New recreational cannabis laws explained


As of 31 January, the possession, cultivation and consumption of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use by adults is legal in the ACT. This is how the new system works.

This is a close up photo of a group of cannabis plants being grown in a greenhouse
According to the ACT Government, the chief goal of the bill is to facilitate harm minimisation

The Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018, which is in effect this week, allows anyone over the age of 18 to possess up to 50g of dried or 150g of ‘wet’ cannabis.

There is a limit of a maximum of two plants per adult, with no more than four plants allowed at any one household, but it remains illegal to cultivate any cannabis hydroponically.

And while cultivating plants is legal, buying cannabis seeds is not.

It is also an offence where a person smokes cannabis and a child is exposed to smoke or vapour from the cannabis the person is smoking.

But the laws fail to mention how those wanting a toke are to acquire the drug.

Buying and selling cannabis remains illegal, and under the law it cannot be gifted from one person to another.

However, according to the ACT Government, the chief goal of the bill is to facilitate harm minimisation; they don’t want to “condone or encourage the recreational use of cannabis”. Rather, they want to ensure adults in possession of cannabis do not have to face a criminal penalty, and are more easily able to seek help for addiction or treatment.

Improving accessibility to the drug is not in their plans.

Whether or not supply becomes an issue for users, the ACT Government and law enforcement will become clear as soon as the legislation is in effect.

So why the change?

The bill’s sponsor, Michael Pettersson MLA, has said a change was required because under the current model, the penalty is up to police discretion if you are caught with cannabis.

“This has the potential to create unfair situations of a mixed level of enforcement for different members of the community.

“It is also worth pointing out that for every one consumer … that receives a fine from the SCON program, we have three arrests,” he said.

Mr Pettersson said for this reason, legalising possession of small amounts of cannabis will work as a harm minimisation policy.

Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson told Canberra Weekly shortly after it had passed that the bill was “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.”

Mr Hanson said the previous system, where cannabis was decriminalised, worked well, and provided the right balance.

“A simple cannabis offence notice is 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.”

However, ACT Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said recently the focus 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.

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