ACT becomes first Australian jurisdiction to legalise cannabis for recreational use

Australian Capital Territory ACT cannabis recreational use possession legal
Possessing and growing cannabis for personal use will be legal in the nation's capital in 2020.

Australian policymakers have taken yet another sure step in Canada’s footsteps after its leading administrative jurisdiction – the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – became the first Australian region to legalise the possession, use and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis.

As part of a series of progressive law changes that go back several years, Australian authorities have been sequentially softening the country’s drug laws, starting with cannabis.

The ACT’s attorney-general, Gordon Ramsay, heralded the new law as a beginning of a “time to treat drug addiction like a health issue rather than an issue of right and wrong”.

To accompany the effective legislation of cannabis possession (and use) Mr Ramsay said the new laws would come with beefed up drug and alcohol services and the introduction of specific drug courts.

What’s new?

The law change means that possessing and growing cannabis for personal use will become legal in Australia’s capital, or in other words, allow Canberrans over the age of 18 to possess 50 grams of cannabis and grow two plants.

Any adult in the ACT will be able to grow two cannabis plants per person, with a maximum of four per household. Furthermore, they will also be allowed to be in possession of up to 50 grams of dry cannabis, or 150 grams of wet cannabis.

In addition to manufacturing and distribution, there also a plethora of rules surrounding when and where cannabis can be consumed.

According to the new ACT law, cannabis cannot be consumed in public, or anywhere near children, and will also have to be stored somewhere inaccessible to children. Cannabis plants will also have to be grown somewhere not accessible to the public.

As things stand, the laws are expected to come into effect on 31 January 2020 although several delays could potentially manifest including opposition, health ministerial approval and judicial wrangling over the months to come.

Hold it right there

Before cannabis-partial green thumb Australians can celebrate, there could be a cloud on the horizon.

The legislation conflicts with Commonwealth laws prohibiting the possession of cannabis. Despite the legalised status cannabis users have been warned there are still serious legal risks, including potential jail time, when growing or smoking cannabis in the ACT.

“Cannabis remains a prohibited substance under Commonwealth law, and police officers in the ACT will retain the power to arrest and charge anyone with cannabis under those laws,” the state authority said.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said that “this does not entirely remove the risk of people being arrested under Commonwealth law, and we are being upfront with the community about that.”

He acknowledged possessing and growing cannabis would remain a federal offence, and the risk of prosecution was “not entirely removed”, but “in practice” the laws would not apply.

The ACT shadow attorney-general, Jeremy Hanson, said the Liberal opposition would not be supporting the bill as it was badly drafted and would lead to several “perverse outcomes”.

Mr Hanson said he thought lenient drug enforcement policy would encourage more people to use cannabis, which medical professionals say would lead to increased rates of psychosis, and more people would be charged with drug-driving.

Furthermore, the fact it conflicted with commonwealth law would be confusing for police, he said.