First time drug supply charges and sentencing Guidelines

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First-time drug supply charges and sentencing Guidelines

First-time drug supply charges are serious charges that will require experienced legal defence.  If you are arrested and charged with first-time drug supply charges, you could be facing time in prison.

While first-time offenders may receive some leniency in sentencing when they choose to plead guilty, it isn’t guaranteed.  The court will decide on the penalty, considering several factors including prior convictions, but also the crime committed, the defendant’s character and their circumstances.

In saying that, the right criminal lawyers can help get charges reduced to less serious charges, help you avoid jail and even avoid a criminal record with section 10 non-convictions.   

The best drug lawyers in Sydney

Australian Criminal Law Group are known for the results they get their clients both in and out of court and were recently given the title of “best drug lawyers in Sydney”.  That’s because we fight to get charges dropped, reduced to lesser charges and where clients plead guilty, to get them the best possible results.

Get in touch with us to book your first free consult at one of our Sydney, Parramatta, or Blacktown offices.  Call us at 02 8815 8167 or send us a website enquiry today.  We have a team of drug defence lawyers ready to help you with your case.

 What is a Drug Supply Charge?

If you have been found selling, distributing or supplying prohibited drugs then you could be charged with a drug supply offence.

The Drug Misuse and Tracking Act 1985 (NSW) covers the offence of drug supply.  The Act defines supply as;

“Supply includes sell and distribute, and also includes agreeing to supply, or offering to supply, or keeping or having in possession for supply, or sending, forwarding, delivering or receiving for supply, or authorising, directing, causing, suffering, permitting or attempting any of those acts or things.”

The most common drug supply charges are

Drug supply offences are ‘indictable offences’, which means that they may be dealt with by either the local or district court.

If you are arrested for drug supply, you will receive a court attendance notice.  This will include all of the details about the charge including which court you are to attend to have your matter heard and on what date.

What is Deemed Supply?

In NSW if the quantity of drug you have in your possession is a “trafficable quantity” then you could be charged with supply, even if it was for personal use.  This is what is called “deemed supply”.

The trafficable quantity of a drug is based on the weight of the drug in possession.  It is what is beyond what would likely be for personal use.  Therefore, if it is not for personal use then it must be for supply.  The amount of drug that is a trafficable quantity, however, differs depending on the drug.  In some instances, the quantity of drugs to be considered trafficable or for supply is very small.

To defend a deemed drug supply charge, you will need to prove on the balance of probabilities that you possessed the drug for reasons other than for supply i.e. you were holding a friends drugs, they were for you only etc.

Defending against deemed supply, the court will consider things such as what else was in your possession at the time eg. Plastic bags, scales etc.

If you are arrested for Supplying a prohibited drug or precursor or for deemed supply, then if it is the first offence, a lack of prior convictions could work in your favour.

Read about drug supply charges, penalties and defences.

Drug Supply Sentencing guidelines NSW

The below table shows all drug quantities for sentencing guidelines.

Prohibited Plant/Drug  Small Qty.  Trafficable  Indictable

Cannabis Leaf  30g 300g 1,000g 25kg 100kg
Amphetamine  1 g 3.0 g 5 g 250.0 g 1 Kg
Cocaine  1 g 3 g 5 g 250.0 g 1 Kg
Heroin  1 g 3 g 5 g 250.0 g 1 Kg
Lysergic acid  0.0008 g 0.003 g 0.005 g 0.5 g 2 Kg
Methylamphetamine  1 g 3 g 5 g 250 g 1 Kg
MDMA/Ecstasy  0.8 g 0.75 g 1.25 g 125 g 500g

Drug Supply Penalties NSW

The maximum penalty for drug supply can range from 2 years imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine to life imprisonment.  The type and amount of drug that is involved are what determine the maximum penalty that can be imposed.

The table below lists the maximum penalties for drug supply in NSW.


Quantity If Heard in Local Court  If Heard in District Court  If Heard in District Court + Child is Exposed in Manufacture 
 Small Qty  2 years imprisonment and/or $5,500 fine 15 years imprisonment and/or $220,000 fine 18-years imprisonment and/or $264,000 fine
Between Small and Commercial Qty  2 years imprisonment and/or $11,000 fine 15 years imprisonment and/or $220,000 fine Same penalties as above
Commercial Qty  Cannot be dealt with in Local Court 20 years imprisonment and/or $385,000 fine 25-years imprisonment and/or $462,00 fine
Large Commercial Qty  Cannot be dealt with in Local Court Life imprisonment and/or $550,000 fine Life imprisonment and/or $660,000 fine


Will I go to jail for first-time drug supply?

While most drug offences carry a maximum penalty including imprisonment, that doesn’t mean you are going to go to jail.   There are many alternative penalties that the courts can give for drug supply convictions, that are considered more favourable than jail.

A judge or magistrate will decide on the appropriate penalty to impose after considering several factors surrounding the case.  This includes the circumstances around the crime, the seriousness of the crime, demonstrated remorse, the likelihood to re-offend, if the crime was violent or intended to cause harm to another person, and prior convictions.

Only after considering all factors, in the absence of an appropriate alternative penalty should a  sentence of imprisonment be given.   As per the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999, section 5;

‘A court must not sentence an offender to imprisonment unless it is satisfied, having considered all possible alternatives, that no penalty other than imprisonment is appropriate.

For first time offenders, if the crime was not violent and did not involve an intent to cause harm to another person, the judge or magistrate is more likely to give a lenient penalty that doesn’t include time in jail.

Considerations when sentencing

The court will assess several factors about the case in determining the appropriate sentence and penalty to apply.  Generally, this is based on the seriousness of the offence.  The court is more likely to give a less serious punishment for those that are less serious.

The factors that the court will assess to determine the seriousness of the offence include the following.

  • The quantity of the drug: Different penalties apply based on the quantity of the drug.  These are listed in the table above.  Within each weight category, you will also more likely receive a more lenient sentence if the quantity and purity of the drug are low.  Likewise, if the quantity and purity are high, you will likely receive a harsher penalty.
  • Reasons for Offending: The court looks less favourably on crimes that are committed out of pure greed vs. necessity. Therefore, if the supply was for selfish or greedy reasons then the penalty is likely to be higher. An example would be if the offence was committed for selfish profit vs. to feed an addiction or to help a family out of financial hardship.
  • The role of the offender: Was a syndicate involved and what the role of the offender was in the offence will influence the level of criminality attributed to the offender. For example, a courier is likely to get a more lenient sentence than the main supplier that profits the most from the sale.
  • The behaviour of the offender during and after arrest: Was the offender helpful and did they assist authorities?  If the offender was helpful, then it can help in receiving a discounted sentence.
  • Other personal circumstances: Drug addiction, mental health at the time of the offence, vulnerability influencing the offence such as drug habit and other circumstances contributing to the likelihood of rehabilitation.  These include good character, remorse and absence of a previous criminal record.
  • Steps towards rehabilitation: Courts give significant weight to demonstrated rehabilitation such as psychological/psychiatric treatment, counselling, residential rehabilitation, and group meetings.

Alternate penalties for first-time drug supply charges

There are several alternate penalties available to the court for drug supply, including first-time drug supply charges, that are considered more favourable than imprisonment.  These include

  • Section 10: No convictions
  • Conditional Release Order
  • Intensive Corrections Orders
  • Community Corrections Order
  • Fines

You will need to work with a good drug lawyer to avoid prison.  Australian Criminal Law Group are expert criminal lawyers at getting Section 10 No convictions or other more lenient penalties.

Will the court give a more lenient sentence to first-time drug supply offenders?

Generally, the absence of a previous criminal record will be considered when determining if someone facing drug supply charges is likely to re-offend and their likelihood of full rehabilitation.  Where full rehabilitation is considered likely and reoffending unlikely, then a more lenient sentence that does not involve a full custodian sentence (imprisonment) is likely.

In the past, if you were found to be supplying drugs to a ‘substantial degree’ the judge was required to sentence you to full-time imprisonment.  What was deemed a ‘substantial degree’ however was unclear.  Where ongoing offending was believed to be a ‘substantial’ degree, then a lenient sentence would not be possible.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case.  The court will look at several factors including quantity of drugs, involvement of offender, personal factors etc as per the list above.  This also includes whether this is a first-time drug supply offence or not.

The most ideal outcome for most drug supply charges is to receive a section 10, no conviction. This means no criminal record, even if you plead guilty.   If it is your first offence, then this is something that your criminal defence lawyer can argue for your case to receive a section 10 no conviction.

What court will hear my case?

Drug supply is an indictable offence which means the matter can be heard in either the district or local court.  Generally, the matter will be heard in the District Court.  However, if the amount of drugs involved is less than a commercial quantity (as per the table above), then the matter can be dealt with summarily in the local court.

If the offence is a commercial drug supply offence, where the amount of drug involved in supply falls within a commercial quantity category, then the matter will be heard in the District Court. These offences are called ‘strictly indictable offences.  They include the commercial and large commercial quantities of drug supply and are considered among the most serious drug supply offences.

How should I plead for a first-time drug offence?

It is always best to seek legal advice before deciding how to plead to a first-time drug supply offence. An experienced drug lawyer will be able to help you decide the best course of action based on the defences available to you and the specific circumstances of the offence and charges brought against you.

There are two ways that you can plead – guilty or not guilty.

Generally, if you are guilty and the prosecution can prove that you are guilty, it is always best to enter a guilty plea.  The court normally always looks favourably on an admission of guilt vs. a not guilty plea that results in a conviction.  That is because it demonstrates to the court that you accept the charges against you and demonstrate remorse.

However, if you are innocent and there are appropriate defences available to you, then you might want to enter a plea of not guilty.  If the court accepts your defence and argument proving your innocence, then it is likely the case will be settled in your favour, and you will be free of criminal charges.

Court proceedings can be very expensive though.  Penalties are also going to be harsher if you are eventually found guilty.  As such, it is important that you are very sure that you will be found not guilty if that is the way you chose to plead.  We recommend speaking with an experienced drug lawyer at the Australian Criminal Law Group to determine the likelihood you will be found not guilty.

Should I complete a written notice of pleading?

You should not complete a Written Notice of Pleading without first consulting with an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

If you are arrested for drug supply, in some cases, police may provide you with a Written Notice of Pleading together with the Court Attendance Notice.   A Written Notice of Pleading is a form that allows you to tell the court how you wish to plead. It includes details to be completed such as your name, details of the offence, the court you are required to attend and when, information about how and why the offence happened, and other information about yourself including your financial situation, character, and personal circumstances.  You should also include character references and other relevant documents.

By completing the form, if you plead guilty, the court will decide based on what you included on the form and the documents you provided.  Your case will be heard in your absence.  This means you will forgo the opportunity to argue your case and why you should not receive a criminal conviction.

The likely outcome of completing a Written Notice of Pleading for a first-time drug supply offence is that you will receive a criminal conviction.   As such, we normally advise against it.  However, whatever you think you would like to do, it is always best to consult with an experienced drug defence lawyer.

Defences for Drug Supply NSW

To be convicted of a drug supply offence, the police must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you either i) supplied a prohibited drug or ii) took part in supplying a prohibited drug.

  • That the drugs were for your personal use. You may be able to have your sentence reduced from deemed supply to possession if you can prove to the court that the drugs were for your own personal use.  The amount of drug that is deemed supply varies depending on the drug.   In some cases, the amount is very small and is not unreasonable to expect someone could have in their possession a greater quantity than what is deemed a “trafficable quantity” for personal use.  This will be harder to do if things like resealable bags, weights and other things used for supply are also found in your possession at the time.
  • You had the drugs in your possession out of necessity or duress. An example of this would be if you could prove that you were holding the drugs because your safety was threatened by someone if you didn’t hold the drugs.
  • If the drugs were found by police as part of an illegal search or arrest.  An example would be if the police searched your premises without due cause, proper warrants, or reason to search the property.
  • If the drug was found in a common area.   If others have access to the common area, then the possibility that it could be someone else’s cannot be excluded.
  • If you weren’t aware that the drugs were where they were found, and you were unaware of even the likelihood of their existence. I.e., You didn’t know the drugs were on the premises.
  • For charges of ‘taking part in supply’, you can prove that you weren’t involved in the supply by way of taking any steps in the process, financing or arranging to finance for the supply or allowing the offence to happen on-premises.
  • If the drug proves not to be a prohibited substance or plant.  If that were the case, then there would be no offence committed.

How to avoid a conviction for a first-time drug supply offence

If you are caught dealing drugs by the police, and you are guilty of the offence, it is best to plead guilty.  If you have the right lawyers on your case and you follow the steps outlined here, you can even avoid conviction if it is your first-time drug supply offence.

The implications of having a conviction for drug supply can be life-changing.  They can impact your future employment opportunities, impact your ability to travel to certain countries on holiday and/or immigrate to certain counties.  A conviction for drug supply should, therefore, be avoided at all costs.

To avoid a criminal record, it is best to get a criminal lawyer on your case.  There are also things you can do or that your lawyer can do for you that can improve your chances of avoiding a criminal conviction.

  1. Plead guilty early if you are going to plead guilty. Early guilty pleas will receive a more lenient sentence and a 25% discount on punishment. However, if you enter a guilty plea later in court proceedings, the discount will not be as big.  Of course, don’t enter a guilty plea until you have first spoken to an experienced criminal lawyer.
  2. Do not return the written notice of pleading without first consulting with your criminal defence solicitor. If you do, the matter will be heard in your absence.  This means you will not have an opportunity to present your case and arguments as to why you should avoid a criminal conviction.
  3. Negotiate to drop charges: Your defence lawyer can negotiate with the police to have charges dropped.  This is possible if there are enough holes in the case the police have against you, including lack of evidence, unreliable witnesses, or if you have a strong defence.  This will be done by your defence lawyer before you enter a plea.  A letter or what is called ‘legal representations’ will be sent to the prosecution outlining the reasons why the charges should be dropped.  This will include the holes in the evidence.
  4. Negotiate to change the police facts. The main details of your drug supply offence are summarised on a police facts sheet document.  The court reads the facts sheet before a sentence is imposed.  Your lawyer can negotiate with the police to have the details changed on the facts sheet.  If successful, this can result in a lighter sentence.
  5. Prepare character references for court. Get several people that are close to you to write good character references that support your good character.  Have them state in the reference that they believe you are of good character and that your behaviour was out of character.  Read about good character references.
  6. Write an apology letter: Some judges will issue more lenient sentences for first-time drug supply offenders that show remorse.  An apology letter is a great way to do this and to say sorry for what you have done.
  7. Counselling or rehab: Attending counselling or rehab and being proactive in doing it without it being enforced by the court can show an acceptance of guilt and a desire to rehabilitate.  Rehabilitation also means a reduced chance of reoffending.  Your counsellor can also report to the courts for you and share updates on your progress.

Get the best first-time drug supply offence, lawyers

 If you are facing a first-time drug supply charge, get in touch with us.  It is important that you get the best representation for first-time drug supply offences.  Not doing so could result in imprisonment and having a criminal conviction recorded against your name.

Australian Criminal Law Group has a team of expert drug lawyers including Joseph Correy who is recognised as one of Sydney’s best drug lawyers.  Mr Correy’s status as one of the best drug defence lawyers is thanks to his unyielding commitment to and reputation for getting his clients the best possible results every time.

Don’t hesitate to contact us to get the best legal advice and representation NSW has to offer for first-time drug supply offences.  We have offices in Parramatta, Blacktown and Sydney.  You can call us at 02 8815 8167 or send us a website enquiry to book your first free consultation.



Source: Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, accessed 16 April 2022 at 15:53



This information is intended as a general guide to law only.  It should not be relied on as legal advice, and it is recommended that you speak with a qualified lawyer about your situation.

Australian Criminal Law Group and its suppliers make every reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy and validity of the information provided on its web pages. At the time of updating, this information was correct, however, given the laws in NSW and Australia are continually changing, the Australian Criminal Law Group makes no warranties or representations as to its accuracy.



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