Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Serious Drugs

Serious Drugs

Intercepting illicit drugs and precursors at the border prevents them from entering the Australian community. We prosecute a significant number of cases relating to serious drug offences, often involving the importation of drugs and precursors.


Serious drug offences, particularly importations, are rarely committed by one person. In most cases they involve a number of players who are involved at different levels and in different ways. As a result, we often have to rely on extension of criminal liability provisions involving conspiracy, joint commission or accessorial liability in order to prosecute all those involved in an importation.


When it comes to precursors, substances used to manufacture drugs and essential for producing illicit drugs, we see a huge variety in the methods people use. These range from smaller quantities being imported through the mail, often several kilograms at a time, to highly sophisticated importations of hundreds of kilograms or several tonnes via shipping containers.

Serious drug offences

Commonwealth serious drug offences apply to a long list of illicit substances including:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL)
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Methamphetamine, and
  • precursor chemicals such as Pseudoephedrine.

Drug and precursor offences are among the most serious Commonwealth offences and attract substantial penalties under Part 9.1 of the Criminal Code, including imprisonment for life for offences involving the importation of a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

There are a range of other serious drug offences in the Criminal Code, including:

  • trafficking
  • commercial manufacture of controlled drugs, and
  • pre-trafficking in controlled precursors.

There are also provisions in the Criminal Code that extend the schedules of controlled and border controlled drugs to include substances that are analogues to those drugs listed. Drug analogues are substances that have a similar chemical structure to a drug that is listed.

There are also provisions that extend the definition of controlled and border controlled precursors to include substances that are salts, esters, and immediate precursors of the precursors listed.

We also prosecute State and Territory drug offences, usually where the investigation involves a Commonwealth agency and it is appropriate for us to conduct the prosecution.

Main offences

Serious drug prosecutions can be divided into four main categories:

Additional offences

Additional offences relating to the importation of non-narcotic drugs, specified chemical compounds and specified performance enhancing substances also exist under the Customs Act, though the penalties are significantly less than those prosecuted under the Criminal Code.


The level of penalty associated with serious drug offences generally depends on the quantity of the illicit substance involved. There are three tiers of quantities used in the Criminal Code:

  • commercial quantity (the largest, usually measured in kilograms)
  • marketable quantity (in grams), and
  • trafficable quantity (in grams, but less than a marketable amount).

The penalties range from 2 years’ imprisonment for basic possession offences, through to life imprisonment for trafficking or importing/exporting commercial quantities of a border controlled drug.

Key legislation

Partner agencies

Practice Group Instructions (PGI)

PGI IIE/OCCT No. 1 – PDF icon Charging Guideline for serious drug offences under Part 9.1 of the Criminal Code