Australia’s capital, Canberra, has become the first part of the country to legalize recreational marijuana for personal use.

The Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T.) Legislative Assembly voted Sept. 25, 2019, to legalize possession by adults of up to 50 grams, or 1.8 ounces, of dried marijuana, and cultivation of two marijuana plants beginning Jan. 31.

The assembly is the local government of Canberra, the national capital with a population of 400,000.

The law requires that adults not use marijuana near children and to store it out of their reach. Owners cannot sell or supply their marijuana to anyone else. Households are limited to growing no more than four plants, regardless of the number of occupants.

Attorney General Gordon Ramsay of the Labor Party said it was time to treat drug addiction as a health issue rather than an issue of “right and wrong.”

Attorney General Gordon Ramsay of the Labor Party said it was time to treat drug addiction as a health issue rather than an issue of right and wrong. Click To Tweet

The opposition voted against the legislation, arguing that the change would encourage more people to use marijuana and lead to more drug-induced psychosis.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized throughout Australia, but the Australian Capital Territory is the first of Australia’s eight states and territories to take the next step of legalizing possession and cultivation.

But marijuana users in Canberra will still face some legal uncertainty because possession of small amounts of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Labor Party Chief Minister Andrew Barr, the head of the territory’s parliament, said such prosecutions would require the approval of federal prosecutors, who are “concerned with larger matters than the possession of a small amount of drug.”

Federal prosecutors have declined to provide the government with advice on the likelihood of such prosecutions.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Australia since 2017, but recreational use remains illegal federally. The Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly has legalized personal-use recreational marijuana within Canberra, passing a proposal Sept. 25, 2019. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press file photo)

Barr said police charging Canberra marijuana smokers under federal law “would be outrageous,” but the smokers could cite the territory law in their defense before a judge.

Australian Federal Police Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said Canberra police had been advised to “focus on the traffickers,” but that officers were free to enforce federal law. 

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer issued a joint statement with the Take Control drug law reform campaign congratulating the territory on the change.

“I welcome what I consider to be a courageous decision by the A.C.T. parliament to put control into a completely uncontrolled environment,” the statement said.

Medical marijuana has been available in Australia to patients with doctors’ prescriptions since 2017.

The Australian Capital Territory is renowned for its liberal policies toward controlled substances. In April 2019, Canberra hosted Australia’s first pill-testing facility at a music festival so that drug users could have their substances analyzed for unexpected contaminates before taking them.

— Rod McGuirk

Feature Image: Labor Party Member of the Legislative Assembly Michael Pettersson reads his computer Sept. 25, 2019, as the Australia Capital Territory’s lawmakers consider his proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in Canberra, Australia’s national capital. Lawmakers approved the proposal, though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. (Jessica Brown/Australian Broadcasting Corp. via The Associated Press)

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