The ACT Is Just One Vote Away From Legalising Marijuana

Possessing up to 50 grams of cannabis or four marijuana plants for personal use could soon be legal in the Australian Capital Territory.

A private members bill to legalise cannabis for personal use has the unanimous support of the capital's Labor minority government and only requires one extra vote from either the Greens, or the Liberal Party.

The man behind it, Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, says Australia has lagged for too long on this issue.

"I would say that Australian and Canberrans like to think they're forward thinking and we are more progressive than our friends in America but, on this, we are well behind the eight ball," he said.

"Because of our current drug laws, getting caught with small amount of cannabis, could ruin your life."

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Cannabis was decriminalised in the ACT in 1992 -- but Pettersson says that has still meant people are getting caught out.

"Under decriminalisation (in the ACT) for every one person that get a fine, three people get arrested. It's up to the arresting officer for discretion," he said.

"Decriminalisation doesn't mean what people think it does."

That's why he wants to make it legal.

And it has support in the ACT. Over the past two months, 80 submissions have been received on the bill and Mr Pettersson says 75 of them supported making cannabis a legal substance.

He also points to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2016, that found that cannabis has been used by 10 per cent of Australians in the past year, and 35 per cent of us, in our lifetimes.

Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson says ACT liberals won’t vote for it.

“Our principal concern is that of the links between marijuana and psychosis,” he said.

“The likelihood is that it would increase use among young people and disadvantaged groups. We support the existing legislation, it strikes the right balance.”

The one vote they need though, will likely come from the Greens Shane Rattenbury.

“Allowing adults in the ACT to possess and use cannabis acknowledges the modern reality that many adults choose to use cannabis, and criminalising it is causing more harm than good,” he said.

Cannabis was decriminalised in the ACT in 1992 -- but Labor MP Michael Pettersson said that means people are getting caught out. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

But because it's a territory government, there could still be an issue with the Federal Government.

The government document for territory governments are their Self Governing Acts.

But this can be amended by the Federal Government to remove the power of territory governments to make laws in certain areas. This happened with the issue of euthanasia in 1997.

A spokesman for Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter would say only that it would depend on the exactly what was being proposed in the ACT.

But they don't have long to wait to find out. The bill will be introduced on Wednesday into the ACT legislative assembly, and debated when the politicians return in February next year.

"I think it's time we take a long, hard look at whether or not our drug laws are having the effect we want them to have and if they're not we should have the courage to change them," Mr Pettersson says.