Language and the law can quickly get confusing when speaking about mind-altering substances. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to enable stakeholders ranging from citizens, doctors, scientists, educators, and activists to keep to the same specific terminology when discussing substances ranging from cannabis to heroin to hydrocodone. This rings true across Australia, where different states have slightly different laws and enforcement practices — yet still have most of the same federal policies.

There are some general norms and ways of thinking about drugs in terms of the law. One of the best areas to glean an understanding of what is considered a narcotic is international laws and treaties to which Australia has long been a signatory. These treaties provide an underlying basis for our laws, even as they evolve under different governments.

In general, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime acknowledges that — as elucidated in Australia's own National Drug Strategy — Australia bases all its drug policies, including those around substances it calls narcotics, on empirical data with the goal of reducing supply as well as demand, always with the goal of reducing harm. Harm is considered from the vantage point of individual health, social health and economic health.

The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
Australia is one of many early signatories of this milestone international drug convention to which 186 countries are today also a party. It forms the basis of the country's own Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 (Cth) which is primarily concerned with cannabis.

The Single Convention was passed to update previous international agreements made in the 1930s and to codify significant multinational agreements on controlling drug use and the illicit, black market drug trade, ranging from raw materials such as organic plants to synthetic products.

The stated principal objectives of the Single Convention are to limit the possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture, and production of drugs exclusively for medical and scientific purposes, and to address drug trafficking through international cooperation so as to deter and discourage drug traffickers.

It also gives the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organisation the authority to list drugs on four schedules of controlled substances. Regarding narcotics, specifically, the Single Convention seeks to control more than 116 drugs that it classifies as narcotics. These include:

  • Plant-based products such as opium and its derivatives morphine, codeine and heroin (the primary category of drug listed in the Convention).
  • Synthetic narcotics such as methadone and pethidine.
  • Cannabis, coca, and cocaine.

The schedules allow countries to enforce, to a greater or lesser degree, control for the various substances and compounds. In 1972, a modification to the Single Convention called for increased efforts to prevent illicit production of, traffic in, and use of narcotics as defined by the Convention. At the same time, it acknowledged the need to treat and rehabilitate habitual users.

So what's in it for Queensland?
A full schedule of illegal drugs was codified in the Drugs Misuse Regulation 1987 (Qld).

A guilty verdict for the possession of drugs classified as Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 in Australia carries significant jail time in Queensland specifically, with penalties measured in decades. Supplying and trafficking drugs are also punished severely.

Arrest for possessing, trafficking, cultivating, or otherwise supplying drugs is serious and should prompt you to contact a lawyer straight away.

Depending on whose perspective is framing the conversation, drugs on both Schedules 1 and 2 could be considered narcotics. The former includes substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. The latter includes morphine, cannabis, codeine and diazepam.

The law doesn't delineate between narcotics and other drugs; rather, it adheres to the Schedules. It also carries serious penalties, so it is imperative to reach out for legal assistance if you or someone you care about faces any kinds of drug-related legal problems. The team of solicitors at Beavon Lawyers is experienced in handling all kinds of drug-related charges, including those involving narcotics. Our affordable criminal defence lawyers can take up your case in the Queensland courts, providing you with general legal guidance about steps to take to get help.

Beavon Lawyers' team of solicitors has decades of criminal law experience in supporting all our clients – contact us today to discuss your case.