Another nation is toying with cannabis legalization, this time far beyond North American or European shores.
According to CNN, the Australian capital of Canberra fully legalized possession and cultivation of recreational cannabis after a vote on September 24th. Citizens over the age of 18 in the city and surrounding territory will receive the privilege on January 31st, 2020, when the law takes effect. Meanwhile, the old drug laws apply.
This gradual approach is eerily similar to that of the U.S., since Australia’s government system allows for state/territory governments to have some degree of autonomy. This is also why marijuana laws radically differ depending on the state or territory in question.
In some places, marijuana is decriminalized, while other still keep it fully illegal. This will remain the case everywhere except for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
Although there may be strong resistance, this is certainly a step in the right direction and a sign that reform is likely to come on a broader scale.
At the moment, the ACT has decriminalized marijuana. As is common practice, marijuana possession within a certain limit will lead to a fine at most, but jail and/or larger fines are possible if a suspect goes over that line:
“Drug laws differ depending on the state or territory. Under the ACT’s current law, cultivating one or two cannabis plants or possessing 50g (1.76 ounces) of cannabis carries a possible 160 Australian dollar fine ($108), while possessing more than 50g (1.76 ounces) of cannabis carries a maximum 8,000 Australian dollar fine or two years in prison — or both.”
Although arguably rather lenient (given the high possession limit), this does not stop an alarming number of arrests every year. According to CNN:
“…marijuana is the country’s most widely-used illicit drug. In the 2017-2018 financial year, there were over 72,000 cannabis-related arrests made in Australia — and 92% of those arrested were consumers.”
Naturally, some of those arrests occurred in locations where marijuana laws are stricter, but this alarming statistic shows that something needs to change on the national level.
Once the ACT’s law takes effect, the new regulations will not be that different from the ACT’s existing ones. The limits are identical, minus the fine:
“Under the new regulations, residents in the territory — which is home to the capital — will be able to legally possess up to 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of marijuana and cultivate up to two plants per person, or four per household.”
The same penalties apply for anyone who exceeds that 50g or four plant limit.
The ACT’s decision flies in the face of federal law, where marijuana is very much illegal. This means that the law could be struck down before it gets a chance to be implemented.
However, marijuana is already becoming less stigmatized. Since 2016, marijuana has been legal to grow for medicine and research. Whether federal officials will be as liberal about the ACT’s decision remains to be seen.
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We wish Australia well in what will hopefully be the beginning of more sweeping marijuana reforms.
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