Is cannabis illegal in Australia?
It is illegal to use, possess, grow or sell cannabis in Australia, but the penalties for cannabis offences are different in each state and territory. In some states, if someone is caught with a ‘small amount’ of cannabis they may be given a $50 fine, while in other states they may be charged with a criminal offence and receive a much larger fine, or even be sentenced to jail. The definition of a ‘small amount’ of cannabis also differs between states and territories. In response to increases in hydroponic cannabis cultivation (cannabis grown in nutrient rich solutions usually under artificial light), the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006. The amendment reduced the amount of indoor cultivated cannabis needed to qualify for a ‘commercial quantity’ and ‘large commercial quantity’.
What is the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation?
Some jurisdictions have decriminalised minor cannabis offences, such as the possession of a ‘small amount’ of the drug for personal use. This means that the offence can be dealt with by a civil penalty, such as a fine, rather than by receiving a criminal charge. Speeding is a good example of an offence that is commonly dealt with by a civil penalty.
If an offence is decriminalised, it does not mean that it is legal. Legalisation of cannabis would mean that cannabis would no longer be an illicit drug, but would be a legal drug like alcohol and tobacco.
Which states and territories have decriminalised cannabis?
The following states and territories have decriminalised minor cannabis offences. Any cannabis offence is still illegal in these areas.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory introduced a civil penalty system for the possession of ‘small amounts’ of cannabis in 1993. If someone is caught with up to two non-hydroponic cannabis plants, or up to 25 grams of marijuana (cannabis plant material), they receive a $100 fine with 60 days to expiate (pay the fine) instead of a criminal charge. Instead of paying the fine, the person may choose to attend a drug assessment and treatment program.
In 1987, South Australia was the first state to decriminalise minor cannabis offences. The possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, 20 grams of hash (the resin from the cannabis plant), one non-hydroponic plant or cannabis smoking equipment leads to a fine from $50 to $150 with 60 days to expiate.
Since 1996, adults found in possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana, one gram of hash oil, 10 grams of hash or cannabis seed, or two non-hydroponic plants can be fined $200 with 28 days to expiate rather than face a criminal charge.