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Youth drug and alcohol issues

Drugs in state schools

State school principals have wide legal powers to make rules about the conduct of the students at their school and to suspend students who break the rules in a serious way. Most schools have rules against possessing or using drugs at school.

If a student is found possessing or using drugs, they will probably be suspended for at least several days. If a student is caught dealing drugs at school they will probably be expelled, or at least suspended for a lengthy period of time.

The school may also report the student to the police, in which case they will also be charged and brought before the court (the Children's Court if they under 18 years of age), unless they are dealt with by a caution or warning.

Teachers' powers

Teachers do not have the same powers as the police have. Teachers do not have the right to:

  • search a student, their clothing or their bag (unless the student agrees to being searched)
  • hold a student or lock them in a room.

However, teachers can:

  • search school property, like a desk or a locker (if the student has not paid to use it)
  • confiscate any drugs they find.

The school may call the police, who do have the right to search the student.

Suspension and expulsion

State school principals have the power to suspend students for a limited period of time, but principals don't have the power to expel. A decision to expel a student can only be made by the Department of Education. The principal must write to the student and their parents or carers if they are considering recommending expulsion to give the student a chance to dispute the reasons or make any other comment. If the principal then decides to recommend expulsion, the student must receive a copy of the principal's submission to the department. The student has 14 days to make any comment.

If a student is suspended or expelled because of drugs and they are not guilty or they think the penalty is too severe, they can appeal to the Secretary of the Department or the Minister for Education and ask that the decision be reconsidered.

Drugs in private schools

Private schools each have different rules. Private school principals usually have more independent authority than their public school system equivalents.

Generally private schools and state schools could be expected to have a similar approach in cases of possession or supply at school. Expulsion or suspension are likely, depending on the circumstances.

Alcohol and young people

There is no general law that absolutely prohibits young people drinking alcohol. It is illegal in some circumstances, but not in others.

It is illegal for a person under 18 to possess or drink alcohol in a public place, if they are not under the supervision of a responsible adult (Summary Offences Act 1988(NSW), section 11). The young person can be fined a maximum of $20 and the alcohol confiscated.

It is also illegal for a person under 18 years to drink alcohol on licensed premises, such as pubs, clubs and licensed restaurants. It is illegal for a person under 18 years to even be in some parts of some licensed premises.

But it is not illegal for a person under 18 years to consume alcohol in a private place - for example, at home or at a private barbecue or party.

A person under 18 can also legally drink in a public place (provided it is not a declared alcohol free zone) or in an unlicensed BYO restaurant, with the permission of and in the company of their parent or guardian.

It is an offence for a young person to obtain or attempt to obtain alcohol from licensed premises, including a bottle shop (Liquor Act 2007(NSW), section 118 (1)). It is also an offence for a young person to use false evidence of age to obtain alcohol (section 129). The maximum penalty for each of these offences is a fine of $2200.

It is an offence for anyone except the parent or guardian of the young person to supply alcohol to a person under 18 years old, or to obtain alcohol on behalf of someone under 18. Similarly, it is an offence for the licensee of licensed premises to allow alcohol to be supplied to a person under 18. The maximum penalty for these offences is a fine of $11,000 and 12 months' imprisonment (Liquor Act 2007, section 117).

It is legal to supply (but not sell) alcohol to a person under 18 provided the supply is done by the young person’s parent or guardian (or with their authorisation) and provided it is 'consistent with the responsible supervision' of the young person. Factors taken into account on that issue include the age of the young person, whether the person supplying the alcohol is intoxicated and the quantity and type of alcohol. It is illegal to supply alcohol to a person under 18 who is intoxicated, because that is not consistent 'in any circumstances' with responsible supervision (Liquor Act 2007, section 117).

The exception allowing a parent or guardian to supply alcohol to a young person does not apply to licensed premises. Parents and guardians are not allowed to supply their under 18-year-old children with alcohol in pubs, clubs and licensed restaurants.

For more information, see the factsheet on underage drinking laws published by the Office of Liquor and Gaming.

Tobacco and young people

It is not an offence for a person under 18 to possess or use tobacco cigarettes. Police however, have the power to confiscate tobacco (and e-cigarettes) from a person under 18 in a public place.

It is an offence to sell tobacco or 'non-tobacco smoking products' (for example, herbal cigarettes) to a person under 18. The maximum penalty for a first offence is a $11,000 fine or $55,000 for a corporation (Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008(NSW), section 22). It is also an offence under section 23 to purchase tobacco products (or herbal cigarettes) fora person under 18.

The same restrictions on sale to under 18-year-olds now also apply to e-cigarettes.

It is an offence to smoke tobacco (or an e-cigarette) in a motor vehicle if a person under the age of 16 years is in the vehicle (Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008 (NSW), section 30). The maximum fine is $1100.

See also Drug offence cautions for people under 18.