Meet the guy who just legalised weed in Canberra | HerCanberra

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Meet the guy who just legalised weed in Canberra

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HerCanberra catches up with Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson MLA to chat legalisation and whether we’ll be seeing cannabis cafés in Canberra.

  1. In a month where the news was full of destruction—from bushfires to pandemics—there was one story that stood out from the rest: weed is now legal in the ACT.

But what exactly does “legal” mean? We caught up with Michael Pettersson MLA—the Labor backbencher and Member for Yerrabi who proposed the bill to change the ACT’s cannabis laws—to get the 411 (or should that be 420?) on Canberra and cannabis.

HC: Cannabis is now legal in the ACT. Tell us what you mean by legal?


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Michael Pettersson MLA: Put simply, people over the age of 18 in the ACT are now able to possess and grow small amounts of cannabis.

There is no fine, no mandated program, no prison sentence or other punishment for adults in the ACT who are carrying 50g of cannabis or less and have two plants or less, with a household limit of four. There are also some new rules about how you harvest your plants.

We have created new offences for smoking cannabis in public, in the presence of children and for growing cannabis in publicly accessible places. It also remains illegal to supply cannabis or drive under its influence.

To put this into perspective, where does the ACT’s cannabis legislation now sit in relation to other Australian jurisdictions?

The ACT is ahead of all other jurisdictions in Australia.

Most states have a decriminalisation model in place where people in possession of small amounts of cannabis can potentially get a fine or attend a diversion program, but all other states and territory still leave open the option to put people in jail for minor cannabis possession.

And globally?

Globally there are many jurisdictions that have legalised cannabis. Some of the notable examples are: Canada, Uruguay, South Africa [and] 11 US states.

While New Zealand has a referendum this year and Mexico is in the process of developing their laws following a judicial ruling.

Does this mean we’ll have weed shops and cafés now?

The short answer is no. There is no legal method of supply or sale under these laws.

Commonwealth law makes it impossible for us to legislate in this space so you won’t see any ‘cafés’ popping up around Canberra.

With ‘weed tourism’ providing a huge economic boom for many smaller cities in Canada and the US, could Canberra ever become the Amsterdam of Australia?

Because there are no changes to supply or sale, I can’t imagine this being the case. If those Commonwealth laws were changed it could be a possibility in the future.

The purpose of this law change is to remove the criminality experienced by users and not to facilitate economic activity.

What motivated you to pursue cannabis legalisation?

I saw sensible conversations about drug law reform taking place right around the world and I was frustrated that Australia’s dialogue was seemingly stuck.

I know Canberra is a forward-thinking place and welcomes an evidence-based approach to public policy so I felt comfortable bringing it forward as an idea.

What difference do you hope cannabis legalisation will make to Canberra and Canberrans?

My hope is that people will come forward and seek help for drug dependency without stigma or fear of arrest.

This should be the start of an ongoing and sensible conversation about drugs and how we as a community reduce their harms.

Final thoughts?

Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and if you need help—the ACT Government has lots of support services here to help you.


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