Pubdate: Thu, 26 Sep 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Isabella Kwai


SYDNEY, Australia - Australia's capital on Wednesday became the first 
jurisdiction in the country to legalize the recreational possession and 
cultivation of marijuana, a move that runs counter to federal laws that 
can carry prison terms for personal use of the drug.

Passage of the measure, which came after months of debate over policy, 
legal and health issues, echoed efforts in the United States, where more 
than 10 states have legalized recreational use of marijuana even as it 
remains illegal under federal law.

The new law in the Australian Capital Territory, which encompasses the 
capital city, Canberra, allows residents over 18 to possess up to 50 
grams of dried marijuana and grow two plants per person or four per 
household at a time. Supplying the drug to other people remains illegal.

"The passage of this legislation is an Australian first," Michael 
Pettersson, a Labor Party lawmaker who was a driving force behind the 
bill, said in a statement. "It will work to reduce the harm of drugs in 
our community by reducing the stigma of drug use
and encouraging people to seek help without fear of arrest."

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit recreational drug in 
Australia. In a 2016 government survey, about a third of Australians 
over age 14 said they had used it, with about 10 percent saying they had 
used it in the previous 12 months.

Australia approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2016, 
but the country has not moved in the direction of the small number of 
other countries, like Canada, that have legalized recreational use on a 
national level.

Before the Australian Capital Territory passed its legalization measure, 
possession of small amounts of marijuana had been decriminalized there 
and in a few other jurisdictions, giving police officers the discretion 
to issue fines instead of making

In other jurisdictions, possession is still a crime, though warnings are 
usually given to first-time offenders.

Under federal law, recreational possession carries a potential penalty 
of two years in prison. The Australian Capital Territory legislation 
provides a legal defense under local law for adults who possess 
marijuana but does not remove the risk of arrest under
federal law, said Gordon Ramsay, the territory's attorney general.

The final legislation, which is likely to go into effect at the end of 
January, included a number of amendments. They restrict cultivation of 
plants to private property, make it an offense to smoke near minors, 
require proper storage away from children and add a separate weight 
limit of 150 grams, or about five ounces, for freshly cultivated marijuana.

The federal government has moved to overturn major legislative changes 
by states or territories in the past, though it is unclear whether it 
will do so in this case. In 2013, it successfully argued in court to 
reverse legislation in the capital territory
that allowed same-sex couples to marry. The federal government then 
legalized same-sex marriage in 2017.

Opponents of the capital's cannabis bill said that while the amendments 
would limit some of the harm, it would lead to higher consumption of 
marijuana, which some researchers have linked to an increased risk of 
psychosis, and more cases of people
driving under the influence.

The legislation could lead to a "whole bunch of perverse outcomes," 
Jeremy Hanson, the attorney general for the conservative-leaning Liberal 
Party, said during debate on the
measure. "The current laws as they work are effective."

The capital branch of the Australian Medical Association said that use 
of marijuana could lead to chronic health problems, but that the risk 
was low and that those who used the drug occasionally were unlikely to 
be affected, according to a government
inquiry into the issue.

"It doesn't appear to be the sort of legislation or policy change that 
results in the sky falling down," said Dr. David Caldicott, an emergency 
medicine consultant who supported the bill.

The nation's capital has been at the forefront of drug reform policy in 
the past, including testing pills at festivals, Dr. Caldicott added. 
"Rather than causing a shift in cannabis consumption in Australia," he 
said, "it might create a broader
conversational environment" around the policies governing it.

The Australian Capital Territory police said in a statement that they 
would coordinate with the local government and other agencies to carry 
out the new legislation, including working out how it intersects with 
federal law.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt