Growing and Possessing Weed For Personal Use Has Been Legalised In The ACT.
The ACT has become the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise the possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis. The laws passed the ACT Legislative Assembly this afternoon. They will come into effect from January 31, 2020.
The private member’s bill introduced by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson will lift the civil penalty for adult Canberrans, allowing anyone over 18 to grow a maximum of two plants per person, as well as possess up to 50 grams of dry cannabis flower, and 150 grams of wet cannabis per individual. There will be a cap of four plants per household for cultivation purposes.
Today, with the bill having passed the Legislative Assembly (thanks to support from the Greens), there are fewer hurdles than ever for ACT Labor’s policy to become law.
Many big names in capital territory politics are behind this. The ACT’s Attorney-General, whose name is literally Gordon Ramsay, told the assembly that it was time to treat drug addiction like a health issue rather than an issue of “right and wrong” – potentially after yelling at the assembly that cannabis prohibition in Australia was “FUCKING OVERCOOKED!” […this part didn’t really happen. But imagine if it did!..]
Pettersson stated that “In order to reduce harm and stigma, we need to make sure that people can feel free to come forward and get help,” he said.
“In order to do this, we need to remove the penalties and charges associated with the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis.
“This response recommends amendments to the bill around plant numbers, smoking in a public place and on other matters. I believe these amendments are measured and designed to ensure police can continue to do their job properly.”
Earlier this week, the ACT Law Society made it clear that police officers would still be able to charge someone with cannabis possession under federal law. 
AG Ramsay 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.
Labor MP Pettersson noted that a defence exists for cannabis use under commonwealth law if the use is excused or justified by state or territory law, stating that “Commonwealth law has been written with the express understanding that there are differences,” and that he “[doesn’t] think it’s particularly likely the commonwealth government will try to fight this.”
Federal MP Greg Hunt has stated that the federal coalition government does not support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has said that the bill was a matter for the ACT – but where commonwealth laws apply, they would remain enforceable.
Opponents of the bill, such as the ACT shadow Attorney-General, Jeremy Hanson, say the introduction of the bill into law will encourage more people to use cannabis – which he says would lead to increased rates of psychosis. He also believes that more people would be charged with drug-driving. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the statistics to back him up on this.
In an attempt to make the bill more compatible with Commonwealth laws, the ACT government will introduce amendments that will keep possession and cultivation of cannabis in the Drugs of Dependence Act. Anyone over the age of 18 years of age will be exempt from the offences.
“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,” the response said.
“We believe the ACT is able and entitled to make our own laws on this matter.
“However, we would be the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate in this way, and the interaction with existing Commonwealth law remains untested.
“The amendments proposed by the government aim to reduce the risk to individual Canberrans but cannot remove this entirely.”
The government said there was uncertainty around how the Commonwealth would react to the passage of the bill. However, this isn’t the first time laws introduced by the territories have clashed with federal laws.
In 2013, the capital legalised same-sex marriage – only to have the federal government revoke the law, after it took a challenge to the High Court. Before that, in 1995, the Northern Territory legalised voluntary euthanasia, only for the federal government to prevent the territories from introducing assisted dying.
“We cannot guarantee the Commonwealth government would not intervene to prevent reforms – as has occurred in the past when the ACT has attempted nation-leading progressive reform on issues like marriage equality,” the report said.
Of the 16 recommendations made by the committee, the ACT government only agreed to four. Suggestions of allowing group cultivation, hydroponic setups and additional exemptions on possession limits for medicinal patients were rejected by the government.
“The government acknowledges that changes to the legal framework for personal use of cannabis of this kind have not been tried in Australia before,” the report continues.
“Notwithstanding the above amendments, there remains a degree of uncertainty and risk associated with the proposed new approach.”
The Fine Print
Residents of the bush capital won’t be able to light up immediately. The ACT’s health minister still needs to sign off on the bill for it to come into effect.
Furthermore, there are a lot of loopholes that still leave use of the substance in a grey area. Sharing cannabis with a friend at a party could be still be charged with drug supply.  The ACT’s chief police officer Ray Johnson said that sharing the drug between people – even when no money is involved – would still constitute an offence.
“If there’s evidence that someone is providing cannabis to someone else, that’s supply and that’s an offence,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
He also said that despite the introduction of these new laws, stores would still be banned from selling cannabis seeds to Canberra adults, and drug driving laws would remain as is. ACT Police will continue to target drug traffickers and drug sellers.
Johnson clarified that ACT police officers would support the government on the new laws, adding that “Police officers will have their views, and they’ll execute the law of the day as best as they can.”
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.
“If [cannabis possession] continues to be an offence of Commonwealth law, whether or not a police officer chooses to charge an individual and whether cannabis is seized, we’ve got to work through the fineries,” he said.
“Every day, police officers doing their duty do make decisions, taking into account the circumstances of the occasion.”
“We’ll work to make [the laws] as effective as it can be,” he said.
Legalisation in the territory will be accompanied by additional drug and alcohol services, as well as the introduction of specific drug courts. Amendments to the bill include requirements to keep cannabis out of reach of children, making smoking weed near children an offence. Additionally, growing cannabis in places like community gardens will not be allowed.
As any Canberran gardener will attest, cultivating cannabis through a Canberra winter will not be easy. With that said, we wish all of our comrades in the capital luck.
A review of the new laws will be conducted within three years.