January 20, 2020

Cannabis in the ACT: what you need to know

Macro image of cannabis buds

On January 31, 2020, new legislation came into effect in the Australian Capital Territory which changes some rules about the personal use of cannabis for people over 18 years.1

The situation, however, is not what many people may picture when they think of ‘legal weed’.

There will be no shops selling cannabis, consumption in a public place will remain an offence and some debate will remain over the legal status of cannabis in the ACT.

What the new law covers

The new law will allow ACT residents to possess up to 50 grams of dry cannabis, or 150 grams of ‘wet’ (newly harvested) cannabis. It will remain illegal to sell or supply cannabis and to consume it in a public place. Drug driving will also remain illegal.

The only legal supply of cannabis will be if an ACT resident grows their own.

One person will be allowed to grow up to two cannabis plants, with a cap on four plants per household.

Plants must be grown in an area that isn’t accessible by the public, such as a backyard. Cannabis will not be permitted to be grown in public spaces like community gardens or parks.

Under the new laws, offences also include smoking cannabis in a public place or near a person under 18 years of age and failing to store cannabis out of the reach of children.

All offences can carry a fine and cannabis storage or cultivation offences could carry the additional potential for jail time.

The existing legal framework, which includes being fined under the ‘Simple Cannabis Offence Notice’ scheme, will continue to apply to people under 18 years old. To assess the impact of these changes, a review will be conducted by the Territory Government within three years.

Despite these changes, the legal status of cannabis in the ACT remains complicated.

An unusual legalisation scheme

Although the territory legislation has been changed so that private personal use and possession of small amounts of cannabis are not illegal if you’re over 18 years in the ACT, the Commonwealth laws remain unchanged.

This raises the concern that a person in the ACT could still be charged with cannabis offences under the Commonwealth laws.2

How this affects law enforcement remains to be seen.

This is unlike countries such as Canada and Uruguay where cannabis laws have been changed at a national level. The ACT’s legal situation is more like the USA where - although eleven states and Washington D.C. have legalised cannabis - it remains illegal under federal laws.

Also, unlike Canada, Uruguay, and the legalised states in the USA, the ACT will not have a legal market for the sale of cannabis. This poses several issues for residents wishing to consume legal cannabis.

Other remaining issues

For those who will want to grow their own cannabis, there is still no legal avenue for them to source cannabis seeds.

Additionally, not everyone who wants to consume cannabis may have the skill, time or capacity to grow their own plants. People who cannot grown their own cannabis but still wish to consume it will be likely to continue obtaining it from a black-market supply.

As such, the impact of this change on the cannabis black market is uncertain.

It’s important that ACT residents understand that:

- Legal confusion remains around the potential for being charged under Commonwealth cannabis laws.

- It is illegal to sell and supply cannabis, including cannabis seeds.

  1. Drugs of Dependence (Personal Cannabis Use) Amendment Act 2019. Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory.
  2. Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (25 September).

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