While Australia continues to prohibit cannabis at the federal level, it is now legal in its nation’s capital. Last month, a cannabis legalization measure took effect in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), permitting possession and cultivation for personal use at the local level.
As the first jurisdiction in Australia to implement a cannabis legalization measure, the ACT still faces a great deal of uncertainty regarding how it will carry out the new policy, but the territory is not alone in the global arena. Any cannabis consumer or advocate living in the United States would feel a familiarity with the ACT’s situation, now that the threat of a potential showdown with the federal government looms overhead.
Whether a showdown will occur entirely depends on how Australia’s federal government will enforce the conflicting cannabis policies within the ACT’s borders. Will members of federal law enforcement continue to enforce the prohibition, crackdown on cannabis consumers, and charge them with violating federal law? Furthermore, will the charges ultimately prove to be binding when legally challenged? Or will responsible local consumers be left alone? Only time will tell.
Possessing under 50 grams of cannabis was already decriminalized in the ACT before the measure took effect on January 31 of this year. Violators under the previous law had to pay a $160 fine when caught. Now, there is no fine for personal possession. Under the new law, the legal age for cannabis possession and cultivation in the ACT is 18 years. Individuals at or above this age can now cultivate up to two plants, with a 4-plant cap per residence. Consumers can possess up to 150 grams of cannabis that is not dry, or 50 grams of cannabis that is ready to consume.
Many provisions of cannabis prohibition still apply in the ACT. Consumers cannot drive while under the influence of cannabis when they are impaired, and they cannot consume in public. In addition, cannabis cannot be transported across borders and has to stay with the ACT.
Even though it’s just a local reform, and even though potential federal issues may exist, the implementation of the cannabis legalization measure in the ACT is significant. Local reform victories add momentum to larger cannabis reform victories. If cannabis legalization succeeds in the ACT, it will encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit.
If enough local victories occur, it will eventually result in national legalization in Australia. Canada and Uruguay have legalized cannabis for adult-use, and other countries such as Mexico will soon become legal as well. The sky has not fallen over those countries, and the same will be true for Australia when it eventually gets on the right side of history at the national level.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has been writing about cannabis culture since 2010.
photo © iStock/OlegMalyshev