Cannabis Is Now Decriminalised in Canberra, But Not By The Commonwealth. How Do These Laws Differ?

Australian Capital Territory Parliament

ACT passes laws to legalised the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

Canberra Has Decriminalised Cannabis

On Wednesday, the 25th of September, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parliament took a bold step in the right direction by passing laws which legalised the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use with the territory. This bill, propagated by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, was passed into legislation following the overwhelming support it received from both the Labor and Greens party, winning the house’s majority vote.

The survey expresses the percentage of support for decriminalisation garnered by various age groups. Source



What Does the New Legislation Say?

With the new legislation, adults will be granted the following allowances regarding the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis.

  • Adults will be allowed to possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis
  • Adults will be allowed to possess up to 150 grams of wet (or fresh) cannabis
  • Adults will be allowed to grow two plants at their residences
  • Adults will only be allowed to have a maximum of four plants

Cannabis cultivated through hydroponic means, however, will still be illegal. Hydroponic cultivation is plant cultivation which involves the use of regulated light and heat. Almost all cannabis consumed in the ACT is produced via this means. The legal status of hydroponic cultivation remains a one of contention for the Green Party which strongly insists on the laws being extended to encompass this manner of cultivation.

Carrie Fowler, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association ACT holds that there is no ‘logical or practical reason’ as to why the artificial cultivation of cannabis remains a crime whereas other forms of cultivation remain legal. This, however, may be due to the copious amounts of energy and resources this manner of cultivation utilizes.



How Does This Differ From Commonwealth Law?

The Commonwealth laws are the laws which govern both states and territories within the commonwealth of Australia. Although constitutionally states and territories are given the liberty to create and implement their own by-laws, the laws by the Commonwealth, backed by the Australian constitution, have the final word.

Despite being decriminalised in Canberra, the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal and commercial activities is still illegal under Commonwealth Law. This is highlighted under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, section 308. In 2016, the government legalised cannabis for medical conditions under the Therapeutic Goods Act which means that it must be accessed under provisions made by the Special Access Scheme.

The conflict between the Commonwealth and ACT law presents a dire situation for individuals and law enforcement officers. According to criminal lawyer and chair of the ACT Law Society’s Law Committee Michael Kukulies-Smith, it is possible for a law enforcement officer to charge an individual for cannabis related offences under Commonwealth laws. Already, Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson has charged fellow law enforcement agents to continue to treat cannabis as an illegal substance by default of commonwealth law. This will create tension between the law and citizens.



When Will This Law Be Implemented?

Although the bill was passed into legislation a few days ago, these laws will not be enforced until January 30, 2020. The delay in enforcement is due to the fact that the ACT Health Minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, is yet to sign off the bill. In the meantime, there will be public health campaigns addressing the health implications of the new legislation.



Drawbacks to the New Laws?

Although these laws are a step in the right direction for the nation, there is some confusion surrounding them.

Cultivating cannabis is legal but there are no legal means by which these seeds or seedlings can be obtained. Also, there is the problem of the legal market for cannabis. Despite its use and possession being decriminalised, the ACT has done nothing to create a legal framework in which cannabis will be sold. Inadvertently, they have added fuel to the fires of the cannabis black market.

Aside from the possibilities of a boost to the black market, the biggest potential drawback of these laws are their conflict with commonwealth laws. There is no telling how this conflict will play out except to continue to watch it over time.

Sources