Illicit drugs – offences and penalties

There is a wide range of controlled and illegal drugs, which the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 classifies according to the level of risk of harm they pose to people misusing them:

  • Class A (very high risk): methamphetamine, magic mushrooms, cocaine, heroin, LSD (Acid)
  • Class B (high risk): cannabis oil, hashish, morphine, opium, ecstasy and many amphetamine-type substances
  • Class C (moderate risk): cannabis seed, cannabis plant, codeine.

Visit the New Zealand Legislation website for a full version of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and later amendments.

Drug offences

It is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 to use, possess, cultivate or traffic (deal) in illegal drugs.

Youth offenders under the age of 17 are not subject to the same penalties as adults (people 17 and over). For more information visit the Ministry of Justice web page Youth Court.

Use

Use includes smoking, inhaling fumes, injecting and ingesting or otherwise introducing a drug of dependence into a person's body (including another person's body).

Possession

This means having control or custody of a drug. Knowledge of such possession must be proven in court. Possession applies to both drugs found on a person or on their property, if it is proven that the drugs belong to that person.

Cultivation

This is the act of sowing, planting, growing, tending, nurturing or harvesting a narcotic plant. Any of these activities constitute the offence of 'cultivation'. If a person cultivates a 'deal-able quantity' or intends to sell even a small quantity, it is likely that charges of possession for supply may be laid. 

Trafficking (dealing)

Trafficking is a very serious offence. Trafficking includes:

  • the preparation of a drug of dependence for distribution
  • manufacturing an illegal drug
  • selling, exchanging or agreeing to sell, offering for sale or having possession for sale an illegal drug. If this is done in commercial quantities the penalties are very severe. Bail may be refused unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Police searches

Police can search you, your bag or vehicle:

  • if you let them
  • or they arrest you
  • or they have a search warrant
  • or they have 'reasonable grounds' for believing that you have drugs or there are drugs at the place you're at.

Police must tell you if they are searching under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

'Reasonable grounds' are things like smelling or seeing drugs on you, seeing you using drugs or seeing you behaving as if stoned. Usually only a policewoman can search you if you are female.

Police can only search inside your mouth if you agree. You can only be searched internally (and only by a medical practitioner) if you have been arrested and Police have reasonable grounds to believe you have drugs within your body.

Some drug offences and maximum penalties

In the following list, 'indictment' refers to a conviction dealt with in a Crown Court (with a jury); 'summarily' refers to a conviction in a Magistrates Court.

Possession

  • Class A 6 months imprisonment and/or $1,000 fine
  • Class B 3 months imprisonment and/or $500 fine
  • Class C 3 months imprisonment and/or $500 fine 

Supply or manufacture

  • Class A Life imprisonment
  • Class B 14 years imprisonment
  • Class C Indictment – 8 years imprisonment. Summarily – 1 year jail and/or $1,000 fine

Letting your premises or motor vehicle be used by someone to make, use or carry drugs

  • Class A 10 years imprisonment
  • Class B seven years imprisonment
  • Class C three years imprisonment

Possession of instruments for the purpose of taking drugs
(eg, a pipe, bong, needles, syringes, spotting knife)

  • one year imprisonment and/or $500 fine

Cultivation of prohibited plants
(eg, cannabis)

  • Indictment – seven years imprisonment. Summarily – two years jail and/or $2,000 fine 

Having in your possession seed or fruit of a prohibited plant

  • one year imprisonment and/or $500 fine

Drugs classified by effect

Drugs can be classified by the effects they have on the human central nervous system. There are three main groups:

  • depressants
    • cannabis
    • benzodiazepines
    • heroin and opiates
    • inhalants and solvents
    • alcohol
  • hallucinogens
    • LSD
    • ecstasy
  • stimulants
    • methamphetamines
    • cocaine
    • party pills.

See more information about cannabis
See more information about methamphetamine

To find out details of these drugs, including their health effects, how to minimise their harm, the law and penalties associated with them and how to get help, visit the website of the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Psychoactive substances

Psychoactive substances, such as party pills, herbal highs, and synthetic cannabis (which are not classified as controlled drugs) are covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. Under this Act, it is illegal to import, manufacture, sell, or possess a psychoactive substance unless it has been approved for use by the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority.  Importers, retailers, and manufacturers must also apply to this Authority for a licence if they wish to deal in an approved product.

There are currently no psychoactive products approved for use in New Zealand. This is unlikely to change in the near future as restrictions on the use of animal testing make it very difficult for a substance to meet the required standards for approval.

Selling or supplying, or possessing with intent to sell or supply, a psychoactive substance that is not an approved product, is an offence punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment for an individual or a fine of up to $500,000 for a body corporate. Personal possession of an unapproved substance is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

For more information about psychoactive substances and the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, see: https://psychoactives.health.govt.nz/.