Let's Be Blunt: ACT's New Cannabis Law Isn't About Legalisation

cannabis laws australiaImage: Getty

This week new cannabis legislation was passed in the ACT, making it the first Australian state or territory to give weed the thumbs up. But before you start planning a weekend road trip to get baked at Questacon, we have some news for you. Lighting up in Canberra isn't going to be easy.

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The new legislation, which will come into effect on January 31 2020, says people in the ACT will be allowed to possess 50 grams of dried cannabis and two cannabis plants, with a cap of four plants per household.

This is great and all, but the new laws come with quite a few caveats.

It won't be legal to sell weed in the ACT, so don't expect to see a bunch of dispensaries pop up for your buying pleasure. Furthermore, it will remain illegal to even gift pot - growing and possession is strictly for personal use. It will also remain illegal to smoke weed in public.

While these legal stipulations make the new legislation far less fun than what cannabis enthusiasts initially thought, they aren't the most important caveats. What you really need to pay attention to is the selling and distribution of cannabis seeds will remain illegal.

So while it will be fine under state law to have two of your own plants, there will be no legal way to obtain them or the seeds needed to grow them.

This all comes down to intent. While reports around the new legislation are referring to it as a 'legalisation' of cannabis, that isn't correct. It's actually about decriminalisation.

The ACT government isn't trying to make it easy for its citizens to grow and smoke pot. Instead, the new law will act to minimise fines and jail time, as well as free up the police and judicial systems.

In an email to Gizmodo Australia, ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay stated:

"Yesterday we passed historic legislation relating to the cultivation and personal use of cannabis.

As Attorney General let me be clear, we supported this legislation in the face of overwhelming evidence that using cannabis should be treated as a health issue – not a criminal issue.

People caught with small amounts of cannabis are currently subjected to the legal system and the conviction for the possession of a small amount of cannabis can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on their lives.

These reforms will free up the justice system to deal with more serious crimes. Our changes will act as a form of harm minimisation and mean that people will not be involved with the criminal justice system unnecessarily.

Canberrans can be proud to be part of the most progressive jurisdiction in Australia."

Keeping the context of the bill in mind, it's unsurprising that the ACT government has no interest in addressing the catch-22 regarding the illegal sale and acquisition of cannabis seeds.

When asked about this, a spokesperson from the ACT Attorney General's office said there were no plans to make changes to legislation. However, there will be a review of the legislation three years after it comes into effect.

It's worth adding that cannabis possession remains illegal under Commonwealth law. But while a police officer could arrest someone for possession of 50g of cannabis and under, the ACT government is confident that the federal government will defer to state law.

"Commonwealth law has been written with the express understanding that there are differences,” said Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, who introduced the bill. "I don’t think it’s particularly likely the commonwealth government will try to fight this."

So while Australia's first move towards 'legalising' cannabis isn't exactly what people thought it would be, decriminalisation is at least step in the right direction.

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