Labor MLA Michael Pettersson is pushing to have the personal use of cannabis legalised in the ACT, saying that under current drug laws “getting caught with a small amount of cannabis could ruin your life”.
On Wednesday, Mr Pettersson plans to introduce a private members’ bill into the ACT Legislative Assembly to allow individuals to legally possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and to naturally cultivate up to four cannabis plants at one time.
However, his move puts him at odds with the ACT Opposition who “support the current regime of decriminalisation” while the Government is keeping its cards close to its chest, with a spokesperson only saying: “The government will make its position clear once the bill is brought forward on Wednesday.”
The possession of under 25 grams of cannabis for recreational use has been decriminalised in the ACT since 1992 through the Simple Cannabis Offence Notice (SCON) scheme. This limit was later increased to 50 grams to reflect the fact that cannabis is nearly always sold at quantities of about 25 grams.
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In effect, this means that police already have the discretion not to take people through the criminal justice system if they are caught with small quantities of cannabis.
Mr Pettersson said that cannabis arrests for consumers make up 60.6 per cent of all drug-related arrests in the ACT with, on average, one Canberran arrested every day for cannabis consumption.
He said that legalising cannabis will allow police to focus on serious crime and stop giving criminal records to recreational users.
“Because of our drug laws, getting caught with a small amount of cannabis could ruin your life. It’s time to legalise cannabis,” Mr Pettersson said.
“I believe our current cannabis laws are based on historical misinformation. There is a lot of evidence that shows cannabis is actually safer than more socially accepted drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.”
Mr Pettersson said he is introducing legislation to legalise the personal use of cannabis because he believes Canberra is ready for “an evidence-based approach to drug policy”.
“I’ve spoken to many people in Canberra who have raised this issue with me. In a progressive city like Canberra, I think there is a strong case for our community to think differently about recreational use of cannabis,” Mr Pettersson said.
“Community attitudes toward cannabis are changing after nearly 100 years of prohibition. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (2016) cannabis has been used by 10 per cent of Australians in the past year and 35 per cent of Australians in their lifetime.
“In the United States, there are now nine states that have legalised cannabis. Canada has voted to legalise it in recent months. New Zealand will hold a referendum on cannabis in its current parliamentary term. Cannabis legalisation is not a radical idea.”
Mr Pettersson said his ‘Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Bill 2018’ will remove cannabis as a prohibited substance in the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 and amend the Criminal Code (ACT) 2002 to allow possession of small quantities of cannabis, up to 50g. Individuals will also be allowed to naturally cultivate up to four cannabis plants at one time.
He said that the sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products will remain illegal and it will remain illegal for minors to access recreational cannabis. It will also still be the case that cannabis cannot be smoked in a public place as defined in the Smoke-Free Public Places Act 2003 or within 20 metres of minors.
ACT Opposition legal spokesperson, Jeremy Hanson said the Canberra Liberals support the current regime of decriminalisation and won’t be supporting Mr Pettersson’s bill.
“We want to make sure that we have sensible drug policies based on the evidence but there’s no question that marijuana has got significant health problems associated with it, particularly the link with psychosis and there are other issues as well,” Mr Hanson said.
“What we want to make sure is that there is a deterrent, particularly for young people.”
ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said she has some questions about the legislation and that the ACT Government would make its position clear once the bill is brought forward on Wednesday.
Do you think personal use of small quantities of cannabis should be legalised or that the current situation should remain? Let us know your thoughts or concerns in the comments below.