Why Does Peter Dutton Want to Reverse the ACT’s Cannabis Law Change?

Peter Dutton

What are the ACT’s New Cannabis Laws?

On The 25th of September, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became the first state or territory within the nation to decriminalise the use, cultivation and possession of cannabis for recreational purposes.  Garnering massive support from both Labor and Green Party members, this bill was first propagated by Michael Petterrson, a Labor Party Backbencher.

Under new legislature, residents of the ACT aged 18 and older will be given the following cannabis allowances including;

  • Possession of up to 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of dried cannabis and 150 grams (5.29 ounces) of wet cannabis
  • Cultivation of up to four plants per residence; as long as they are not cultivated through hydroponic means.

There is no legislation governing how much cannabis any individual can consume although it is clearly stated that cannabis cannot be consumed in public places. These laws will take effect from the 31st of January 2020.



Peter Dutton’s Grievances with the New ACT Laws

Peter Dutton, the Minister of Home Affairs, has called for an immediate overturn of the recently passed Canberra laws which legalises the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes. Dutton has described the ACT’s new laws as ‘unconscionable’, and has urged the Attorney General, Christian Porter, to look into how these laws can be overturned, as quickly as possible.

Dutton is the most vocal of a group of senior federal ministers who strongly oppose the law in its entirety. Aside from Dutton, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and ACT Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson amongst others have criticised the ACT’s stance on the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. Frydenberg has publicly stated that the Morrisson government does not endorse these laws and maintains their standpoint on the consumption of cannabis being “criminal behaviour”.

In an interview with 2GB radio, Dutton is quoted as saying, “I think it might be trendy for the ACT government to go down this path, and they’ll say they’re enlightened and progressive and all the rest of it, but I think it’s dangerous… Christian Porter is having a look at it at the moment”.

The ACT laws reflect the opinions of a large percentage of Australians; cannabis should be decriminalised. Could these laws set the motion for cannabis reforms across Australia?

A great percentage of Australians support the decriminalisation of cannabis, however, the current Commonwealth laws do not reflect this sentiment. Can the ACT start a revolution with their cannabis law reforms? Source

Porter reserves the right to seek an overturn for the new Canberra laws as they conflict with Commonwealth laws, which are regarded as the supreme moral code for the nation of Australia. According to Commonwealth law, the use, cultivation and possession of cannabis is a criminal offence. This sentiment is presented across various relevant government literature, including the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

In 2016, the government legalised cannabis for medical conditions under the Therapeutic Goods Act and must be accessed under provisions made by the Special Access Scheme. However, recreational use is still prohibited at a Commonwealth level.



The Commonwealth and the ACT’s New Laws

The commonwealth is yet to make a stance on the new ACT laws. According to Porter, there are very few possibilities of an override at the moment. Speaking to Guardian Australia, he made known that these laws are peculiar to the jurisdiction of ACT. In order to override them, he would need to look into them in order to consider “what issues may arise to the enforcement of existing commonwealth laws that criminalise the possession of prohibited drugs, including marijuana”.

To 6PR Radio, Porter expressed how these new laws were a ‘very bad idea’ though the situation with the possession of cannabis differed greatly to other law reforms in which the commonwealth had to intervene such as same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Corroborating Porter’s claims, Health Minister Greg Hunt has stated that the Morrison government is taking no active steps to override the new ACT laws. In an interview with ABC radio, Hunt remarked that his primary concerns as health minister were not the legal implementations of the new law but rather its health effects.

It’s possible – although unlikely – that the Commonwealth will intervene, but regardless it’s a step forward for cannabis legalisation across Australia. There’s some confusion over what will happen in regards to law enforcement, and how the logistics will work. For now, cannabis enthusiasts across the ACT will welcome the reform and hope for it to eventually spread across Australia.


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