Will ACT Legalize Cannabis?

ACT’s bill seems to have significant support from citizens as well as local governments.

Michael Pettersson introduced a bill in parliament in an attempt to legalize marijuana for personal use

The ACT is only one vote away from legalizing marijuana

The ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Labor backbencher, Michael Pettersson, will introduce a bill in parliament in an attempt to legalize marijuana for personal use. If the bill gets enough support, it will allow adults to possess 50 grams of cannabis, or four plants, legally. It also prohibits the use of cannabis in public places or within 20 meters of a child. The bill continues to consider the use of artificially cultivated or synthetic cannabis an offence.

A spokeswoman for the Labor party confirmed that the bill is already supported by 12 legislators. This means only one vote is needed from either the Greens or the Liberals to make legalization a reality.

Shadow Attorney-General, Jeremy Hanson, says ACT liberals won’t vote to support the bill due to their concerns regarding the links between marijuana and psychosis. Thus, the 13th vote is likely to come from Shane Rattenbury, the Greens’ parliamentarian. Rattenbury says his party will first look at the bill to see if it requires any amendments or further propositions and then vote for it.


Why does it make sense to legalize weed?

According to Pettersson, Australians and Canberrans like being more progressive than Americans. However, in the cannabis space, Australians are apparently lagging behind. More than 10 states in the United States of America have legalized cannabis, along with South Africa, Uruguay, and Canada. In addition, New Zealand may soon hold a national referendum on cannabis legalization in their current parliamentary term.

According to the current drug law, getting caught with any amount of cannabis is criminalized and can result in a lengthy prison sentence. Marijuana was decriminalized in the ACT in 1992 to eliminate the unnecessary involvement of citizens with the criminal justice system and reduce the cost of policing marijuana use. However, residents are still getting arrested, facing criminal convictions that could significantly affect their lives.

More than 60 percent of drug arrests in the ACT are cannabis-related. According to Pettersson, the territory's current cannabis laws are not working. Pettersson proposes drug reform laws that protect people from unnecessary criminal convictions and allows police to focus on more serious crimes.

According to Liberal democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, cannabis legalization would save approximately $100 million in Commonwealth policing costs and boost GST(Goods and Services Tax) revenue by about $300 million. 

Allowing consumers to grow their own cannabis would also have the effect of shutting down the cannabis black market. Pettersson also refers to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Drug Household Survey that found that 10 percent of Australians have used cannabis in the past year, while 35 percent have used it at least once in their lifetime.

Views on medical cannabis in Australia, as of 2016

Recent use of marijuana by age and sex, 2001, 2013 and 2016

Source

Currently, the bill has the unanimous support of government MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly). Over the past two months, the bill has received 80 submissions, 75 of which support legalizing cannabis for personal use. The ACT ATODA (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT), the primary body for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug sector, has also shown full support for the bill in its submission.


Possible Legal Barriers

There are concerns that passing Pettersson’s bill could be overridden by Commonwealth laws. According to the Commonwealth Poisons Standard, cannabis is a prohibited substance. Another possible legal barrier is the inconsistency of the draft bill with the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which considers possession of controlled drugs as a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, meanwhile, showed his support for ACT’s cannabis legalization bill. He points out that the ACT is not asking for marijuana retailing; rather, it simply wants to allow marijuana for personal use by adults. He also points out that eliminating the prohibition will certainly undercut the business model of the illegal black market. Pettersson reaffirms Barr’s point, stating that if the bill gets approved, there will be no cannabis shops like in the U.S.A. and Canada. It simply means people can grow and possess 50 grams of marijuana legally.


Final thoughts

Considering the results of cannabis legalization in other nations, it seems wise to look at the bill positively. Given the current climate, an analysis of whether or not the existing drug laws are working as expected should be carried out by the Australian federal government.

Despite legal barriers, the ACT’s bill seems to have significant support from citizens as well as local governments. If the Greens party casts its vote in favour of the bill, it may soon become possible to possess a small amount of cannabis legally in Canberra.