Sorry, Tourists Won't Be Able To Smoke Weed In The ACT
Despite cannabis decriminalisation laws passing, Canberra is unlikely to instantly turn into an Amsterdam-style marijuana mecca for tourists.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Australian Capital Territory's parliament passed a bill allowing people over the age of 18 to possess up to 50 grams of marijuana, and grow two plants for personal use. They are the first Australian jurisdiction to do so, and instantly, people began talking about how visitors to the ACT on holiday may take advantage of the change.
But provisions in the bill -- which has been described as "a dog's breakfast" by some -- mean it will be impractical for tourists to consume cannabis in the capital. Advocates say the change has public health benefits, helping divert casual users away from the criminal system -- but the federal government has already flagged a potential challenge to the law, meaning the change could be short-lived.
Drug reform experts also doubt it will lead to more use of the drug, but that it will reduce the harms associated with cannabis.
What does the law allow?
The Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill lets adults in the ACT to possess 50 grams of the drug. It also permits the growing of two marijuana plants per person, or up to four per household.
However, many other laws restricting the use of cannabis still remain in the capital. For instance, smoking marijuana in public, or around children, is still illegal. While growing plants is permitted, it's an offence to sell the seeds.
While a person can possess and grow marijuana for themselves, it remains a drug supply offence to sell or even gift that marijuana to a friend, according to drug policy consultant Jarryd Bartle.
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"Some people are calling this law 'legalisation', but it's not, at least in the sense of what we're seeing in parts of the United States or Canada," he told 10 daily.
"They've seen the least harmful way as people smoking personal supplies at home. They'd prefer people to grow and smoke at home, rather than buying from the black market."
Bartle said the change was a "natural extension" of the gradual decriminalisation of marijuana in the ACT, with slow changes to how police enforce drug laws since the 1980s.
How will people be allowed to use cannabis in the ACT?
People won't be walking around smoking weed on the street like in California, or heading to Amsterdam-style "coffee shops" any time soon.
Bartle said selling, sharing or even gifting the drug to friends would remain an offence.
"They don't want a commercial market opening yet, that's not the intention of this legislation."
ACT Greens politician Shane Rattenbury told 10 daily he "hoped [the federal government] have better things to do with their time" than overrule the new law, backing it as a reasonable and responsible reform.
He said tourists would be able to take advantage of the change, but warned against interstate visitors going too far.
"People can come here and the laws will apply, but if you're driving down here, it'll be still illegal when you cross the border to carry that quantity. If you're getting on the bus with marijuana in your pocket, that will still be an offence in NSW," Rattenbury said, adding that a "large-scale" public education campaign would aim to inform ACT residents about how the new laws work.
What is still illegal?
An ACT Police spokesperson told 10 daily they would "consider the detail" of the changes, saying they were committed to harm minimisation.
"It is important to note it will remain an offence to drive a motor vehicle with any level of cannabis in a driver’s system and ACT Policing will continue to test for the presence of cannabis and other drugs," the spokesperson said.
It should also be noted that it remains an offence under ACT law to supply any amount of cannabis. The offence of supplying drugs does not require the exchange of money.
The interaction between territory and federal law will be a sticking point, with the federal government having precedent to overrule laws made in the territories. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton called the ACT reform "dangerous" and said attorney-general Christian Porter "is having a look at it", while Porter himself said, "where Commonwealth laws apply they remain enforceable."
Will more people use marijuana?
Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said overseas evidence showed that decriminalising marijuana does not lead to an increase in use.
"It may happen with a few people, but at a significant level, that's not going to happen. There's a large literature base showing very little to no relationship between laws and the number who consume it," he told 10 daily.
"The more important question is whether more people are consuming, but whether more people are harmed. A lot of people are harmed by cannabis prohibition."
Wodak said decriminalising personal use and cultivation would mean less incentive drug dealers or gangs to sell marijuana.
Will the laws expand?
Wodak said he'd like to see further legalisation of marijuana, including a 'regulated supply' system, which would include packages with health warnings and product information -- and raise taxation revenue for the government.
"I hope the other states take notice of [the ACT law], and the federal government too," he said.
Rattenbury said he hoped the ACT changes would "ripple across the country".