence if you can prove to the court that at the time of the offence you were under treatment by a doctor or other medical practitioner who prescribed you methadone, morphine or amphetamine and you took the drug as part of that treatment in accordance with the directions of the medical practitioner.

This defence only applies to methadone, morphine or amphetamine. This means it is legal to drive with other prescription drugs such as codeine, Valium, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine in your blood, if they do not affect your ability to drive or have proper control of your vehicle.

The oral fluid test will not detect other prescription drugs such as codeine, Valium, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine or methadone. However, ACT Police can test for all drugs by requiring a drug screening test which can involve a blood sample being taken and analysed. Police need no reason to make you take a drug-screening test if you were driving on a public road.

Police will be more likely to make you take a drug test if you were involved in an accident or if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you are under the influence of a prohibited drug because you are driving dangerously or erratically.

If the drug-screening test shows that you have prescription drugs in your system you can only be charged if they impaired your driving so that you could not properly control your vehicle.

Maximum penalty:

  • for a first offence -$720 or imprisonment for 3 months
  • for a second or subsequent offence – $1080 or imprisonment for 6 months with an mandatory minimum disqualification period of 3 months for a second offence and 6 months for a third or subsequent offence.

Drink Driving

It is an offence to drive with a “prescribed concentration of alcohol” in your breath, blood or urine. The prescribed concentrations of alcohol and penalties are set out in the table below.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Level First offence Second or subsequent offence within 5 years
No Alcohol:0.00g – 0.049g or driving instructor $720 or imprisonment for 3 monthsMinimum disqualification: 3 months $1080 or imprisonment for 6 monthsMinimum disqualification: 6 months
Low:0.05g – 0.079g $720 or imprisonment for 3 monthsMinimum disqualification: 3 months $1080 or imprisonment for 6 monthsMinimum disqualification: 6 months
Middle:0.08g – 0.149g $1080 or imprisonment for 6 monthsMinimum disqualification: 6 months $2880 or imprisonment for 12 monthsMinimum disqualification: 12 months
High:0.15g or more $1440 or imprisonment for 12 monthsMinimum disqualification: 12 months $2880 or imprisonment for 12 monthsMinimum disqualification: 18 months

Paraphernalia, fits (needles & syringes), equipment

Possession

It is legal to possess fits in the Northern Territory.

Unless you are legally authorised, it is an offence to supply another person with a fit to use with illegal drugs. If you are charged with doing this, you have a defence if you can prove both of the following:

  • You got the fit or fits from an authorised supplier (a doctor, pharmacist or needle & syringe program);
  • You gave the fit or fits to the other person in an unused state as soon as possible after getting them.

It is an offence to supply fits or to fail to take reasonable care that the fits cannot harm anyone.

Maximum penalty: $2,448 or 2 years imprisonment.

It is illegal to possess any other equipment (pipes, bongs) for use in administering an illegal drug.

Maximum penalty: $2,448 or 2 years imprisonment.

It is unlikely that police would charge you with possession of drugs on the basis of the minute quantities of drugs that are present in used fits. However, if you make an admission about using (self-administration) or you are found to be holding (possession) then the traces of drug in the used fit can be used as corroborating evidence.

If you are concerned about used fits and trace elements you can flush them with water immediately after use but the best approach is to dispose of them in a disposal container and return them to a needle & syringe program. It is also important to be aware of what you might be carrying when you go to a needle & syringe program to pick up or return fits.

Disposal of fits

It is an offence to fail to dispose of a fit in the manner prescribed. You must deposit it in a rigid-walled, puncture-resistant container that is sealed or securely closed in such a manner that the contents are incapable of causing injury to any person or place the container with its contents in a household bin or hand it to a medical practitioner, pharmacist or needle & syringe program worker.

The maximum penalty for failing to dispose of a fit properly is $2,448 or 2 years imprisonment.

Sex, health and the law

Consent

The age of consent for a female to have sex with a male is 16 years. There is no age of consent stipulated for males (that is, it is legal for a male under 16 to have sex with a female at any age, as long as the female is 16 years or over).

If two males want to have sex they must be 18 years or older. There is no age stipulated for sex between two females.

It is an offence for people to have sex with each other or commit acts of ‘gross indecency’ in public (that is, with more than one person present) or in a public place.

Maximum penalty:

  • where the offence relates to under-age sex: 7 years imprisonment if the other person is 14 or over;
  • 14 years imprisonment if the other person is under 14.

If the person can prove that they reasonably believed that the person was an adult, it will be a defence to the charge.

Sex in public carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.

Sex Work

Brothel sex work

Brothels are illegal in the Northern Territory.

It is also an offence to permit or allow any premises to be used as a brothel.

A ‘brothel’ is defined as premises where people resort to prostitution, but does not include hotels used for the purposes of prostitution where an agreement regarding sexual services was initiated and reached elsewhere.

It is an offence to manage or keep a brothel.

Maximum penalty: $25,200.

Escort sex work

It is legal to run an escort agency – a business that arranges the provision of prostitution services for people elsewhere than on those premises – with an operator’s license.

You do not require an operator’s license if you are working alone but if there is another sex worker on your premises you will be considered to be running a brothel.

Operators must apply for a certificate for each sex worker they employ. Before a certificate is granted a police check is required. A certificate will not be issued if the prospective worker has been convicted of a drug offence including possession, supply, manufacture, cultivation or trafficking under NT law or another corresponding Australian law, or an offence involving the use or threat of violence against another person.

Disqualifying offences include serious drug offences and all offences involving the use or threat of violence. Employers are required by common law and statutory law to take all reasonable steps to provide a safe work environment. Worker’s compensation may be available where an injury is sustained in the course of employment.

It is an offence to either induce someone to engage in sex work or take their earnings through the use of threats, supplying of drugs, intimidation or fraud. There are various offences concerning infants, such as causing or inducing an infant (a child under 18 years of age) to work, allowing an infant to work and obtaining payment in respect of an infant.

It is an offence to advertise sex-work services on radio and television. Print advertisements must be in a prescribed form. This includes that the ad be run only in the classified section under the heading ‘Escort services’ or ‘Adult entertainment’. The ad can contain pictures above the shoulders only. It cannot refer to the race or colour of the sex worker or mention physical attributes. It is an offence to advertise for sex workers.

It is an offence to carry on an escort business without an operator’s license:

Maximum penalty: $12,240.

It is an offence to employ a worker without a certificate:

Maximum penalty: $12,240.

It is an offence to employ a worker or take his or her earnings through coercion or force someone to become or remain a sex worker:

Maximum penalty: 5 years imprisonment.

It is an offence to employ an infant who is under 14 years old to take part in provision of sexual services:

Maximum penalty: 14 years imprisonment.

It is an offence to employ an infant who is 14 or older but less than 18 years old to take part in provision of sexual services:

Maximum penalty: 7 years imprisonment.

It is also an offence for a person having care or control (such as a parent of guardian) of an infant under 18 to let the infant take part in prostitution:

Maximum penalty

  • if the infant is younger than 14: 14 years imprisonment;
  • if the infant is older than 14 but not 18: 7 years imprisonment.

It is an offence to breach escort agency advertising laws:

Maximum penalty: $2448.

Street sex work

It is illegal to solicit, loiter or accost a person in a public place for the purpose of prostitution. It is an offence to loiter or frequent a public place for the purpose of inviting or soliciting a person.

‘Soliciting’ may include any conduct (whether blatantly obvious or quite subtle) that amounts to an invitation of prostitution. Merely agreeing to do an act of prostitution, or being willing to do a job if someone asks you, is NOT soliciting. Both sex workers and clients can commit the offence of soliciting.

The maximum penalty for loitering or frequenting a public place for the purpose of soliciting is a $2,448.

Blood borne viruses (BBVs) & Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Notification requirements

In the Northern Territory:

  • Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E;
  • HIV;
  • AIDS –

are all notifiable diseases, which means that your doctor, nurse, pathologist or hospital must notify the Government if you are diagnosed with one of these diseases.

Although not legally required, it is the practice to make notifications by code numbers only. Under this practice, your identification is not disclosed. You are not required by law to be tested for HIV or hepatitis unless a government medical officer directs you to be tested under the Notifiable Diseases Act. You have the right to appeal against the making of such a direction.

It is an offence for the medical practitioner or health officer to fail to notify a diagnosis of a notifiable disease.

Maximum penalty: $1152 or imprisonment for 6 months

The Government may decide that it is necessary to contact your friends and acquaintances if it becomes apparent that you could have transmitted a disease to them.

It is an offence for an infected person to fail to give a health officer details when requested.

Maximum penalty: $1152 or imprisonment for 6 months

There are rules which specify that information obtained by medical officers under public health and notifiable disease law must be kept confidential.

It is an offence for someone to disclose your disease status or other confidential personal information, without lawful authorisation.

Maximum penalty: $1152 or imprisonment for 6 months.

Public health law offences relevant to BBVs and STIs

A person who has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she is infected with a notifiable disease must seek medical advice at the first reasonable opportunity.

It is an offence to fail to seek medical advice.

Maximum penalty: $1152 or imprisonment for 6 months.

The NT has developed Guidelines for the Management of People with Infectious Diseases who put others at Risk of Infection. These guidelines set out policies for when health officials must take action to report risky behaviours that expose people to infectious or transmissible diseases.

These guidelines set out principles for managing the risk of infection or transmission of disease in a health framework by establishing processes for counselling and treating people with notifiable transmissible diseases.

There is a possibility that if you have a notifiable disease and you are behaving in a way that endangers public health or puts others at risk of infection you could be given a notice or order by the Chief Health Officer:

  • preventing you from doing certain activities;
  • preventing you being in or working in certain places;
  • requiring you to have a test, medical examination or undergo treatment or health counselling;
  • requiring that you are confined or detained in a particular place.

Health orders, especially orders requiring detention or confinement should only be made as a last resort when other attempts to get the person to change or address their risky behaviour have failed.

It is an offence to fail to comply with a public health order.

Maximum penalty: $1152 or imprisonment for 6 months.

Nationally all states and territories are supposed to uphold the important principle that the least restrictive measures of control, treatment and monitoring should be applied first when addressing risky behaviour of individuals who have HIV.

However, if you are suspected of intentionally infecting other people with a disease, health officials are instructed to refer your matter to police to pursue criminal charges.

Criminal offences relevant to BBVs and STIs

There have been at least 32 prosecutions for HIV exposure or transmission in Australia. Prosecutions have occurred in nearly every state in Australia. Criminal prosecutions are also becoming more common. If you have a transmissible disease it is your responsibility to take precautions to ensure that you minimise the risk of infecting others. This means that you have a responsibility to disclose your HIV or HEP C positive status to sexual partners before having sex.

Reasonable precautions would include using a condom when having sex and avoiding the sharing of injecting equipment. Unsafe disposal of used fits could also be a potential ground for prosecution if the unsafe caused an infection and it was proved that you recklessly exposed people to danger of death or serious harm.

Intentionally, or recklessly exposing other people to a risk of infection with a disease can be prosecuted as a criminal offence, with serious penalties.

In the NT you could potentially be charged with causing (intentionally, recklessly or by negligence) grievous bodily harm if you are responsible for infecting another person with a notifiable transmissible disease such as HIV.

Intentional infection could be proven where you deliberately, knowingly or willingly set out to infect a person.

Recklessness is the failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent the transmission of a notifiable transmissible disease such as HIV, where you knew there was a risk or should have considered the risk that you could infect someone.

Negligent infection could be prosecuted where you accidentally caused someone to become infected.

Maximum penalty:

  • for intentional infection: life imprisonment.
  • for reckless infection endangering life: 10–14 years imprisonment.
  • for reckless infection giving rise to a risk of serious harm: 7-10 years.
  • for negligent infection: 10 years imprisonment.
  • sexual intercourse without consent: life imprisonment.

Discrimination

What is discrimination?

Discrimination involves treating someone unfavourably or unfairly because that person has a specific characteristic or attribute.

Discrimination can also include imposing a certain requirement or condition on a person because of a characteristic or attribute where the different treatment is not reasonable.

Grounds for discrimination

Northern Territory law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of:

  • race;
  • sex, sexuality;
  • age;
  • marital status;
  • pregnancy, parenthood, breast feeding;
  • impairment (disability);
  • trade union or employer association activity;
  • religious belief or activity;
  • political opinion, affiliation or activity; and
  • irrelevant medical or criminal record.

In what circumstances can you complain about discrimination?

You can’t complain about discrimination in all areas of life. This is because the Government does not normally regulate private behaviour or relationships between individuals (unless there is threat of violence or other criminal offences involved).

Generally people are free to think and speak what they like about each other. For instance you cannot claim that your family or neighbour discriminates against you because of who you are friends with.

However, discrimination law does prevent discrimination in social or public areas of life, where you might have a reasonable expectation to be treated the same as anyone else, despite the fact that you may be of a different race, or have a different gender identity or are disabled.

In the NT areas of life where discrimination is unlawful are:

  • work and employment related areas– you cannot be fired or sacked, or given harder work, worse conditions or unequal pay only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.
  • education – you cannot be refused a place in a school or university course only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.
  • goods and services and facilities– you cannot be refused a sale, or service in a restaurant or health care, or access to public transport, or help from the police only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.
  • clubs – you cannot be refused membership of a club only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.
  • accommodation – you cannot be refused accommodation in a motel or in public housing only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.
  • insurance and superannuation – you cannot be refused insurance or superannuation or offered a different policy or super plan only because of your race, age, gender identity, disability, political or religious beliefs etc.

It is important to note that there are a number of exceptions to these general rules. If you feel you have been discriminated against seek legal advice or talk to the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission.

NT discrimination law also prohibits sexual harassment.

The meaning of disability discrimination

Being discriminated against on the basis of ‘impairment’ includes being discriminated against on the ground that you are infected with a specific disease including Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS.

It is not clear whether having a ‘drug dependency’ can be considered a ground for discrimination.

Generally drug addiction will not count as a disability. Temporary intoxication from drug use is not a disability.

There have been a number of court cases that have considered that a dependency on methadone or buprenorphine, could in certain circumstances be considered a disability.

In these cases former heroin addicts had been stabilised on methadone or buprenorphine pharmacotherapy and were being subjected to workplace harassment and unfair treatment because of their history of drug use. The courts held that someone who was living a normal, functional life with the help of legally prescribed methadone or buprenorphine could still be suffering from the disability of methadone or buprenorphine dependence, because of the severity and disabling nature of withdrawals if they were not able to maintain their treatment regime.

These cases established that discrimination of people on the basis that they were on a pharmacotherapy program could be disability discrimination and would be unlawful.

HIV and Hepatitis-C related discrimination is also unlawful.

There is also legal protection against discrimination for people with disabilities under the Federal Disability Discrimination Act.

How to complain about discrimination

You can complain in writing to the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission. The complaint must be lodged within 6 months of the alleged discriminatory conduct.

Not all unfair treatment will be considered to be discrimination.

When handling a complaint of discrimination or other prohibited conduct, the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission will conduct an investigation and work with parties (i.e. the person making the complaint and the person/organisation about which the complaint is made) to attempt to resolve the complaint through conciliation.

When a complaint is not able to be resolved through conciliation, it may be determined through a public hearing. This hearing determines whether the actions alleged by the person making the complaint took place and if so, whether they amounted to unlawful conduct under the Act.

Complaints under the Federal Disability Discrimination Act can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC can be reached on

1300 369 711 or at http://www.humanrights.gov.au.

For more information on addressing discrimination please refer to AIVL’s Know Your Rights webpage at http://www.aivl.org.au/knowyourrights.

‘The Law’

Misuse Of Drugs Act – sets out offences of possession, use, supply, manufacture and cultivation. Establishes processes for drug premises orders. Also establishes the infringement notice scheme for minor drug offences. Defines and lists dangerous drugs and prohibited plants and sets out quantities in Schedules 1 and 2.

Misuse Of Drugs Regulations – sets out rules for the disposal of needles and syringes and procedural requirements for the making of a drug premises order.

Australian Poisons Standard (The Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP)) – is a national law containing 9 Schedules which classify drugs, medicines and poisons according to their potential for harm, abuse, addiction and the need for special controls and regulation of sale and supply. The schedules are updated regularly to make many new synthetic drugs illegal in the states and territories.

Poisons And Dangerous Drugs Act – establishes the application of the Australian Poisons Standard in the NT and creates offences for the unlawful importation, manufacture, prescription and use of any drug listed in the Poisons Standard.

Police Administration Act – sets out police investigation, search and arrest powers and procedures and authorises the use of police sniffer dogs.

Youth Justice Act – sets out police strip search and forensic procedure powers for children.

Criminal Code – Schedule 1 – sets out offences against the person such as recklessly endangering the life of a person or causing a danger of death which might be used to criminally prosecute a person with HIV who has infected another person.

Traffic Act – Part 5 sets out drink and drug driving offences and police powers and procedures for requiring blood and other bodily samples.

Motor Vehicle Act – sets out police powers to request to see a driver’s license and the requirement that drivers declare medical conditions which may affect their ability to drive safely.

Prostitution Regulation Act – regulates prostitution in the Northern Territory.

Notifiable Diseases Act – sets out rules governing the notification of notifiable diseases and gives powers to Chief Health Officer to make public health directions.

Anti-Discrimination Act – establishes discrimination law in the NT.