Australian lawmakers say they’ve noticed little change since cannabis use was legalised in Canberra, and they have some advice for New Zealand as voters prepare to cast their ballots in the referendum.
The legislation, signed off in Canberra eight months ago, aimed to treat cannabis as a health issue rather than a criminal one. It allows those over 18 to possess 50g of dried cannabis and to grow two plants.
The selling and trafficking of the drug, as well as the use of a hydroponic setup to grow the plant, is still banned. New laws have also been introduced to make it illegal to smoke cannabis in public and around children.
Health Minister and Labor MP for Australian Capital Territory Rachel Stephen-Smith said she hasn’t noticed a difference. But, she said de-stigmatising cannabis use would help people seek help if their use of the drug was harmful.
“Depending on the model that New Zealand is going to choose, really look at the evidence that sits behind that. But, also, really think about the fact that we really want to take a harm-minimisation approach.”
She said she hadn’t seen an increase in demand from people wanting support, and said there was enough support services in place.
Her colleague, Michael Pettersson, Labor MP for Yerrabi, echoed her sentiments.
“Nothing’s really changed in the ACT,” he said.
He said police time was best used to go after “organised criminal gangs” rather than individual recreational or medicinal cannabis users.
More than half of the 150,000 drug arrests were for cannabis-related offences in 2017/18
About 6.9 million Australians said they had used the drug before, with 10 per cent indicating they’d used cannabis in the past year.