The A.C.T. Parliament is set to debate and most likely pass a Bill to legalise cannabis. Chris Mordd Richards reports.
Labor A.C.T. Member for Yerrabi Michael Pettersson introduced the 'Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018' into the Assembly late last year. If passed, the Bill will legalise personal possession and use of cannabis.
As Pettersson says the Bill is:
"... a relatively tiny document that amends the definition of an offence relating to the use of cannabis in the 'Drugs of Dependence Act 1989' and removing the drug from the list of prohibited substances."
If it is passed, it will legalise possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis per person and allow each individual to grow four plants outdoors. Growing indoors, or using artificial lighting or artificial heat sources will remain illegal.
The chances of the Bill passing are fairly good. It has the support of both the A.C.T. Labor Government and the Greens. Pettersson was quite confident the Bill would pass when IA spoke to him late last year.
While there is some concern of a possible High Court challenge, whether that occurs and how that would play out it is likely to be affected by the pending federal election result.
The A.C.T. Greens intend to move a few amendments to the Bill but ultimately support it.
A.C.T. Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury says:
At the moment we are considering a number of possible amendments to Mr Pettersson's Bill to be introduced when it gets debated next year. While there are a range of things we think could improve the Bill in its current form, unfortunately it is unlikely that the ACT would be in a position to legalise supply of cannabis without federal Government approval.
Ultimately we want to see a scheme that treats the possession of cannabis as a health issues and keeps people out of the criminal justice system. We're supportive of the Bill and are looking at how it can be improved to make sure it works as effectively as possible.
Though it is not an offence to purchase cannabis or share it but selling it remains a crime under Pettersson’s Bill. Pettersson says one of the main intentions of the Bill is to allow users to reduce or eliminate entirely their reliance on purchasing cannabis from dealers.
To that end, how does an average user go about establishing their own plants and harvesting their own crops. The short answer is, not easily. There will be no easy way to acquire seeds or saplings (baby plants) in order to establish your own supply after this Bill passes.
Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said:
Our understanding is that the Bill as currently drafted does not provide any avenue for the supply of cannabis, including for purchasing baby plants or seeds. We definitely see this as a limitation as it still means people are reliant on the black market to access cannabis plants or products.
As Pettersson admits, the best sources for these may well be the existing dealers from which users purchase their cannabis right now:
I suspect many of the small scale growers who are currently operating in the decriminalised threshold would be happy to assist newly legal growers in getting started with supplies. I also suspect that illicit drug dealers will sell (whilst there is a commercial imperative to do so) seeds to consumers.
I understand this is not the perfect supply model that other jurisdictions have in place but I believe based on the prevalence of cannabis in our community this model will be able to sustain itself and enable most Canberrans that would like to grow cannabis to do so.
It will still be illegal to import seeds from interstate or overseas, with Pettersson pointing out that any "hypothetical" along those lines, would most likely "run afoul of commonwealth drug trafficking laws".
Assuming you live in Canberra, manage to acquire some seeds or saplings and establish your four plants, can you quit buying off your dealer now? Let's say you have an average quality plant and you plant four plants during the prime growing season of the year. An average yield will likely produce around one ounce of cannabis bud for every one foot of plant.
Let's presume your plants only grow to two feet, your yield is a bit low and you end up harvesting around 50 grams from each of the four plants. Not good. You are only legally allowed to possess up to 50 grams. Even after drying, you are likely still left with over 100 grams of cannabis and are liable to be charged with possession of a commercial quantity if caught.
You could, of course, give away the cannabis to friends (over 18) until you are under the 50-gram limit.
It is unlikely the police will be busting down doors every night across Canberra after this Bill passes, to check if people are under the 50-gram limit or not. However, in the process of eliminating one risk (buying cannabis) Pettersson’s Bill as it stands introduces another risk — that a user will be more likely to possess much larger amounts of cannabis for use over time, risking more serious charges.
Overall, although this Bill should make a dent in the illegal market in Canberra, it is unlikely to eliminate it entirely. This is because Pettersson’s Bill intentionally does not set up a legal supply mechanism (legalising the sale of cannabis) due to current federal drug laws. That cannot be looked at until the Federal Government makes legislative changes that would enable the A.C.T. to act further.
According to Pettersson, Labor will, however, look at models such as "cannabis social clubs" as a possible way forward around the supply issue.
This is a landmark step forward for the A.C.T. and Australia, regardless.
Victoria may soon also be debating enacting its own legalisation of cannabis. Fiona Patten’s proposed bill goes much further and seeks to address supply as well, although this will also still be dependent on Federal Government cooperation if the Bill passes.
Pettersson's Bill may be flawed in regard to its aim to reduce users' reliance on dealers. If the Greens are successful in amending the Bill to address some of the concerns raised so far, the result should be a good outcome for all.
The A.C.T. is set to be the first State or Territory to legalise cannabis in Australia in a way that will genuinely benefit both the Government and the citizens of Canberra.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.