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As many of you know, Aussie cannabis laws are a mixed bag. While the heavy-handed drug war days are beginning to fade, we are all still tasked with navigating a society and culture that stigmatises stoners and punishes weed use in a variety of ways. And since we live in a Federation, we can’t even count on a bit of consistency to make it easy on our bud-soaked brains; every state has different laws that require their own legal strategies.
It’s about time that us Aussies knew what we were up against. This series addresses the key legislation and policies you need to know as a resident stoner in Australia.
In our last episode of the series, we’ll be covering the cannabis laws in The Territories. Beginning with the Australian Capital Territory, and finishing with the Northern Territory.
For those of you who have stuck around for the entire series: thanks for being our loyal readership and fanbase! Keep checking out these articles for future changes and amendments – we plan to keep them up to date.
ACT Cannabis Laws
The ACT has held some of the more relaxed cannabis laws, for some time. Possessing under 50g of cannabis has been practically decriminalised in the ACT for a while. New legalisation, which came into effect on the 31st of January 2020, has effectively codified the status quo in Canberra by decriminalising the usage, possession and production of small quantities of cannabis.
Canberrans Now Enjoy Decriminalised Possession
The new legal scheme permits ACT residents to possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis flower – or 150 grams, wet. There’s also a cap for cultivating and growing; two cannabis plants are allowed, per individual, for personal use – four are permitted per household.  A decision was made to exclude all hydroponic, or ‘artificially cultivated’ cannabis plants.
Police still possess ultimate discretion as to whether they charge an offender with a criminal offence. Possession of any quantity larger than 50g is more likely to fall under charges of manufacturing and/or supply – which is still illegal in the ACT.
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has warned Canberrans that owning any amount of the drug remained an offence under Commonwealth law, which he expected federal police to enforce.  Additionally, the Federal government can kill off Territory laws, as what happened in 2013 with Marriage Equality. 
The legal picture is still grey when it comes to cannabis in the ACT, and it remains to be seen how the law will be enforced over time.
Penalties in the Capital Territory
The severity of penalties for drug use or possession is always ultimately at the discretion of the courts. However, the following acts as a guide to the penalties that may be handed down.
With respect to cannabis in the ACT, it is still criminal to:
- Administer cannabis to someone else (so much for that ‘sesh’…).
- Possess a quantity over 50 grams of dried cannabis.
- Cultivate, or be involved in cultivating, quantities of cannabis above the personal limit of two per individual/four per household.
- Sell or supply any quantity of cannabis.
Cannabis still remains illegal on the federal level. The ‘territory’ status of the ACT means that, on a practical level, the Australian Federal Police are the ones enforcing the law on the ground, giving individual police officers a great deal of discretion – particularly within the ambiguities and contradictions of the legal code. In short, be careful and polite!
Cannabis Laws In The Northern Territory
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is an offence to cultivate, possess or supply cannabis for anyone who is not licensed to do so under the Federal licensing scheme.  A range of offences exist under this act, with penalties ranging from fines to lengthy periods of imprisonment.
In the Northern Territory, when a person is charged with possession of less than 50 grams of cannabis in their own home, they face a penalty of a fine only. This fine has a maximum of 50 penalty units (Section 7B). In the NT, one penalty unit equates to AUD$155.00 
Police have the discretion to deal with such an offence by way of an infringement, in which case the offender receives a fine and does not have to go to court or receive a conviction, provided they pay the fine within 28 days.
The Territory government claims that this arrangement amounts to cannabis having been ‘largely decriminalised’ in the Northern Territory. It is worth noting, however, that possession of a small quantity of cannabis in a public place is still an offence which carries a penalty of imprisonment and for which a person will have to go to court. 
Cultivating cannabis is defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act as including any of the following acts:
- Planting a seed, seedling or cutting of the plant or transplanting the plant;
- Nurturing, tending or growing the plant;
- Guarding or concealing the plant, including against interference or discovery by humans or natural predators;
- Harvesting the plant, including picking any part of the plant or separating any resin or other substance from the plant
Potential Loosening of Laws In NT
During 2017 and 2018, it was announced that the Northern Territory government sought to decriminalise the personal use of drugs other than cannabis.  Some within the government at the time believed the prohibition of drugs in the Top End was failing miserably.  Alternative models for dealing with drug users – such as directing them into counselling and rehabilitation programs rather than criminal sanctions – were considered.
However, drug use continues to be prevalent in remote communities in the Northern Territory, where the availability of counselling and rehabilitation programs in limited. Medical groups, such as the Australian Medical Association, expressed concern that this approach would fail to reduce drug use and could place vulnerable groups at further risk.