Australia’s capital Canberra and its surrounding region may soon be taking an important step towards the decriminalization of cannabis. Labor Party politician and state representative for Yerrabi, Michael Pettersson, has proposed a bill that would make possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana or four cannabis plants legal for adults in the Australian Capital Territory.
The local Labor Party is united behind the proposal, but they do need one extra vote to push it into legalization, which could come from either the Green or Liberal Party. Green Party parliamentarian Shane Rattenbury told Canberra Times that although he was behind the bill’s basic premise, he wanted to look it over more closely for any potential edits or additions before promising his vote. Rattenbury also indicated that the government should seek legal opinion on the bill’s complex legislative implications.
A representative from the Liberal Party Jeremy Hanson indicated that the Liberals would not be on board with the “ill-considered” bill, citing the region’s existing fine system for trace personal possession. “We think that that strikes the right balance,” he said. “We want to discourage marijuana use. It has a significant impact on psychosis, particularly for younger people and disadvantaged groups.”
“Aside from the quite significant mental health concerns, really the only winners then are organized crime and drug dealers,” Hanson said, citing the Australian Medical Association opposition to cannabis legalization.
The Labor politician disagrees. “This would be the single most effective measure in undermining the business model of organized crime for this particular drug,” said Pettersson. “You take the money out of it, then suddenly the motivation for a whole range of criminal activity is removed.”
Pettersson’s proposal comes at a crucial moment in his country’s history. Recent studies suggest that opioid-related deaths in Australia have skyrocketed — one investigation by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales showed that they had doubled in number between 2007 and 2016. Although legalization of cannabis may not be able to solve the epidemic, cannabis providers have long touted the value of marijuana as an alternate to opioids as pain medication.
That problem seems unlikely to be solved by the country’s current medical marijuana system. Though the government has touted its efforts to streamline the process, industry experts suggest that bureaucratic requirements are excessively complex.
The bills proponents were quick to note that the plan would not open the door to a retail system in Canberra. Pettersson likened the proposal to “a reverse of the Scandinavian sex worker laws, where it is legal to sell sex services but it’s not legal to buy them. This is the opposite. It would continue to be illegal to be a drug dealer, a drug supplier, but individuals who consume, we’re not going to criminalize that behavior.”
Despite federal prohibition, marijuana plays an important role in Australian culture. The drug is a stimulant to the tourism industry in Nimbin, a small New South Wales town that celebrates its annual three-day MardiGrass festival by parading a massive joint through the streets. When it comes to hemp, companies like Perth-based Mirreco are finding innovative uses for the material, even pioneering 3D-printed hemp biomass home construction technology.