Possession and home cultivation of cannabis become legal in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) at the end of the month, but a lack of provisions to establish an approved marijuana supply chain likely means the area’s illicit market will continue unabated. The ACT, home to Canberra, Australia’s national capital, passed measures in June that make it the first of the country’s jurisdictions to legalize cannabis for personal use.
Under the laws that go into effect on January 31, adults in the ACT will be permitted to possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis or 150 grams of fresh marijuana. Using cannabis will be permitted in private homes but not in public or in the presence of children.
Home cultivation of up to two cannabis plants per adult or four per household will also be legalized, although hydroponic gardening will not be allowed. Plants that are in public view or accessible to children are also not permitted.
But no allowances for the sale or commercial cultivation of cannabis were written into the laws. No dispensaries will be opening and gifts of cannabis from one adult to another remain against the law. Even the sale of cannabis seeds will still be illegal. The ACT government has said that the laws are focused on “harm minimization” and are not intended to legitimize the distribution of cannabis.
“This approach seeks to ensure that adults who are in possession of cannabis do not have to face the prospect of criminal penalty for possession and are more easily able to seek help for addiction or treatment for the adverse effects of cannabis,” a government spokesperson said. “It is not the Government’s intention to legalize the gifting of cannabis between individuals, other acts of supply, or the commercial sale of cannabis.”
Professor Simon Lenton of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University in Perth said the new laws will leave most cannabis users with no choice other than continuing to buy their marijuana through the illicit market.
“Either they’re going to go to the illegal market or they’re going to miss out,” he said. “It really is a problem for how the majority of people in the ACT who smoke cannabis are going to access the cannabis.”
Lenton added that the legalization of cannabis clubs, which were considered by lawmakers while legalization was being drafted but failed to gain approval, would help alleviate the problem of legal supply. Under the social club model, up to 10 adults could pool their resources and legal plant counts to produce cannabis collectively at a single property. Only registered members of the club would be permitted access to the cannabis produced by the collective.
“It’s a way of providing cannabis in a restricted market without the problems of widespread availability, rampant commercialisation and profit-driven advertising to people who are regular cannabis users,” he said. “Rather than having them go to the illicit market.”
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