The new law applies to Canberra, Australia’s capital, and all of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), a roughly 900-square-mile territory that has nearly 400,000 residents. This territory is already known as one of the most liberal parts of Australia with respect to drug reform. The current penalty for possessing 50 grams of weed or less is only an AU$160 ($108 US) fine.
The penalty for possessing more than 50 grams — a maximum AU$8,000 fine and up to two years in jail — will remain in effect after the adult-use law goes into effect, however.
Australia legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but all recreational use remains prohibited under federal law. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, Australian cops arrested over 72,000 people for pot-related offenses. A full 92% of those arrested were pot users — not growers or sellers. But in spite of this strict user-focused enforcement, weed still remains the most popular medication in the country.
The ACT is the first of Australia’s eight states and territories to challenge the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis, and it remains to be seen how, exactly, the feds will react. Because the ACT is a territory — not a state — it is vulnerable to having its laws overturned by the Australian Parliament.
ACT residents could also still face federal prosecution for possessing or using marijuana.
Officials believe federal officials are not likely to be interested in such small-scale drug crimes, however. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr noted that federal prosecutors are “concerned with larger matters than the possession of a small amount of drug.”
It remains to be seen whether the Australian government will try to interfere with the ACT’s new law, but lawmakers could be influenced by nearby New Zealand, which will vote on cannabis legalization next year. If successful, this referendum could make New Zealand the third country in the world to legalize full adult-use, after Uruguay and Canukastan.