Since 2016, it has been possible to legally grow medicinal cannabis in Australia. However, the cultivation of cannabis remains a serious criminal offence in all states and territories, unless it is done under very tight controls and for medicinal use only. This article will outline the laws around cultivating cannabis in Queensland, in both lawful and unlawful contexts.
Medicinal Cannabis in Queensland
The Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 now contains a provision under which a person in Australia may apply for a medicinal cannabis licence (Section 8E). Once a person (whether a company or a natural person) has obtained a licence, they are permitted to obtain, cultivate and produce cannabis plants or cannabis resin for medicinal purposes. This is required to be done under strict controls. The person must have a suitable location, facilities and proposed security arrangement for the activities to take place. In order to obtain a licence, a person must also show that they are a fit and proper person, that they have not committed a serious offence in the last 10 years and that they will take all necessary steps to ensure the physical security of the cannabis. A licence will only be issued if the Health Department is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so.
Cannabis plant contains different compounds, cannabinoids and terpene, which have various different effects on the human body. Medicinal products can be manufactured from cannabis plant for use by individuals suffering from medical conditions such as MS, epilepsy, chronic pain, epilepsy and HIV.
In 2016, the Queensland government passed the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Act, which sets out a legislative scheme for the approval of applications for treatment of a patient with medicinal cannabis products and for the management of this treatment. There are currently three ways to access medicinal cannabis in Queensland:
- Have it prescribed by a medical specialist who is registered to prescribe medicinal cannabis products for particularly type of patients;
- Have your doctor seek approval to prescribe a cannabis product to you;
- Participate in a clinical trial (if you meet the criteria).
There is currently only one medicinal cannabis product which is approved for use in Australia, meaning that patients requiring other products which must be imported will have to obtain approvals from the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Queensland Department of Health prior to these products being prescribed. Medicinal cannabis is now being farmed in Queensland, but locally produced products are not yet available.
Medicinal cannabis can currently only be prescribed in Queensland for drug-resistant epilepsy in children, chemotherapy-induced nausea in adults, symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and during palliative care.
The Offense of Cultivating Cannabis
Cultivating cannabis is an offence in all states and territories when it is done otherwise than under the Federal licencing scheme. In Queensland, it is an offence to unlawfully produce a dangerous drug under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Section 8). This includes the cultivation of cannabis.
Cultivation can be carried out on a tiny scale, consisting of a single plant in someone’s home, or on a medium, large or huge scale, with plants harvested with the use of a sophisticated hydroponic system (‘cultivation by enhanced indoor means’, which forms a separate offence in some jurisdictions) or outside on a rural property.
In Queensland, only two categories of the offences of cultivating cannabis exist and the maximum penalties for them are as follows:
|Less than 500 grams or 100 plants||Produce a dangerous drug||Maximum penalty 15 years imprisonment|
|More than 500 grams or 100 plants||Produce a dangerous drug||Maximum penalty 20 years imprisonment|
While the maximum penalties stipulated above refer to periods of imprisonment, there are other, lesser sentences that will be handed down in some cases. A charge involving growing a small amount of cannabis for personal use (be it recreational or medical use), may be dealt with by way of a fine or community based order. Conversely, where a person is growing the plant as a commercial operation without a licence, a lengthy custodial sentence can be expected.
Cultivation of cannabis without a licence remains a serious offence in Queensland. As the circumstances of every alleged criminal offence are different, it is important to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. If you have been charged with a cannabis offence, please call the Go To Court Hotline 1300 636 846.