On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, the Australian Capital Territory became the first territory in Australia to legalize “recreational possession and cultivation of marijuana.” The law, which is anticipated to go into effect at the beginning of 2020, goes against the federal law of the land, where recreational marijuana possession is still illegal.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is one of eight Australian territories, including New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. ACT is a southeastern territory that includes the country’s capital city, Canberra. Although not the most populous territory (New South Wales holds that title and includes capital city Sydney), ACT is Australia’s federal territory.
Stipulations of the new law limit marijuana cultivation to private property, stored away from children. Freshly cultivated marijuana is limited to 150 grams (about five ounces), and dried marijuana is limited to 50 grams and to residents 18 and older. It is still illegal to smoke marijuana near minors.
Before the new law, possession of small amounts of marijuana had been decriminalized; fines were issued instead of arrests made. However, marijuana possession is still a crime in other jurisdictions.
Opponents of the law express concern about the connection between increased marijuana use and risk of psychosis and increased driving under the influence of marijuana. While the Australian Medical Association states that “use of marijuana could lead to chronic health problems,” they add that the risk is low, particularly for occasional users.
Labor Party lawmaker and proponent of the legislation Michael Pettersson claims that passage of the law will “reduce the harm of drugs in our community by reducing the stigma of drug use and encouraging people to seek help without fear of arrest.”
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit recreational drug in Australia; approximately one-third of Australians over 14 use it, 10 percent in the last year. Medical marijuana was legalized in Australia in 2016.