Beginning January 31, residents over 18 of Canberra will be able to possess and use 50 grams of recreational marijuana. It will also be permitted to cultivate two plants for personal use.
The bill is the first step in Australia to treat drug addiction as a public health concern. Though marijuana is not considered a threat to public health, the new laws will be accompanied by drug and alcohol services, as well as a special drug court.
After January 31, the use and cultivation of marijuana will still be a federal offense. The risk of prosecution for marijuana possession may always be a factor even in the capital.
The new law did not pass without any opposition.
ACT shadow attorney-general, Jeremy Hanson, told the assembly Wednesday the Liberal party would not be supporting the new law. They believe that the law is vague and opens up too many unintended consequences.
In the opinion of the Labour party leaders, marijuana use will increase, leading to more rates of psychosis. They also fear drug driving will become more of a problem.
There is the belief that the law is confusing as it is currently written. It gives law enforcement officials in the unenviable task of working under an unclear framework.
The law is due to be reviewed after three years.
What this means for the rest of the country
At this time, the ACT law still conflicts with federal law. It is still illegal on the federal level unless there is an excuse for its justifiable use. Recreational use does not fall under the category of being justifiable.
Laws do clash between the capital and the commonwealth in which the local law is overridden. A similar conflict happened notably when in 2013, same-sex marriage was legalized in Canberra only to have the Supreme Court strike it down. It was held that same-sex marriage was inconsistent with national law.
It remains to be seen if this could be repeated once again for recreational marijuana use.
Some restrictions apply
There will be some restrictions when it comes to the new law regarding marijuana use:
- It is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public or around children.
- Selling the seeds will be an offense.
- It is not allowed to gift the seeds, plants, or marijuana products to friends.
- At present, there will be no market for marijuana commercialization i.e. coffee shops, or dispensaries.
- Driving a vehicle with THC in the system will still be an offense.
Though the drug has been decriminalized, the law still looks vastly different than in other countries and areas. The marijuana laws in some of the US states and the ACT hardly resemble each other.
Will the laws expand?
It remains to be seen how the commonwealth will respond to the new law. It may not overrule it until it has been reviewed after the three-year mark, if at all.
It does not appear that there will be a push from the other states soon to follow suit. The Australian Green Party, however, has been advocating for the liberalization of marijuana laws for some time. They are using this opportunity to keep the momentum towards legalization.
New Zealand is set to vote on a referendum on legalizing marijuana in 2020. Australia will be keen to see how this goes. If it passes and the current ACT law seems to be working, then there may be more of an incentive for other states to begin decriminalizing marijuana.
The general public in Australia does support the idea of legalizing marijuana. An NDSH survey from 2016 found 73.9% of Australians support decriminalizing marijuana.
Though at the government level there does not seem to be much will to legalize it, the tides may be turning.