A Sydney Drug Lawyer Explains: What to do if you’re caught with drugs

Last month, a light plane crashed en route to Australia because it was laden with so much cocaine that it was too heavy to take off. While that plane was bound for QLD, a Sydney man has been charged in connection with the crime – alongside members of a known crime syndicate in Melbourne. 

This case is an extreme example, but it shows the clear demand for illicit drugs along Australia’s east coast.

Drug offences in Beverly Hills and surrounds

Sydney’s inner south is fortunate enough to have consistently low arrests and charges due to drug offences. But that doesn’t mean we’re immune to drug issues. 

Residents of Riverwood are charged with drug offences at a rate 2 times higher than the NSW average. Meanwhile, drug charges in Penshurst have increased 65.9% over the past two years. 


A graph showing the number of drug offences in Sydney suburbs between April 2018 and March 2020

So, what do you do if you’re caught with drugs in Sydney? Read on to find out. 

Which drugs are illegal in Sydney?

Common drugs that are illegal in NSW include:

  • Cannabis
  • Methamphetamine 
  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy 
  • Amphetamines (ice)
  • LSD 
  • Cocaine 
  • Methadone 
  • Magic mushrooms
  • And many more. 

Your Legal Rights If You’re Caught With Drugs

First, it’s important to understand your legal rights if you’re caught with drugs. 

Can the police search me for drugs? 

Police have the power to search you before arresting you if they “reasonably suspect” that you may be in possession of drugs. They are allowed to search your vehicle and, in some cases, they may even strip-search you.

Strip searches by police for drugs

You have more rights when it comes to strip searches. NSW Police can’t strip search you just anywhere – it needs to be at a police station or place of detention, unless the situation is deemed urgent. 

The strip search must be:

  • Conducted out of view of people who do not need to be present for the search (including other officers)
  • Deemed necessary by the police officer – and it must be reasonable in the circumstances. 
  • Conducted by an officer of the same sex. 

It must not: 

  • Involve the removal of any more clothing than reasonably necessary. 
  • Involve anything more than a visual inspection. 
  • Be conducted on a child younger than 10. 
  • Be conducted on a child between 10 and 17 without the presence of a guardian. 

The police do not need your consent or a warrant to conduct a strip search if they reasonably believe you have drugs on your person. 

Do I need to tell the Police my name if I’m caught with drugs?

You have a right to remain silent upon being arrested in NSW. However, in many circumstances you will be required to give your name and address. 

Your right to silence

With some exceptions, you have the right to remain silent after being arrested for any crime. The exceptions don’t relate to drug offences, so you can presume you have the right to remain silent if you’re caught with drugs. 

Your right to legal advice 

When arrested, you have a right to contact a lawyer and seek legal advice.

What can I be charged with if I’m found carrying drugs in Sydney?


You can be charged with possession if you have an illegal drug on you or if the Police think they can prove that you’re in ‘control’ of the drug – like, if it’s in your car or bedroom. If you know that the drugs were there, you might be found guilty.

The penalty for possession is up to 12 months in prison and/or a fine of $2,200. 

There are separate offences if you use or attempt to use prohibited drugs, or are caught in the act of consumption (smoking, snorting, injecting, etc). The same penalties apply to these charges.

Supply charges

Supply is another name for ‘dealing’, and includes selling or giving away of drugs. 

If you have an amount of an illegal drug that’s considered more than what you’d use personally (a ‘small quantity’, you can be found guilty of ‘deemed supply’ – even if you didn’t intend to sell the drugs. 

You can also be charged with ‘supply’ by just offering to sell drugs or dishonestly selling a legal substance (like icing sugar or bicarb soda) as a drug. 

There’s more information about the quantities below, so read on.

Drug equipment

It is illegal to have ‘drug paraphernalia’ – that is, equipment that is used to consume drugs. 

The law is the same as possession in that you know about the drug equipment and have it in your possession or control to be found guilty. 

It is an offence to sell a bong or ice pipe – even if you didn’t intend for it to be used to take drugs. 

Syringes are not considered to be drug equipment, but lighters, spoons, and tourniquets might be.

Cultivating and manufacturing drugs

Growing cannabis is an offence at all stages of the plant’s growth – from possessing seeds to harvesting. You may have a defence if you were not aware that you were growing cannabis. 

It’s also illegal to produce or manufacture synthetic drugs or street drugs.

Drug Driving

Police can now also test for some drugs in your system if you have been stopped by for random testing or pulled over. It is important you comply with the police requests for an oral sample because not doing so may result in a harsher penalty than what you would receive for driving while impaired.

Drug Driving Penalties in NSW

Chart outlining Drug Driving Penalties in Sydney NSW

What’s a Court Attendance Notice?

If you’re found in possession of drugs, you may be given a Court Attendance Notice. As the name suggests, this Notice requires you to go to court at some future date and time. 

The Court Attendance Notice will include information about the offence you’re being charged with, as well as the facts surrounding the offence. Some general information about your legal rights is also likely to be included.

The Penalty Notice Scheme for Drug Offences in NSW

For first time offenders, NSW has introduced a Penalty Notice Scheme. It allows those caught with drugs (for the first time) to be dealt with outside of court. It also means that these offenders will not end up with a criminal conviction. 

If you are a first time offender, you may receive a fine of $400.  The police have the discretion to not fine you, so it may be worthwhile being cooperative and pleasant to the police officers.

The Cannabis Caution Scheme in NSW

If you’re caught with cannabis, you might be exempt from the Penalty Notice Scheme. Instead, the police are able to give you a warning – as long as it is a small amount of cannabis and you have fewer than two previous warnings for drug possession.

A note about the caution schemes in NSW

In both of the above scenarios, the police are able to use their discretion for those in possession of small amounts of drugs to reduce criminialisation. This discretion means they issue a penalty notice, but they can formally charge you if they see fit. 

There are rumours that police are more likely to issue penalty notices and cautions at music festivals and similar events, while you’re more likely to be issued a court attendance notice if you’re found with drugs at train stations or in other public places around the city. If the police officer mentions they’re going to charge you, it’s worth being compliant and pleasant as you outline that you’re a first time offender. You may ask them (politely) to use their discretion to issue a less severe penalty.

What is a ‘small quantity’ of drugs?

 There’s a difference between a small quantity of drugs, a traffickable quantity, an indictable quantity, and commercial and large commercial quantities. Small is the least serious, while large commercial quantities are the most serious. 

What constitutes a small quantity of drugs varies depending on the type of drug, so there’s no single answer to that question.

You can view a complete list of drugs that are illegal in NSW and what constitutes ‘small quantities’ in the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act.

Supply quantities of drugs in NSW

Only the total weight of the drug matters, not the purity. So, it doesn’t matter how much the illegal substance is ‘cut’ with other substances – it only matters how much it weighs.

How a drug lawyer can help if you’ve been charged with drug offences in Sydney

A good lawyer will assess your case, weigh up the evidence and your individual circumstances, and discuss your options with you. 

Here are some of the usual outcomes: 

Pleading Not Guilty

If you and your lawyer feel that you have a justification for having the drugs in your possession, or if you feel that you were wrongfully charged, you can plead not guilty. 

Some potential explanations that may help your case in court include 

  • You didn’t know the drugs were on you 
  • The police’s search was not legal 
  • The drugs were found in an area that you do not have exclusive access to (for example in a car that is shared with others) 
  • There was not enough evidence to show that you possessed the drugs 

The law around drug offences is complex. It’s worth working with a lawyer if you plan to plead not guilty so you can attack the prosecution’s case the right way. 

Pleading Guilty to drug offences

If you do not have a strong case and/or you’re willing to accept responsibility for the charges, you will plead guilty. 

Doing so early in the court proceedings is looked upon favourably in court and typically results in a lighter sentence.   

A lawyer can help you tell your story to the judge and persuade them that you’re taking the right steps to ensure you won’t offend again. This also can go a long way in getting a lighter sentence. 

Penalties for drug offences in NSW

The maximum penalty for drug possession is two years imprisonment and / or a $2,200 fine. This will vary depending on the quantity and type of drug, as well as your criminal history. 

Altria’s drug lawyers offer free consultations for drug charges

With Altria’s experienced drug lawyers, you’ve got your best chance to put the law on your side.

We offer a FREE assessment of your case. And your first consultation with us is free too. So, you won’t have to pay anything unless you’re happy with how we’re going to tackle your drug charges in the Sydney court system.

Together, we can work out how to best approach your case to minimise the charges, the penalties, and the impact the charge will have on your life. 

Find out more. 

Aziz and the Altria Team