Australia

It's now legal to grow and smoke cannabis for personal use in the ACT

Evan (not his real name) has been using cannabis to unwind after work for a few years. Source: SBS News

ACT has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise the personal use of cannabis after the new laws came into effect on Friday.

For IT worker Evan*, his method of unwinding after work has been illegal up until now.

The Canberran public servant and has been using cannabis recreationally for the last few years. 

“Some people when they go home have one glass of wine, they don't have the bottle, they have one glass. For me, having a few puffs on the vaporiser or a quarter of a joint is just enough for me to forget the woes of the day,” he told SBS News. 

“I certainly don't intend to get high. For me, it's just about taking the edge off the day.”

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Canberran cannibis user welcomes legalisation of drug in the ACT
Canberran cannibis user welcomes legalisation of drug in the ACT

In September, last year the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass legislation to legalise the personal use of cannabis.

The laws come into effect from 31 January, 2020, making it legal to possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. 

Adults can cultivate two plants per person and four per household, with a 150 gram limit of "wet" cannabis. 

Users need to ensure the plants aren't accessible to the public or children. 

Unlike other jurisdictions around the world, including Canada and parts of the United States, the sale or supply of the drug remains a criminal offence.

New Zealand will hold a referendum in September on whether to legalise cannabis.

ACT Chef Minister Andrew Barr.
ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, says the cannabis laws symbolise an evolution in the jurisdiction's approach to drug reform.
AAP

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the change symbolises an evolution in the jurisdiction’s approach to drug reform. 

“I think it reflects the values of this community that we want our law enforcement to focus on organised crime and large scale production of illicit drugs and that we don't want to penalise or stigmatise users, particularly small scale recreational users,” he told SBS News. 

“Over world history in every jurisdiction around the world prohibition has failed as a policy prescription.

“All it does is enrich drug cartels so this sort of harm minimisation, health based, public health-based approach I think is entirely reasonable." 

The Federal Government is opposed to the legalisation of cannabis and has previously warned ACT residents they would still be breaking Commonwealth law. 

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about the change during his address to the National Press Club. 

“States will make their own decisions according to priorities and complexions of their own government and that is up to them,” Mr Morrison said. 

“I would expect the federal law enforcement agencies to press the law.” 

But some within the ACT Government argue the Federal Government’s warning is scaremongering as the new legislation provides residents a defence. 

A cannabis plant.
Last year, the ACT became the first jurisdiction to legalise the personal use of cannabis.
supplied

Dr Nicole Lee from the National Drug Research Institute supports the change and says it will be easier for drug users to seek help. 

“The war on drugs has created and maintained a level of stigma around drug use more generally and it will continue as long as criminalisation of drug use continues,” Dr Lee told SBS News. 

“So one of the really key benefits of decriminalisation and legalisation of other drugs is that it moves it from a criminal justice issue to a health and human rights issue,” she said. 

While Dr Lee acknowledges there are a range of health impacts to cannabis use, like increased risk of developing psychosis, she argued people still use the drug whether it’s legal or not. 

'Professional stoner'

“The risk of schizophrenia doubles among people who use cannabis regularly, but we need to remember that those people already use so they're already at risk, they're still going to be using when it's illegal,” she said. 

Evan knows of the health impacts from using the drug, but says it’s not a permanent solution.

He’s lived with depression and anxiety since his teens and whilst he seeks professional help, he also finds benefits from using cannabis.

“It became habitual when I realised I could take a very small amount to have a transformative effect,” Evan said.

The professional says the stereotypes around people who use the drug don’t reflect the reality.

“The idea of the college stoner, the college dropout who does nothing but just play computer games when they're high is long gone,” Evan said.

“The idea that someone comes home and has a glass of wine is the same idea as someone who goes to work, does their nine to five, comes home and has a joint and that idea of a professional stoner is becoming more and more common vernacular within my generation.”

*Name has been changed.  

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