It could soon be legal for adults in the ACT to possess up to 50 grams of weed for recreational use. Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson will be introducing a bill before the state government’s Legislative Assembly this week which, if passed, will allow people to keep either 50 grams of cannabis—that is, six sticks shy of two ounces—or four cannabis plants without fear of legal discipline.
Michael claims that 75 of the 80 submissions he’s received so far have been in support of the bill—including the state’s Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association—and Fairfax reports that it's received unanimous support from the government’s Members of the Legislative Assembly—that is, the representatives assigned to the legislature of a certain jurisdiction. A spokeswoman for ACT Labor confirmed that the party is united in support of the bill, with 12 votes in favor, and said that “Whether the 13th vote will appear depends on the Greens and the Liberals.”
This essentially means that just one more vote is needed for the bill to pass in parliament: and Greens parliamentarian Shane Rattenbury may well be the one give it the final push over the line. Before he throws his support behind the proposal, though, he wants to give the bill a good hard look and see whether there’s anything his party might want to add or amend.
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“We've long held the policy to keep people out of the criminal justice system for the possession of personal amounts of drugs,” he said. “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.”
Shane also pointed out that in the event the bill was passed by the ACT parliament there would still be a number of legal barriers to negotiate before it became law—the fact that weed is listed as a prohibited substance on the Commonwealth Poisons Standard, for example—and suggested that the government get a legal opinion on the bill.
While small amounts of cannabis for personal use has already been decriminalized in the state, anyone currently caught with less than 50 grams of cannabis can still be hit with a fine. This bill would look to scrap that model, and give adults the freedom to grow, carry, and personally use up to 50 grams—just as long as they’re not selling it.
“It would continue to be illegal to be a drug dealer, a drug supplier, but individuals who consume, we're not going to criminalise that behavior,” says Michael. "This would be the single most effective measure in undermining the business model of organised crime for this particular drug. You take the money out of it, then suddenly the motivation for a whole range of criminal activity is removed.”
This doesn’t mean weed dispensaries are going to start popping up around Canberra, though. Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who is also in support of the bill, indicates that Australia is not in a position to roll out the kinds of retailing systems that are taking off in Canada and the United States.
“I think that will happen at some point in the future. But I don't think the rest of Australia is ready for that,” he said. “This is not a retail model—it simply would allow for personal use.”
Michael reiterated this point, stressing that “If this law is passed, there will be no cannabis shops—it simply means people can grow and possess 50 grams of cannabis.”
Dr David Caldicott, the clinical lead at the ANU’s Australian Medicinal Cannabis Observatory, has meanwhile suggested that the move towards a more regulated market could be beneficial from a public health perspective—and, if nothing else, would likely save young people from getting a criminal record as a result of “trivial” crimes like drug possession.
“The likelihood is that overall it will reduce the harm from drugs,” he told The RiotACT. “If it is good, responsible and forcible legislation, then it might be beneficial to the local population.
“Whatever reduces the numbers of foolish young people, who are notorious for making poor lifestyle choices, from destroying their entire lives for what is essentially a trivial crime is a good thing.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.