The ACT has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise personal cannabis use, a landmark bill passing the Territory’s parliament.
On Wednesday afternoon the ACT Parliament voted to allow people over the age of 18 in the nation’s capital to carry up to 50 grams of marijuana on their person and grow two plants, for personal use.
They are the first Australian jurisdiction to do so.
But residents of the bush capital won’t be able to light up immediately, with the ACT’s Health Minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, needing to sign off on when the law would come into effect.
ACT shadow attorney-general Jeremy Hanson told the assembly on Wednesday the Liberal opposition opposed the bill, describing it as “a confusing debacle” and a “dog’s breakfast of a bill”, that would lead to the increased consumption of cannabis particularly among young people.
He said the bill would lead to more people charged with drug-driving which would put increased pressure on the police, arguing that would mean more people become involved with the criminal law system rather than be taken out of it.
“There are those people that now are going to think that cannabis use in any circumstance is legal,” Hanson said.
“There’s going to be a need for a public information campaign to try and establish to the community exactly what the parameters are for what they can do, but clearly the ambiguity would remain.”
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay told the assembly it was time to treat drug addiction like a health issue rather than an issue of “right and wrong”.
He said the labor government was committed to law reforms related to drugs and alcohol which were focused on harm minimisation.
“It’s an example of this government’s willingness to approach drug law reform which aims to minimise harm in our community in progressive and innovative ways,” Ramsay told the assembly.
He stressed that the government’s support of the bill was not an indication that it “condoned or encouraged the recreational use of cannabis.”
“However outright prohibition has clearly proven not to work as an effective strategy for dealing with drug use in our community.”
He acknowledged possessing and growing cannabis would remain a federal offense, and the risk of prosecution was “not entirely removed”, but “in practice” the laws would not apply.
In a statement on Wednesday, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the bill was a matter for the ACT, “but where Commonwealth laws applied they remain enforceable.”
A spokeswoman for ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government had consulted with ACT Policing and the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
A spokesman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said any problems with Commonwealth law were a matter for the Attorney-General, but the federal government did not support legalising cannabis for recreational use.
Amendments made to the original bill require cannabis to be kept out of reach of children, and barring adults from using it near children or growing it in community gardens.
A review of the laws will be conducted within three years.