The Australian capital of Canberra made history on Wednesday, becoming the first city in the country to legalize marijuana.
The landmark measures were passed in the Australian Capital Territory [ACT] Legislative Assembly, clearing the way for individuals there aged 18 and over to possess and grow cannabis.
Marijuana remains illegal under national law in Australia—producing a scenario similar to the United States, where a growing number of city and state governments have legalized recreational cannabis use despite it being illegal under federal law.
History Made, But Not Without Concern
Wednesday’s historic vote made the Australian Capital Territory the first state or territory in the country to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The territory is home to a little more than 420,000 people, with most residing in the capital city of Canberra.
Critics of the newly passed measures raised concerns about marijuana’s legal status on the national level.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said Wednesday that the growth and consumption of marijuana would remain a risky proposition.
“The ACT’s legislation attempts to provide a clear and specific legal defence to an adult who possesses small amounts of cannabis in the ACT, but is prosecuted under Commonwealth law,” Ramsay said, as quoted by local Australian broadcaster ABC. “But unfortunately it cannot stop someone being arrested and charged if the Commonwealth officials were minded to do so, or prosecuted if the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions thought it were appropriate to do so.”
But Michael Pettersson, a labor leader in ACT, told Sky News that he would be “amazed” if any prosecutor brought charges against a pot smoker in the territory.
“Prosecutors will not be bringing charges because, quite simply, there is a complete defence to the commonwealth drug charge,” he said. “There won’t be a territory offence and they’ll have a complete defence to the commonwealth charge.”
“I don’t think it’s particularly likely the commonwealth government will try to fight this,” Pettersson added, as quoted by The Guardian.
ACT’s new laws do include restrictions. Cannabis users are prohibited from consuming it in public, and it must be stored away from children at all times. And the laws do not allow for the commercialization of marijuana, only its personal use.
Medical marijuana was legalized by the Australian Parliament in 2016. Voters in neighboring New Zealand are slated to vote on a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana next year.