Sparking up a reefer in the privacy of your own living room has been legal in Canberra since 31 January 2020. And residents of the Australian Capital Territory have been able to grow their own cannabis plants lawfully at home as well, over the last three years.
But the funny thing is, no one ever mentions it.
Indeed, it would seem many Australians are unaware of the law change in this nation’s seat of government, and that would be because it hasn’t caused any harms, it hasn’t seen a spike in crime rates and instead, it’s meant less needless criminalisation of the general population.
That’s the message the Legal Cannabis Party was putting across, when it recently gave notice in the three state parliaments where it currently occupies upper house seats that it will be introducing laws to make lawful and regulate the personal use and possession of cannabis.
Legalise Cannabis NSW MLC Jeremy Buckingham announced the pending Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis) Bill 2023 on 20 June, while his colleagues in Victoria and Western Australia did the same.
And this pricked up the ears of many, not solely because having one Legalise Cannabis MLC in NSW and two in each of the other states highlights the support for such laws, but also because the ACT reform was passed by a Labor-Greens government, and Labor is in power in each of these states.
A global trend
“This is an idea whose time has come,” Buckingham told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Finally, we seem to be moving away from the war on drugs rhetoric to something more humane, more sensible and workable.”
“No doubt legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis in an increasing number of jurisdictions has created a sense of inevitability,” the Legalise Cannabis NSW MLC added.
Twenty two US states and the capital Washington DC have now legalised the plant, as have the entire nations of Uruguay, Canada, Malta and Thailand, whilst in South Africa and Mexico, the highest courts have upheld the right of citizens to consume cannabis at home.
Huge community outcry over here led the Turnbull government to legalise the production and use of medicinal cannabis in October 2016. And though there have been accessibility hiccups along the way, and the roadside drug testing issue continues, those using the medicine only benefit from it.
And Buckingham underscored that “judging by the intense media interest created by introducing cannabis bills in three states on the first day, that sense of inevitability is now beyond doubt”.
“It’s now not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’,” he added.
No one will even notice
As the long title of the forthcoming NSW legislation explains it, the proposed laws will make it lawful for adults to possess small quantities of cannabis for personal use, it will allow for cultivation at home and citizens in possession of lawful cannabis will be permitted to gift or share it with others.
“Our proposal is modest and achievable,” Buckingham asserts. “We are simply advocating the right to grow up to six plants for personal use and sharing among friends.” And he added that unlike other proposals, his party’s not advocating for retail sales or government and bureaucratic intervention.
So, just as is the case in the capital territory at present, the sale of cannabis will still be against the law, and similarly people will be within their rights to be in possession of up to 50 grams of the herb, but Legalise Cannabis is calling for the six plant homegrow limit, whilst in the ACT, this is set at two.
“Under our reforms, people who do not have cannabis in their lives are likely to notice very little, if any, difference,” Buckingham said, echoing the public and media silence around the cannabis law reforms that have been operating for three and a half years now in Australia’s capital.
“For us, this is a social justice and health issue,” the Legalise Cannabis MLC made clear. “Let’s stop pretending and start recognising reality – that criminalising responsible adult use has no benefits for anyone, and it frees up police time to catch actual criminals.”
Relics of the past
This was a key point the politician who saw the shift to legal use in the ACT, Labor MP Michael Pettersson, put to the ACT Legislative Assembly and the local constituency when he first proposed the laws in 2018: that the criminalisation of personal adult use of cannabis is counterproductive.
“One of my fundamental concerns is people getting a criminal conviction for the personal use of the drug,” Pettersson told SCL back then.
“A criminal conviction can ruin someone’s life. It can ruin someone’s educational opportunities. It can ruin someone’s work opportunities. And it can ruin someone’s ability to travel around the world. And I don’t think that is in line with the act of smoking a small amount of cannabis.”
In NSW, police officers have the discretion to caution a person found in possession of a small quantity of cannabis. However, in the 12 months to December 2021, 57 percent of drug possession proceedings were against individuals having been found with some weed on them.
Section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW) continues to make the possession of personal amounts of cannabis illegal in New South Wales and, if at the discretion of an officer, an individual is not cautioned, they’re then liable to up to 2 years in prison and/or a $5,500 fine.
And a report released last month by the NSW Bureau of Criminal Statistics and Research found that over the 38 months to February 2020, only 12 percent of all Aboriginal adults found in possession of cannabis were issued with a caution, whilst 44 percent of their non-Indigenous counterparts were.
Greener pastures ahead
Legalise Cannabis Queensland was the first of its party to run in that state’s election in October 2020. By March 2021, its WA branch had taken two upper house seats over there. And the party secured two seats in the Victorian Legislative Council last November and one in this state in March.
And ahead of last year’s federal election, these state parties joined forces with the HEMP Party, which had been running federally on this issue for decades, and the consolidated Legalise Cannabis Australia picked up between 2 to 7 percent of the Senate vote in all jurisdictions.
But it’s not just this upswell of community support that makes this proposal appear so highly likely, as the Greens, who have greater numbers in all parliaments now, have long been pushing for legalised and regulated adult cannabis use, as have various Labor politicians in multiple jurisdictions.
And on being questioned as to whether he can coax the pro-legalise adult use of cannabis Labor MPs in NSW parliament to support such laws now their party is in office, Buckingham said that he’s “pretty confident” he can.
“NSW premier Chris Minns is on the record as a supporter of decriminalisation and we have even had public support from the Coalition,” the Legalise Cannabis member said in conclusion.
“The NSW government is planning a Drugs Summit next year, and we hope that our modest proposal will be one of the first to be both recommended and passed into law.”