Cannabis laws around the world
Recent years have seen recreational cannabis trend towards decriminalization and legalization around the world:
- Uruguay legalized cannabis in 2013
- Canada legalized recreational cannabis in 2018
- 11 states in the United States have legalized recreational cannabis, and 4 more states may legalize cannabis this November
- South Africa’s Supreme Court legalized recreational cannabis in 2018
- Many European countries have decriminalized cannabis use, and Mexico is underway to legalizing the drug.
Australia has had some cannabis news as well, over the years. In fact, the latest National Drug Strategy Household survey indicates the majority of Australians now support legalising recreational cannabis.
More Australians now support cannabis legalisation (41%) than those who do not (37%) src
The global legalization list expands significantly when you include medical cannabis. Cannabis has now been accepted by many as a treatment for a number of ailments, leading many jurisdictions to permit its use for medical conditions with prescriptions.
WA decriminalized cannabis in 2004, and the ACT legalized cannabis in 2019
In 2004, Western Australia decriminalized cannabis possession. Residents who were caught with the drug were not criminally charged, but cited with a fine instead. Further, if you didn’t want to pay the fine, you could challenging it in court or opt for treatment in lieu of payment.
However, the new WA government, under Colin Barnett, repealed the decriminalization law, bringing back criminal penalties for those caught with cannabis.
In contrast, the Australian Capital Territory legalized cannabis possession last year. The law went into effect this year, allowing residents aged 18 and over to:
- Possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and
- Cultivate up to 2 plants of marijuana, or 4 plants per household
We’ll have to wait and see if the ACT’s legal cannabis law lasts beyond the current administration.
But there are certainly lessons to be learned from WA’s six years of decriminalized cannabis possession. Read on to find out.
4 things Australia learned from WA’s cannabis decriminalization
Here are some of the lessons Australia learned from WA’s cannabis decriminalization:
Lesson 1: Legalizing or Decriminalizing Cannabis doesn’t increase usage
Professor Steve Allsop of the National Drug Research Institute helped design the WA cannabis decriminalization law. According to him, surveys showed that cannabis use did not increase after the law went into effect.
The same can be said about other jurisdictions around the world where cannabis is either legal or decriminalized, showing that cannabis use does not changed as a result of legalization. Lesson 2: Make a substantial effort to educate the public on the law, whether decriminalization or legalization
Professor Allsop also admitted that the public should have been educated better about the difference between decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing it.
Decriminalizing cannabis doesn’t make it legal. Instead, it treats it much like a traffic citation – you don’t get a criminal record, but your get cited for an infringement. In WA’s case, residents were fined, and were given an option to either pat the fine, challenge it in court, or go for treatment instead.
Legalizing cannabis, on the other hand, makes it legal. That means you don’t have to worry about getting caught by law enforcement or fined. However, this can also come with restrictions, like in the case of the ACT. There, you can only possess less than 50 grams of cannabis, and cultivate 2 plants (or 4 plants per household).
Lesson 3: Treatment and Education are mutually exclusive
Professor Allsop also said that, although treatment is a good approach to cannabis use, some people would be better off with education or advice.
Treatment is expensive. It means going to an actual facility with health professionals, and some cannabis users just don’t need that. Also, people in rural areas may not have access to adequate treatment if that is what is required.
Education, on the other hand, can be a warning or advice. It doesn’t have to come from health professionals in a facility, thus cutting down the expenses significantly. Many cannabis users are not heavy users, and perhaps would use cannabis wisely or not at all if given proper advice.
Final Lesson: Laws can get overturned
Perhaps the most important lesson from the WA decriminalization scheme is that laws can get repealed. Despite the success of WA’s decriminalization, all it took for it to fail was a new government with a different political view.
WA’s cannabis decriminalization did not have any negative effect on the state or its residents. Cannabis use did not increase. There was absolutely no reason to repeal it, other than partisan politics, and that’s all it took.
As we watch the ACT’s cannabis legalization, it will be interesting to see how the law fares in the future under different administrations.