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A Labor MLA is going to try to legalise cannabis in Canberra

Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson.Credit:Jamila Toderas ACT Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson will try to push through laws to legalise cannabis for personal use next sitting week, claiming overwhelming support for his bill.

But there are question marks over the legal barriers to enacting the bill, with concerns it could be overridden by Commonwealth laws. Mr Pettersson said he would introduce the bill the next sitting week after making technical amendments based on submissions to the draft bill. It would mean adults possessing up to 50g of cannabis or four cannabis plants would no longer be committing a criminal offence. Mr Pettersson said 94 per cent of people or groups that responded to his invitation to make a submission were in support of the proposal. He said he received 80 submissions, 75 of them supporting making cannabis a legal substance. The submissions are yet to be made public. The Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, the peak body for alcohol, tobacco and other drug sector, supported the intent of the bill in its submission. CEO Carrie Fowlie said legalising cannabis would keep people out of the criminal justice system for behaviour the community believes should not have such severe punishments. The group also wants people to be able to buy cannabis through a regulated not-for profit supplier, instead of the black market. But Ms Fowlie noted there might be significant legal barriers to the bill becoming law even if it was passed by the ACT Parliament. She noted the Commonwealth Poisons Standard lists cannabis as a prohibited substance and the draft bill might also be inconsistent with the Commonwealth Criminal Code. "That sub-section provides that possessing controlled drugs (and cannabis is a controlled drug under the Commonwealth Criminal Code) is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, a fine, or both," Ms Fowlie said. "Our understanding is that the [self government act] prohibits the ACT from legislating in a way that amends Commonwealth legislation." Ms Fowlie said alternatives included the ACT Attorney-General giving a directive to police not to prosecute people for consumer level drug offences. Mr Pettersson pointed to recent government initiated research which appeared to show support for cannabis legalisation - with 54 per cent of Canberrans supporting it for personal use. “This polling shows that Canberrans are overwhelmingly in favour of sensible changes to our drug laws like legalising small amounts of cannabis for personal use," he said. “Cannabis legalisation is not a radical idea. There are now 10 states in the United States of America that have legalised cannabis along with Canada, South Africa and Uruguay. "New Zealand is expected to hold a national referendum on the issue in their current parliamentary term. “I don’t think anyone should have their life ruined with a criminal conviction for using small amounts of cannabis. “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."

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