Cannabis is Now Officially Legal in the ACT

When we last checked in on the ACT, the state had just made the monumental decision to legalize cannabis for personal use. And now, after months of waiting, the law has officially come into effect.

In September 2019, the ACT became the first Australian state to legalise cannabis for personal use, after legislation was pushed through with the support of Labor and the Greens.

Several additional amendments to the legislation were also suggested by the Greens—such as legalizing the cultivation of hydroponic cannabis and adding greater allowances for medicinal users—however they failed to gain support and were subsequently voted down.

The move represented a landmark moment for Australia's fledgling cannabis industry, and as of 31 January any adults residing in the ACT are now able to possess up to 50 grams of cannabis per person.  

I think it reflects the values of this community that we want our law enforcement to focus on organised crime and large-scale production of illicit drugs and that we don't want to penalise or stigmatise users, particularly small-scale recreational users. ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr

ACT residents can now also grow up two cannabis plants each, with an overall limit of four plants per household. However, the sale or supply of the drug will remain illegal, and users must ensure that their personal supply isn't easily accessible by children or the general public.

While the Federal Government previously expressed opposition to the changes—warning that they may potentially elect to override the legislation—thus far the Coalition leadership has neglected to intervene.

In fact, when asked about the changes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently stated that in his view it was not up to the Commonwealth to overturn the law.   

"I've always been a federalist and states will make their own decisions according to their own priorities."

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"I would expect the federal law enforcement agencies to press the law," Morrison said.

While some view the Prime Minister's statement as a potential warning, the ACT Attorney-General, Gordon Ramsay, has argued that pursuing federal charges would be a "strange use" of police time and resources.

According to the ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, the change was made in response to the growing public perception of the global war on drugs as a dismal failure.

"Over world history in every jurisdiction around the world prohibition has failed as a policy prescription."

"All it does is enrich drug cartels so this sort of harm minimisation, health based, public health-based approach I think is entirely reasonable," Barr said.

Although it unlikely that legalization will be achieved at the Federal level in the near future, the decriminalization of recreational cannabis use in the ACT is still another important step forward for Australia's rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

And if the US is anything to go by, then this might set off a chain reaction which could see other Australian states follow the ACT's lead.

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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