The Australian Capital Territory ACT is the first jurisdiction in the country to legalize recreational cannabis use. Lawmakers in the region passed a landmark bill this Wednesday permitting adults to possess up to 50 grams of the drug and to grow just four plants at home.
Personal cannabis use still remains prohibited elsewhere in Australia, but its medicinal use was legalized back in 2016. The territory’s new law could still get overturned if it is challenged at a federal level.
Recreational cannabis use is already legal in several countries such as Canada, Spain, Uruguay, and some US states like California.
Around 35% of Australians aged over 14 have used the drug sometime in their lifetime according to health authorities. The ACT is home to nearly 400,000 residents and comprises the city of Canberra and surrounding areas. Under its legislation which will be effective from 31 January, it will still remain illegal to sell cannabis and its consumption in public or around children.
Supporters believe the new law aims to reduce risk and stigma for users of the drug, while opponents contend that it could introduce more people to harmful drug-taking.
As it is not a state, the ACT region is more vulnerable to its laws being reversed by the federal government. For instance, this happened in 2013 when its decision to legalize same-sex marriage was overturned.
Lawmakers who backed the bill on Wednesday are “very confident” that it would not be challenged by federal politicians, but they acknowledged that there were additional legal uncertainties.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay in the ACT Legislative Assembly, said, “This does not entirely remove the risk of people being arrested under [federal] law, and we are being up front with the community about that”.
The neighboring nation of New Zealand is due to hold a referendum on whether it should legalize the drug next year.