Criminal Law

By Peter Woodhouse


ACT Bill to legalise cannabis – a half-cocked approach

We saw the introduction of a bill into the Legislative Assembly last week by ACT Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson seeking to legalise cannabis for personal use.  Whilst the legalisation of cannabis is a good idea and has been a long time coming, there are some glaringly obvious problems with the proposal.  Unsurprisingly, Labor and the Greens support the Bill and the Liberals are against it.

The proposed reforms permit the possession of up to 50g of cannabis (or 1.7 ounces in old money), for personal use.  Those of us with more of a green thumb would be permitted to grow 4 plants.

The Bill is being lauded as straight forward and simple, in that it would amend particular definitions in the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989 and remove the drug from the definition of a ‘prohibited substance’.

That all sounds nice and rosy – but the devil is in the detail – or in this case, the lack of detail.

The AFP Association came out early to point out the problem with the proposal in light of the current ACT Drug Driving laws.  Some of you might fall over in shock to find out that I actually think they make a good point.  Criminal defence lawyers like me have poo pooed the ACT draconian drug driving laws since they were first introduced.  In the ACT it is illegal to drive with cannabis in your system.  The current offence in the ACT does not require inebriation or one’s ability to drive to be affected in any way.  In my experience, people often get knicked having indulged one or two days beforehand and long after the effects have worn off.  If we are serious about legalising cannabis, then the Government needs to go back to the drawing board on this one too.  Surely you should only be subject to criminal sanction if your driving ability is impaired and/or you put other road-users at risk.

Medicolegal Academics from ANU have highlighted the importance of regulation in the way the cannabis is procured. A very good point.  It’s all well and good to say you can have 50g of the substance or 4 plants – but it is illegal to buy the 50g or the seeds to get your new gardening project underway.

11 U.S. states, Canada, South Africa and several South American countries have already legalised cannabis.  Many of the American states have implemented effective regulations for the procurement of the drug which has also allowed for something else, something that so far hasn’t got a mention in the ACT debate, at least as far as I can see – TAXATION.

Australian Governments have made and continue to make billions of dollars from the taxes applied to tobacco and alcohol.  Surely, they aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to regulate cannabis.

And what an opportunity it is.  From what I have seen of the U.S. industry – business is booming.  Here is the ACT Government’s opportunity to be truly progressive, rather than just talking the talk.  What about legalising cannabis, introducing regulations, licensing schemes for growers and sellers as well as taxes for the sale of cannabis and seeds with the promise that all the money raised will go into resourcing drug rehabilitation services?  That would be a truly progressive approach and it would go a long way to silencing the critics of legalisation.