Cannabis Possession Will Soon Be Legal In Canberra: An Interview With Cannabis Club’s Mark Hutchison

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Cannabis Club Australia

Just quietly, from Friday week onwards, if you’re in the ACT and you want to smoke cannabis in the privacy of your own home it will be completely legal. You’ll also be able have up to 50 grams of weed sitting on your coffee table without any concerns.

And if you want to turn your mind to growing a few plants in your own backyard that’s okay as well.

That’s because as of 31 January, the personal possession and use of cannabis in the capital territory will be legal under local laws. And residents will be allowed to cultivate up to two plants. However, selling your product or even giving it away will remain illegal.

In September 2018, Labor MLA Michael Pettersson introduced his cannabis legalisation private member’s bill, which has turned the tide against the nationwide outlawing of the plant. And after it was sent for review and amendments, it was passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly last September.

Cannabis advocates across the nation are applauding the development, as despite the supply side remaining illegal, most perceive the change as a first step along a path leading to the further removal of restrictions around the beneficial herb across the country.

A global trend

While the legalisation of consuming recreational cannabis in Canberra is something of an anomaly in Australia, it’s actually in keeping with the global trend. Indeed, the number of jurisdictions lifting the offences pertaining to cannabis is picking up pace.

The US states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalise the plant back in November 2012. After it became available retail in Colorado in 2014, it morphed into a billion dollar industry. And today, cannabis for pleasure is legal in 11 US states, as well as the nation’s capital.

The entire country of Canada legalised cannabis – both consumption and production – in October 2018. And at first, the market couldn’t keep up with demand. This made Canada the second nation to legalise it nationally, following Uruguay having passed such laws in December 2013.

While over the ditch in New Zealand, they’re is set to have a legally-binding cannabis referendum later this year. And the NZ government has already released a draft bill that outlines the proposed laws regarding the growing, selling and purchasing of cannabis.

Advocating for change

The ACT cannabis legalisation bill passed with the full support of both Labor members and the Greens. And the legislation also had the support of a number of online cannabis activist groups, including that of Cannabis Club Australia.

Founded by Mark Hutchison in 2013, Cannabis Club Australia seeks to promote wider awareness about the truth relating to cannabis – beyond the reefer madness – and promote the full legalisation of the plant around the country.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Hutchison about his assertion that the new ACT laws are just an initial step, the snowball effect that’s likely to come after the nation’s capital permits recreational use, and why he thinks cannabis developments are slow in coming to fruition in Australia.

Mark Hutchison Founder Advocate

Firstly, as of the end of next week, the ACT will be the first jurisdiction in the country where it’s legal to recreationally use cannabis, possess it for personal use, and cultivate a few plants.

Mark, as a cannabis advocate, how are you feeling about this development? And how significant is it?

It’s significant. The landscape is changing from the illegal avenue to the legal. So, it’s a step in the right direction.

And it will open up the conversation for a broader type of legalisation, with dispensaries, clubs and being able to buy it in the public domain.

So, I’m all for any part of changing the way it is, because Labor and the Liberals aren’t really talking about it, except for when it comes to the medical and pharmaceutical side.

So, in the ACT, it will be legal to possess up to 50 grams, as well as cultivate up to two plants, but selling cannabis will remain outlawed.

What do you think about the legalisation model they’re rolling out in the capital territory?

It’s not perfect. It’s not what everybody wants. And a lot of people don’t really have outdoor gardens to grow in.

But, you have to stay positive, as it’s a huge step in the right direction. And it opens the door for more.

Next step could be four to six plants per person. And slowly there could be allowances to consume in some public spaces.

But, I’m glad we’ve got the ball rolling and we’ve taken the first step.

Colorado and Washington were the first US states to legalise recreational cannabis. And now it’s legal in 11 states over there.

So, do you think this is something of a Colorado moment for Australia. Will we see some kind of knock on effect around the rest of the country?

Definitely, there will be a knock on effect. And a few state premiers will be pushing to get their name in the limelight.

So, there will be talk in the coming months about who will be next. It will probably snowball. Once it starts, it won’t stop.

Of course, the difference between the ACT model and that in Colorado is that in the US state the supply side of the equation has been legalised as well.

Do you foresee a time when the sort of model they have in the US will be operating somewhere in Australia?

Yes. Sometimes we’re a bit slow in Australian politics. So, we need something like this to happen in Canberra. And we need a few more stories about it in the media.

There will be a lot of people who are happy with the law change, because there will be a lot of people out there that would like to personally grow their own.

However, there’s also a huge number of people who would prefer to purchase it, so they don’t need to grow it themselves.

It was ACT Labor MLA Michael Pettersson who championed the cause. What do you think about Mr Pettersson’s role in legalising cannabis in Canberra?

He’s been really good. And there were quite a few social media pages like us, who were pushing the bill as well. So, a bit of public pressure seemed to help get it passed.

But, he’s doing a very good job of championing the cause. And he did well to get it passed.

Cannabis Club Australia EST 2013

Cannabis Club Australia was established back in 2013. You’re the founder. What’s the group all about?

It’s about pushing for social change. And pushing the conversation forward. It’s to highlight people like us are out here wanting change.

So, it’s mostly sharing information, getting the message out there and trying to destigmatise cannabis.

And lastly, Mark, how would you describe what’s happening around the globe in regard to the plant at present? How do you see it further developing in Australia from here?

There’s a big problem with opioids at the moment. There’s a lot of them going around and there’s a lot of people addicted to them. But, people are realising that cannabis can help with that.

What’s happening in Canberra isn’t full legalisation. Compared with what’s happening in the US, it’s in the middle. And that’s where politicians want it to be now.

Most politicians I’ve met are so focused on the medical side of it, with the stock market and the pharmaceutical industry.

So, what’s happening here in Australia is they’re hindering full legalisation in order to maximise the medical profits. And there’s no one really lobbying the government about it, besides the HEMP Party.

So, it’s all come down to the stock market margins. I’ve spoken to a few politicians at symposiums and they were like kids in a candy store talking about how much revenue they’re going to get.

It would be good if we could just purchase and access it like they can in the United States and Canada.

But, that’s not happening here, people are being made to go to pharmacies and chemists for really standardised products.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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