By Emily Ledger
UPDATE – 31st January 2020
Today marks the first day of legalisation for Cannabis possession in the Australian Capital Territory. Adults aged 18 and over are now legally permitted to possess up to 50 grams of Cannabis and grow up to two plants (a maximum of four plants per household). However, the purchase of Cannabis remains illegal under both federal, and local law.
ACT Attorney General, Gordon Ramsay, stated:
“This isn’t about legalising and getting a system of sale going on … all we are doing is providing a legal excuse for adults.”
Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, also claimed that the commonwealth would not intervene to overturn the laws. Prime Minister Morrison claimed that “states will make their own decisions according to their own priorities”, but joked that he would not be partaking in the changes.
At the end of September 2019, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Authority made history by passing a bill to legalise recreational Cannabis. The new law will make recreational use and cultivation legal in the territory of Canberra. This makes the jurisdiction the first part of the country to further liberalise Cannabis laws.
However, the decision has faced some opposition throughout the rest of the country.
On September 25th, the ACT passed a bill into law that would make adult recreational use, possession of up to 50g, and the growing of two Cannabis plants per person (no more than four per household), legal.
The opposition claimed that the change would encourage more people to use the drug, and this, in turn, would lead to more health issues. However, the Attorney General, Gordon Ramsey, argued against this position. Supporters claimed that it is more important to treat the issue of marijuana use as a health issue, as opposed to a criminal one.
Medical Cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2017. Most areas in Australia had also already taken the decision to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, possession is still illegal under federal law. Canberra has become the first area of the country to further liberalise legislation around the plant. But, critics claim that residents could still be arrested under federal law.
Most recently, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) has warned that legalising Cannabis will lead to more deaths and injuries on roads. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development have also expressed opposition to the new law.
Despite this, the former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Palmer, has come forward to praise the move:
“I welcome what I consider to be a courageous decision by the ACT parliament to put control into a completely uncontrolled environment.”
The Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Andrew Barr, also argued against the claim. The minister explained that prosecutions for possession would require the approval of federal prosecutors, who are “concerned with larger matters.”
Cannabis is still considered as an illicit substance under Commonwealth law, which technically has precedence over the ACT laws, should federal prosecutors choose to push forward with prosecutions.
It may even be possible that the Commonwealth will overrule the ACT. This could lead to the law being scrapped, as it is inconsistent with the Commonwealth’s own legislation. As it stands, the future of the new law remains uncertain.
Confirmed 28th October: The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has contacted Australia’s federal government in relation to the law passed earlier this month. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) plans to legalise the use, possession, and cultivation of small amounts of Cannabis, starting from the 31st January.
The Letter reads:
“The board wishes to recall that cultivation, production and distribution of cannabis for non-medical purposes is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1961 convention as amended, in particular article 4(c), which requires state parties to limit the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes.”
The letter continues to reiterate that “the legalisation and regulation of cannabis for non-medical use, including in small quantities, would be inconsistent with Australia’s international legal obligations.” However, the ACT would not be the first signatory to veer from the guidelines.
Recreational Cannabis has now been legal in Canada for over a year, as well as in 11 of the United States of America.
The Australian Federal government and the ACT government are yet to respond to the letter.