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


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.


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.


  • 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.


Temporary Class Drug Notices

Many stimulant or mood-altering substances are not banned by laws covering the misuse of drugs. These are often called 'legal highs'. These may have a 'herbal' origin or be produced in a laboratory, and are often sprayed onto carrier plant material. It is often hard to know what the active ingredients are and what the effect of taking them might be.

Many of these so-called 'legal highs' are now illegal. The Ministry of Health has issued numerous Temporary Class Drug Notices that make it illegal to import, export, manufacture, sell or supply any product containing the substances under notice. These currently include over 50 synthetic cannabis products and DMAA (1,3-dimethylamyline), a substance that used to be a common ingredient of 'party pills'.

The Ministry of Health website contains a list of Temporary Class Drug Notices.