Late last month, the ACT became the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise the possession, cultivation and consumption of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use by adults.
The Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018, which will come in to effect from 31 January 2020, will allow anyone over the age of 18 to possess up to 50g of dried cannabis or up to 150g of ‘wet’ cannabis.
There will be a limit of a maximum of two plants per adult, with no more than four plants allowed at any one household, but it will remain illegal to cultivate any cannabis hydroponically.
It will also be an offence where a person smokes cannabis, and a child is exposed to smoke or vapour from the cannabis the person is smoking.
An amendment from the ACT Greens to allow the hydroponic cultivation of cannabis was voted down.
“Growing through more ‘natural’ means is not viable for a significant portion of the year in the ACT’s climate,” the ACT Greens said in a statement.
ACT Greens spokesperson for drug law reform, Shane Rattenbury, said the bill is a small but significant step in a long journey of drug law reforms.
“Allowing adults in the ACT to possess and use cannabis would acknowledge the modern reality that many adults choose to use cannabis, and criminalising it causes more harm than good.
“Keeping cannabis use as an offence drives people away from getting help when they need it and can expose them to social and financial harms through the criminal justice system,” he said.
Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson told Canberra Weekly that the legislation passed is “poorly devised”.
“Legal experts are of the view that it may be challenged and that if it was, the ACT law would become invalid and the Commonwealth law will take precedence. That’s a very bad proposition.
“A simple cannabis offence notice like a speeding ticket, there’s no criminal penalty, just a small fine … Under federal law you potentially face a criminal conviction and up to two years in jail.
“The system that we had was working well, and provided the right balance … What the government has done is more about grandstanding and, in doing so, they’ve created a system that is confusing and potentially far more harmful than it was before,” he said.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay acknowledged that this bill does not entirely remove the risk of people being arrested under Commonwealth law.
“The ACT’s legislation attempts to provide a clear and specific legal defence to an adult who possesses small amounts of cannabis in the ACT, but is prosecuted under Commonwealth law.”
ACT Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson told ABC Radio Canberra’s Breakfast their attention would remain on organised crime drug syndicates rather than the personal consumption of cannabis.
“I’m not suggesting for one second that ACT Policing members are going to start a campaign of going out and charging everyone with Commonwealth offences,” he said.