Following a landmark vote on September 25th, 2019, lawmakers in Australia’s capital city, Canberra, passed a bill allowing adults 18 or over to possess and cultivate cannabisfor personal use.

The laws which will come into effect on January 31st, 2020, permit Canberra’s residents to legally possess 50 grams and cultivate up to four plants per household. 

In doing so, Australia’s Capital Territory (ACT) becomes the first of Australia’s six states and ten territories to effectively legalize recreational cannabis. In the process however, the move has brought Canberra into conflict with Australia’s Federal Government.

Legal Cannabis in Australia

Australia has never been the strictest of places when it comes to cannabis laws. Since the 1970s, the country has largely strived to avoid a punitive drug policy, instead favoring harm reduction strategies when it comes to policing personal cannabis use.

The country is also a trend setter with regards to medical legalization. On October 17th, 2015, Australia’s Federal Government announced it would legalize the growing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. Since then, all but two of the countries jurisdictions have adopted medical cannabis and Australia has subsequently become a global hotbed of scientific research. Additionally, personal possession of cannabis has also been largely decriminalized across the country. 

A NewAmsterdam?

Colorful canal houses in vintage toning on Brouwersgracht in the grachtengordeal the UNESCO World Heritage site of Amsterdam

As the first city in Australia to legalize recreational use, could Canberra become the Amsterdam of the South Pacific? 

Sadly, not just yet. Sale and large-scale cultivation remain highly illegal as these new laws only cover personal use. So, we won’t be seeing coffee shops and dispensaries lining the streets of Canberra any time soon. 

There’s also an elephant in the room in the form of the Federal Government. Despite fully endorsing cannabis’ medical potential, Australia’s federal lawmakers staunchly oppose legalizing recreational use. Therefore, Canberra’s ruling brings them into open conflict with federal law, and not for the first time. 

In 2013 Canberra voted to legalize same sex marriage, only for that ruling to beoverturnedat the Australian High Court by the federal government. So, it remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself, and the Feds do the same in this case. 

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out for Canberra, but in the meantime, let’s still celebrate a victory for cannabis legalization, and hopefully many more in Australia’s near future.