Australia’s capital just said yes to weed
Canberra just became the first city in Australia to legalise cannabis for personal use. Australia’s capital took this major step on Tuesday night, when the ACT passed the private member’s bill.
Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson introduced the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018 last year, which sought to legalise recreational marijuana possession and cultivation for Canberrans over the age of 18.
The bill needed 13 votes to pass, and had already gathered 12 votes. The thirteenth vote was expected from the Greens, who sought a review of the bill for possible amendments. With reviews and amendments complete, the votes have been cast and the law will go into effect on January 31, 2020.
What’s in the bill?
Here’s a closer look at the bill:
- Effective January 31 of next year
- Legalises recreational marijuana within the ACT for those aged 18 and over
- You can possess up to 50 grams
- You can also cultivate up to 2 plants of marijuana, or 4 plants per household
- No marijuana around children
- You can’t grow marijuana in community gardens
What about the federal government?
While this is some good news for marijuana advocates in the ACT, the drug remains illegal on the federal level. This, of course, may cause some friction with the Commonwealth’s laws.
There may be some concern here, but Michael Pettersson doesn’t think we should worry too much about it. According to the Yerrabi Labor member, it’s not likely that the Commonwealth will tackle this law, and that it would be a waste of their time to do so. He also points out that, as a defence, cannabis can be used under Commonwealth law if a state or territory justifies it, because “Commonwealth law has been written with the express understanding that there are differences.”
But there might be some reason to worry, though. After all, the federal government have struck down ACT law on previous occasions. For example, the federal government challenged the ACT’s same sex marriage law in 2013 and won, striking it down. The federal government also struck down the ACT’s voluntary euthanasia law back in 1995 through legislation.
The ACT also acknowledged a risk of federal prosecution despite passing the bill, saying it could not be ruled out. Further, a spokesman for Greg Hunt, the federal Health Minister, reiterated the federal government’s stance against personal cannabis use, but pointed out that any issues with the ACT’s latest bill are for the attorney-general to decide.
Christian Porter, the federal attorney-general, said the marijuana bill is for the ACT to decide, but that the commonwealth’s laws remain enforceable wherever they apply.
However, according to a spokeswoman for Andrew Barr, the ACT Chief Minister, both the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions and ACT Policing were consulted prior to the bill being passed.
The current cannabis climate will likely keep this law intact
Federal law certainly overrules the laws of states and territories within Australia. We’ve pointed out two previous occasions where the ACT passed laws that were struck down by the Commonwealth. Although such a scenario is possible here, we don’t really think it’s likely.
First, Michael Pettersson proposed the bill from a health perspective, not just a recreational perspective. He points out that drug use should be a health issue, not a criminal issue. Sixty percent of drug-related arrests in the ACT are for cannabis use. In a country where nearly one-third of those aged 22 and over have used marijuana, that leaves a lot of everyday Canberrans vulnerable to getting ruined by a criminal record.
Second, the vast majority of Australians support legalising recreational marijuana anyway. Where less than 35 percent of Australians supported cannabis in 2013, almost 55 percent support the drug’s legalisation today.
Third, this isn’t just an Australian trend; it’s a global one. The cannabis legalisation movement isn’t going away anytime soon. Just last year, Canada became the second country in the world, behind Uruguay, to legalise cannabis for personal use. South Africa’s highest court also legalised the drug, and several European countries have either decriminalized its recreational use or have turned a blind eye.
The United States, perhaps closer to the ACT’s current scenario, have seen 9 states legalise cannabis for recreational use along with the capital, and an eleventh state, Illinois, will join the list in January, all while the drug remains illegal at the federal level there.
Australia already legalised marijuana for medical use in 2016, so legal cannabis for personal use doesn’t sound so far fetched. Even within the region, neighbouring New Zealand is preparing for a referendum on recreational marijuana use next year, and Kiwis will likely vote ‘Yes’. Surely Australia doesn’t want to get left behind, and tampering with the ACT’s latest legalisation law would do just that.
Besides, it’s important to note that cannabis had already been decriminalised in the ACT prior to this vote — it just wasn’t legalised. Current laws allow law enforcement to simply write you a ticket if you’re caught with less than 50 grams of cannabis, and the records get tossed out once you pay the fine. With the Commonwealth refusing to interfere with that decriminalisation, which has been in place for a while now, it’s difficult to see them stepping in now.
The nation’s capital took a major step this Wednesday, legalising marijuana possession and cultivation. As of January 31, 2020, those aged 18 and over can possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and grow 2 plant, or 4 plants per household. While some restrictions apply they really aren’t a big deal.
However, recreational cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, and this creates a conflict. Thus, there’s still a risk of the Commonwealth laws being enforced, or the federal government striking down the ACT’s law. But we don’t think this likely, given the positive global cannabis climate, which is evident here in Australia where the majority of citizens support legalisation.
Let’s go back to the same sex marriage law that the federal government successfully challenged in court. Five years after beating the ACT on the issue, the federal government legalised same sex marriage after realising just how popular the issue was amongst her citizens when the overwhelming majority of Australians made their support clear via postal survey. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned there — support for cannabis legalisation is at an all time high in Australia, and the government will likely avoid going against what the majority of her citizen’s approve. With the rest of the world moving forward with cannabis legalisation, it’s hard to imagine the federal government trampling on progress.