The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has voted to legalize the use of recreational cannabis. The ACT will be the first territory in Australia to legalize recreational marijuana. The ACT’s highly debated new laws regarding recreational cannabis use are set to take effect on January 31st, 2020. Possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis will be permitted for adult residents of the ACT; individuals will also be allowed to grow at home, but only two plants per person, with a maximum of four plants per household.
Medical cannabis was legalized across Australia in 2016, however, since then, recreational use of marijuana has remained illegal and highly criminalized. Federal lawmakers could try to overturn the controversial legislation, and it wouldn’t be the first time; back in 2013, the ACT tried to legalize same-sex marriage, a decision which was later overturned by the Australian federal government.
According to a recent BBC News article, Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay recently spoke to the ACT Legislative Assembly, saying, “This does not entirely remove the risk of people being arrested under [federal] law, and we are being up front with the community about that.” Not everyone in the ACT is in support of the bill, placing emphasis on the federal illegality of cannabis, despite legalization on a territory-wide level.
In response to the bill’s passage, ACT shadow Attorney-General Jeremey Hanson said to the assembly, “This puts not only individuals at a greater level of risk [,] but our police will be out there on the beat working in this unclear legal framework.” Supporters are hoping that the passage of an amendment in 2016 allowing for the production of medical cannabis for research purposes could signal a change in the federal government’s attitude regarding cannabis legalization in general. Whether federal lawmakers are intending to continue prosecuting minor cannabis possession charges is unclear.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, told 2GB radio last week, “I think it might be trendy for the ACT government to go down this path, and they’ll say they’re enlightened and progressive and all the rest of it. But I Think it’s dangerous…Christian Porter is having a look at it at the moment.” In an interview with The Guardian, Dutton called the new laws “obviously a matter for the ACT,” adding that “what issues may arise to the enforcement of existing commonwealth laws that criminalize the possession of prohibited drugs, including marijuana.”
Dutton later told 6PR Radio, “This is a very bad idea. If you’re in the ACT waking up today and you want to possess marijuana, be careful because there are commonwealth laws that still apply…[and] the expectation would be commonwealth laws would be enforced.” Responding to all of the controversy, in an ABC Radio National interview last week, the ACT’s Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, asked, “Does anyone seriously think the commonwealth DPP [director of public prosecutions] is going to spend all of their time, or a considerable amount of their time, prosecuting individuals in the ACT for the possession of less than 50 grams of cannabis?”