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Australians could possess, grow and share recreational cannabis under proposed laws

Draft laws being introduced simultaneously to Victoria, NSW and Western Australia state parliaments on Tuesday will push for the legalisation of cannabis for personal use.

Hailed as a “historic day for cannabis law reform”, The Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis Bill 2023, put forward in a nationally co-ordinated move by Legalise Cannabis Party MPs, would allow adults to responsibly possess and grow small quantities of cannabis at home.

It marks the first in a series of bills, all of which require the support of major parties, which that historically have been resistant to reform drug policing laws, to make it to the upper houses.

The legislation has been partly modelled on the ACT, which removed penalties for possessing small quantities of cannabis in 2020 and also permits adults to grow up to two plants.

The movement has gained momentum in recent years, with the Legalise Cannabis Party picking up two seats in the Legislative Council in Victoria’s 2022 state election, one in NSW’s 2023 election and two in WA’s 2021 election.

The medicinal use of prescription cannabis was legalised nationally in 2016.

Legalise Cannabis Party NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham, a former Greens MP, said it was the nation’s first “co-ordinated approach to legalise cannabis”.

“The Bill … will allow households to grow up to six plants, for that cannabis to be (gifted and) shared, and for the trade in seeds,” he said.

The reforms would also make it legal to possess up to 50g of the drug.

Mr Buckingham said on Tuesday that he had received a “very good” response from upper house MPs.

“We already have the Greens and Liberal Democrats supporting our move … and now it’s time for Labor to move in WA, Victoria, NSW and nationally,” he said.

Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP Rachel Payne said it was time state governments “reformed outdated laws” to fall in line with community expectations.

Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP Rachel Payne said it was time state governments “reformed outdated laws” to fall in line with community expectations.

“This Bill seeks to action sensible and meaningful reform to end the criminalisation of people who consume cannabis,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said his position on the law was “as it stands now”, but he was confident he could find “common ground” with the state’s Legalise Cannabis Party.

The Bill is the first of three aimed at responsibly legalising and regulating the use of cannabis for Australians aged 18 years and over.

Notably, the Bill would not allow individuals impaired by cannabis to operate vehicles.

Ms Payne said cannabis laws had long “disproportionally criminalised young people, Indigenous people and culturally diverse communities”.

“These laws currently cause real harm to marginalised groups, and we should as a society come together to do something about it,” she said.

Greens, Liberal Democrats and Animal Justice MPs also support the legislation, while Ms Payne said she hadn’t ruled out blocking government bills if necessary to get support.

Mr Buckingham said he would not force the deal by denying his vote to Labor in NSW.

“(The NSW Premier) said that it’s a difficult issue to regulate, especially when it comes to selling and buying the product,” he said.

NSW Premier Chris Minns has maintained he would not consider decriminalising the drug despite comments made in 2019 recognising that prohibition of cannabis had failed.

Mr Buckingham said Mr Minns was now “walking back” from those comments, but the Premier “cannot hide from” the discussion.

“We’re going to create the debate in the community and most Australians support cannabis law reform,” he said.

“It’s something that the Premier will have to act on in the short term.”

Mr Andrews maintained that he was “a very strong supporter of medicinal cannabis”, but there were a “couple of issues that are very challenging”.

The party has also flagged reforms to roadside drug testing laws to ensure roads are used safely should consumption of the drug become more widespread.

Mr Andrews maintained that he was “a very strong supporter of medicinal cannabis”, but there were a “couple of issues that are very challenging”.

“I want to see everyone who would be better off because of medicinal cannabis able to access it,” he said.

While Victoria was the first state in the country to legalise medicinal cannabis, the Andrews government has repeatedly declined to legalise recreational use of the drug.

The majority of evidence from a two-year parliamentary inquiry into the use of cannabis in Victoria, released in 2021, favoured the decriminalisation of personal use of the drug.

It was argued by Victoria Police that the suggested reforms would negatively impact road trauma and mental health problems in the community.

Recommendations produced from the inquiry were watered down at the last minute after Labor MPs intervened. WA Legalise Cannabis MP Brian Walker, also a general practitioner and federal party vice-president, said he was looking “forward to debating this Bill in the coming months and to giving the people a real alternative to the failed and discredited war on drugs”. 

The Legalise Cannabis Party said more than 700,000 arrests had been made nationwide for cannabis-related offences since 2010, more than 90 per cent of which were for possession or consumption of cannabis.

The party hopes the Bill will cut the size of the black market that police estimate generates organised crime profits of $8bn annually, as well as reducing the billions of taxpayer dollars spent each year on cannabis-related law enforcement.

Minor offences concerning cannabis have only been decriminalised in the ACT, SA and the Northern Territory.

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