The police union says legalising cannabis in the ACT will only complicate the issue, after new cannabis possession laws were passed in the Legislative Assembly yesterday afternoon.
Under the new legislation, which was put forward by Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, adults will be allowed to possess 50 grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants in their home.
Despite cannabis possession being decriminalised in the ACT, it still remains a criminal offence to cultivate or possess cannabis under Commonwealth legislation. Under the Commonwealth criminal code, people caught with small amounts of cannabis could face a maximum $8,000 fine or up to two years’ jail.
Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith said the new legislation puts ACT Policing in a difficult position.
“Commonwealth laws trump ACT laws so now police officers have been put in a position where they can use Commonwealth legislation,” Ms Smith told Region Media. “This is defeating the purpose of the bill, which is to keep people out of the criminal justice system.
“There was nothing wrong with the legislation to start with because it gave a good approach for police to use. I just think this new bill has created more questions than it is ever going to possibly resolve.
“There is a lot of power in words and I think this bill will confuse people. People may start to think this is free for all.”
ACT Policing’s Chief Police Officer Johnson said it is up to the discretion of each police officer whether a person will be charged under ACT law or Commonwealth law, admitting it would be a challenge for officers.
“Every day, police officers doing their duty make decisions taking into account the circumstances of the particular occasion,” CPO Johnson told ABC Canberra radio. “We provide good training to our police officers and instil them with values so they know and understand their accountability to the law, but also to the safety of the community.
“All those things will come into play when they make their decision.”
CPO Johnson said police officers can still apply Commonwealth law in certain circumstances.
“I am not suggesting that ACT Policing will start a campaign of going out and charging everyone with Commonwealth offences because I don’t believe that to be the case,” he said. “For the most part, our officers understand what this debate is about.
“We will support the ACT Government on their initiatives to improve the lives of Canberrans and we will work with them to make it as effective as can be.”
The new laws will come into effect on 31 January 2020.