ACT State Government Says ‘Yes We Cannabis!’
Plumes of marijuana smoke are forecast to rise out of the nation’s capital this weekend — where Australians will be able to legally smoke weed for the first time.
New laws passed in the capital in September of last year which decriminalise the usage, possession and production of cannabis are now in effect as of today (Friday, 31st January, 2020). Possessing under 50g of cannabis has been decriminalised in the ACT for a while – but these laws go even further.
Adult Canberrans will be permitted to use marijuana in their own homes, possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis, and grow up to two plants per individual, or up to four plants per household. Cannabis legalisation in the territory is being accompanied by the introduction of additional drug and alcohol services, along with specific drug-related courts.
Yesterday, an adult caught in possession of a plant would have faced a $160 fine under ACT law. Today, there is no fine.
Canberra’s Cannabis First to be Decriminalised Down Under
The laws have been widely described as the first in Australia to legalise the personal use of marijuana. The ACT Government has referred to the laws an “evolutionary change” in policy.
The government stated that it did not, however, explicitly encourage the use of cannabis. Selling seeds and growing with hydroponic setups will still be illegal; drug-driving laws will still be in effect (in spite of faulty testing methods); and users will still not be allowed to expose children to the drug.
The new laws could signal the beginning of a recreational cannabis revolution in Australia. A review of the laws will be conducted by the ACT government within three years.
If you’re wondering what these new laws could mean for consumers and producers in the ACT and across Australia, keep reading!
ScoMo Rules Out Smoko, Federal Intervention On ACT Decision
One man who certainly won’t be “passing the boof” is Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The “authentic”, lab-grown, true-blue Aussie bloke often referred to as ‘ScoMo’ joked that he would not be partaking in the new changes. He also added that the Commonwealth would not intervene to overturn the laws. That seems like very good news for ACT stoners and for the civil liberties of Canberrans.
“I’ve always been a federalist… states will make their own decisions according to their own priorities.”
– Mr Scott Morrison to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
…But Expects Police to Enforce Federal Laws
It’s worth noting that the ACT is, in fact, a territory – not a state. Its police force is the AFP. This means that the Commonwealth criminal code – which classifies cannabis as a controlled substance – still applies. Mr Morrison has said that he expects federal law enforcement agencies to continue enforcing the law. What this means in practical terms is still unclear.
Other members of the Coalition have come out of the woodworks to echo similar sentiments. Federal MP Greg Hunt made it clear that the federal coalition government does not support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter also said that the bill was a matter for the ACT – but, similarly to Morrison, noted that where commonwealth laws applied, they would remain enforceable.
State Legalisation Does Not Mean Federal Legalisation
The ACT Law Society made it clear that police officers would still be able to charge someone with cannabis possession under federal law.
It is important to note that, even after the passage of this bill, possessing and growing cannabis will carry a degree of risk arising from interactions between territory and Commonwealth law. Individual police officers will have a lot of discretion over charges and arrests.
ACT AG Gordon Ramsay (no, not the celebrity chef…) acknowledged that possessing and growing cannabis would remain a federal offence, and the risk of prosecution was “not entirely removed” – but “in practice,” the laws would not apply. He also noted that Canberrans who use cannabis would be more likely to seek help under the new laws – making these small changes incredibly impactful upon the lives of cannabis users.
“This isn’t about legalising and getting a system of sale going on… all we are doing is providing a legal excuse for adults”
– Mr Gordon Ramsay, Attorney General of ACT
Canberra Shrouded Under Legal and Political Cloud
From the 31st of January, 2020, the Australian Capital Territory finds itself in a strange legal and political grey-area. A liminal zone, where the absurd and strange is possible. People who decide to grow in cannabis under the new laws could still be at risk. As we’ve discussed, police will still be able to charge people under federal law, rather than ACT law. The amendments proposed by the government aim to reduce the risk to individual Canberrans, but have not removed this threat entirely.
With that said, Mr Ramsay said it would be a “strange use” of police resources to pursue federal charges.
If you have no prior convictions and aren’t usually in trouble with the police, it’s very unlikely you will be charged under the commonwealth law. However, upset a police officer or have some prior offences, and they may decide to throw the book at you… which is unfair and disconcerting, to say the least.
What Will Police Do?
We still don’t know.
ACT Policing is part of the AFP. This puts the local force in a bind, because it serves two masters — the Commonwealth and the ACT — each of which, gives different orders. Ray Johnson, the ACT Chief Police Officer, has clarified that ACT police officers would do their best to support both governments on the new laws.
“Police officers will have their views, and they’ll execute the law of the day as best as they can.”
– Ray Johnson, ACT Chief Police Officer
A decision on whether someone would be charged under ACT law or Commonwealth law would depend on individual circumstances, with Johnson saying it would be a challenge for officers.
Labor MP Michael Pettersson – an architect of the bill – noted that a defence exists for cannabis use under commonwealth law, if the use is excused or justified by state or territory law. He “doesn’t think it’s particularly likely” that the commonwealth government will try to fight this in any meaningful way.
“Commonwealth law has been written with the express understanding that there are differences…”
Michael Pettersson, Labor MP
It’s still unclear as to exactly how police will respond to catching someone smoking a joint outside. However, ACT Police have stated that they will continue to target drug traffickers and suppliers.
Breakdown of the New Cannabis Laws
Maximum 50g Dry Cannabis Flower for Personal Possession
Maximum 150g Wet Cannabis Flower for Personal Possession
4 Plants Maximum Growing per Household
2 Plants Maximum Growing per Individual
Can You Buy It?
If you had the idea in your head that our nation’s capital might be like a newfound, legal Nimbin, and were hoping to go on a road trip to catch the city’s legal produce… you might want to think again. There won’t be any shops popping up to sell weed. Also, it will still be illegal to buy any.
In fact, it will still be illegal in the ACT to be given a single toke of someone else’s joint, even though no one genuinely expects the police to spend their time chasing small-time cannabis users. ACT CPO Ray Johnson warned that sharing weed was still technically an offence, even if no money has changed hands.
“If there’s evidence that someone is providing cannabis to someone else, that’s supply and that’s an offence,”
Ray Johnson, ACT Chief Police Officer
Under ACT law, people who share a joint are committing the offence of supplying a prohibited substance. The maximum penalty for supply is $80,000 and/or five years in jail – though it’s unlikely you’ll be hit with the maximum penalty just for sharing a spliff with your friend.
Nonetheless, the risk remains: if you smoke dope in Canberra, a federal police officer could charge you – however unlikely that may be.
Where Will I be Able to Spark Up?
You will free to spark up in your own home, but smoking in public places will still be off limits. Driving under the influence of cannabis and exposing a child to weed smoke are obviously still illegal as well.
What’s “The Go” With Growing Your Own?
One of the strangest quirks of the new legislation is that you will technically have to break the law to start growing your legal crops. This is because you still won’t be able to buy, sell or give seeds to anyone in order to grow plants.
During the legislative debate, a “seed repository” — where Canberrans could access seeds legally — was considered, but ultimately rejected. As any Canberran gardener will attest, cultivating cannabis through a Canberra winter is not easy, especially when your seeds are illegal… With that said, we wish all of our comrades in the capital luck.
Can I Take Some Home?
Even if you’ve stuck to all the rules about growing and possessing weed in the ACT, it’s definitely not advisable to try to bring any outside of the border. It’s still very much illegal everywhere else in Australia. If you attempt to take any out, you could be fined – and in serious cases, even jailed.
Which State/Territory is ‘Next in Line’?
There were murmurs until today that it may be Queensland. With an impending report from the Productivity Commission due, and with sympathetic members such as Greens MP Michael Berkman showing their support, it was looking promising… but alas, that glimmer of hope was quickly dashed.
Despite the newly released report openly acknowledging the need for policy reform, the milquetoast, Adani-supporting Labor members have announced they are backing away from fighting for any such change on an election year.
A foolish decision, to be sure; they could practically win the Queensland state election on bold, forward thinking policy proposals such as cannabis decriminalisation. For shame, Palaszczuk.
Murmurs of a members’ bill in Victoria are echoing throughout the halls of parliament, with crossbenchers and Labor members hoping to strike… but significant action on this front has yet to emerge.
Similarly, the discussion around the introduction of a members’ bill in the NT has been lively and ongoing for the past year or so. As a territory, if the ACT were to set a precedent, the NT may have the best bet at following it.
How Can You Spread Legalisation?
- You can work with us – make content for Friendly Aussie Buds! Contact us here.
- Get involved with the thriving cannabis community! Attend events, engage in online spaces, meet people and create plans, projects and campaigns!
- You can send a letter to your member of parliament using our service, Better Letters, imploring them to vote YES on a legalisation bill, or even introduce a Private Member’s bill to the floor of parliament. With enough of these letters, we can get real representatives to switch their position on this issue.
This is about lobbying for the rights of everyday citizens, and the right side of history!