A person entering Australia is allowed to bring a three-month supply of prescription drugs with them if they have the prescription with them. In any other circumstance, drug importation is illegal unless you have received government permission. Drug importation is a commonwealth crime governed by the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995.
Serious drug smuggling operations usually involve multiple persons working in different ways and at different levels. Prosecutions for drug importation offences often rely on principles of conspiracy and accessorial liability. Drug importation offences attract some of the highest penalties courts can impose.
Drug importation offences
The main offences relating to importation and exportation of prohibited drugs are as follows.
Importing commercial quantity
Under Section 307.1, it is an offence to Import or export a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug or border-controlled plant. This offence attacks a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or a fine of 7,500 penalty units, or both. To be found guilty of drug importation of a commercial quantity the accused must have imported the substance intentionally or recklessly.
Importing marketable quantity
Under Section 307.2, it is an offence to import or export a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug or a border controlled plant. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment or a fine of 5,000 penalty units, or both. To be found guilty of drug importation of a marketable quantity the accused must have imported the substance intentionally or recklessly.
Importing less than a marketable quantity
Under Section 307.4, a person commits an offence if they import or export a border controlled drug or plant that is less than a marketable quantity. This offence is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 10 years or a fine of 2,000 penalty units, or both.
What is a border controlled drug?
Schedule 4 of the Criminal Code Regulations lists the substances that are border controlled drugs. The list includes most drugs that are considered ‘illicit’ as well as many drugs that cannot be obtained in Australia without a prescription. As new ‘designer’ drugs emerge, they are usually added to the list of border controlled drugs.
What is a border controlled plant?
Section 5E of the Criminal Code Regulations lists the plants that are border controlled plants. These are:
- Erythroxylon (from which cocaine can be made);
- Lophophora (from which mescalin is extracted);
- Papaver bracteatum, or great scarlet poppy (from which opiates are made);
- Papaver somniferum, or opium poppy (from which opium is derived);
- Piptagenia peregrine (from which DMT is derived);
- Psilocybe (magic mushrooms).
It is illegal to bring a border controlled drug or border controlled plant into Australia in any quantity, however drug importation in large quantities attracts harsher penalties. Large quantities of controlled drugs or plants are categorised as either a marketable quantity or a commercial quantity.
|Drug or plant||Marketable Quantity||Commercial Quantity|
|Cannabis||25,000 grams||100 kg|
|Heroin||2 grams||1.5 kg|
|Methamphetamine||2 grams||0.75 kg|
|MDMA (Ecstasy)||0.5 gram||0.5 kg|
|Cocaine||2 grams||2 kg|
|Papaver somniferum||10 kg||-|
Presumption that marketable quantity is for sale
When a person is found guilty of drug importation of a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug, there is a presumption that they intended to sell the drug. If the accused can convince the court that the imported drug was for personal use only, he or she can be convicted of importing for personal use, which attracts a maximum penalty of two years rather than 25 years.
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