Legal cannabis could soon be coming to Australia

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Legal cannabis could soon be coming to Australia

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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Australia could be the next place on the map to fully legalize cannabis.

Currently, medical cannabis is legal in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania. However, since the federal government introduced legislation to decriminalize the use and sale of medical cannabis in 2016, the rules and regulations have not yet been properly clarified.

ACT Labor backbencher Michael Petterson aims to introduce a bill for legal cannabis in Australia that would permit adults to possess a maximum of 50 grams of cannabis or a maximum of four plants. Anything that exceeds these guidelines would be considered a drug offense.

Bill for legal cannabis in Australia received 12 votes in favor of legalization

An ACT Labor spokesperson made it clear that the party backed the bill for legal cannabis in Australia, which received 12 votes in favor of legalization.

“Whether the 13th vote will appear depends on the Greens and the Liberals,” she said. 

If the bill is to pass, Greens parliamentarian Shane Rattenbury must vote for legal cannabis in Australia. Mr. Rattenbury declared that, in spite of his party’s support for the bill, he would make a final decision once he views and amends the bill.

“We’ve long held the policy to keep people out of the criminal justice system for the possession of personal amounts of drugs,” said Mr. Rattenbury. “As a matter of principle we support this, and what we’ll be looking at is whether we’ll be making any amendments and further propositions in the bill.”

Legal obstacles could delay legal cannabis in Australia

Mr. Rattenbury thinks that it would be beneficial if the Australian government obtains a legal opinion on the bill. After all, the legal impediments would surely slow down the process of cannabis legalization in Australia. This remains true even if the ACT parliament approves the bill.

Notwithstanding, Mr. Rattenbury said that since the bill can’t be debated until next February at the very soonest. “There’s plenty of time to have a look at it,” he added.

Potential legal obstacles include the fact that the bill is inconsistent with Australia’s federal laws pertaining to cannabis. Moreover, cannabis is listed as a restricted substance on the Commonwealth Poisons Standard lists.

According to ACT shadow attorney-general Jeremy Hanson, Liberals are not likely to support the bill for legal cannabis.

“We support the current regime, where although there are penalties, small personal use has been decriminalized,” Hanson explained. “We think that that strikes the right balance. We want to discourage marijuana use. It has a significant impact on psychosis, particularly for younger people and disadvantaged groups.”

Australian Medical Association doesn’t support legal cannabis in Australia

Hanson also made a point of saying that the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) submission to the draft bill didn’t back legalization of the green plant. The AMA affirms that cannabis should be considered “primarily as a health issue and not primarily as a matter of law enforcement”.

Hanson believes that black market dealers will benefit the most, in the event that the bill is passed.

“Aside from the quite significant mental health concerns, really the only winners then are organized crime and drug dealers,” said Hanson. “It’s ill-considered. I think there are some other aspects to it. Points have been raised as to whether this would be in conflict with federal legislation, and I think it would be. We’ll seek further advice on that, but when you have ACT legislation that is in conflict, then federal legislation takes precedence, so it would be struck out,” he added, saying that “it is putting the ACT at odds with other jurisdictions.”

Too soon to determine how Australia’s cannabis bill will impact Commonwealth law

On the other hand, it is probably too soon to accurately ascertain how the bill will affect Commonwealth law, according to a spokesperson for federal Attorney-General Christian Porter.

“It’s not really an issue he can speculate on until the ACT legislature has considered and made a decision,” Porter’s spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Andrew Barr is supportive of legal cannabis use in Canberra, but he disapproves of legal cannabis retail sales.

“It’s not a retail model – it simply would allow for personal use,” Mr. Barr said, adding that he thinks it will happen in the future, but that he doesn’t think “the rest of Australia is ready for that.”

Mr. Pettersson declared his reasons for introducing the bill to legalize cannabis in Australia was in an attempt to adapt with what he called a “global movement.”

“If this law is passed, there will be no cannabis shops – it simply means people can grow and possess 50 grams of cannabis.”