A Guide to Cannabis Law in Australia

“Marijuana Use Most Rampant in Australia,” read a New York Times headline in January 2012. Cannabis – marijuana, weed, pot, hash; whichever other name you prefer – remains the most widely used illicit substance in Australia today by a big margin. Approximately 1.9 million Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis at least once during the past year; more than a quarter of a million smoke cannabis every day, according to data compiled by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC). Keep in mind, too, that these figures were taken as part of the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey; plenty more users were either unaccounted for, or chose to lie about their drug usage, so the true figures are probably even higher. This reality can be viewed one of two ways, depending on your personal politics.

Either: it’s great that so many Australians enjoy the occasional puff, as its illegality is an arbitrary hangover from conservative generations past, and its negative effects are significantly less serious than those incurred by alcohol abuse or tobacco addiction.

Or: it’s outrageous that so many Australians smoke up, as cannabis is a devil weed whose availability should be pushed further underground lest its psychological and subversive effects further corrupt otherwise sensible citizens.

Illicit drug use is not a topic that attracts moderate views. Weaned on the powerful moralising of media sensationalism, political cowardice, and harsh words from the police force, many Australians are raised to believe that drugs are bad; the province of losers and law-breakers.

Progressive views are slowly prevailing across the Western world, though, as many realise that the Nixon-led ‘war on drugs’ – which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011 – did very little to break the cycle of power, violence and addiction that has forever plagued illicit drug culture. (For a succinct primer on the topic, my brother Stuart McMillen recently published a 40-page comic, ‘War On Drugs’, which outlines why drug prohibition hasn’t worked.)

Immediately following the 2012 Presidential Election results in November, cannabis users worldwide rejoiced at the surprising news that two states in the war-on-drugs heartland, Colorado and Washington, had voted to legalise recreational use under state law. Colorado users will be able to grow up to six plants; in Washington, users will buy from state-licensed providers, and the sale of cannabis will be taxed and regulated, much the same as alcohol and tobacco already is. If you’re over 21, the drug will be legal to sell, smoke and carry – as long as you don’t drive while high.

Australian pot smokers wondered whether they might see a similar decision – if not soon, then at least in their lifetimes. TheVine snooped around on your behalf, with a view to determine Australia’s current cannabis laws on a state-by-state basis and look to its future legal status.

Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, points out that Australian states don't have ballot initiatives like the one that led to the recent weed votes; in fact, most US states don't. “Australia will not see ballot initiatives on taxing and regulating cannabis like Colorado and Washington states,” Wodak tells TheVine. “Our cannabis reforms started in the 1980s in South Australia. We have had two decades of creeping liberalisation of our cannabis laws at the state/territory level. I think this process will accelerate now, but that it will still take a couple of decades before Australia taxes and regulates cannabis in all states and territories.”

Story continues on next page

profile of AndrewMcMillen

5 comments so far..

  • Smokin Moose's avatar
    Smokin Moose
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Dec 2012 - 1:39 PM
    This is an excellent article but it barely touches on the profound benefits of cannabis as a medicine - which in my view is where the momentum for change is really being generated. Change is indeed coming as is being witnessed in the United States. What has been driving this change is the medical use of cannabis.
    The NCPIC worries me as most young folks would see it a merely the propaganda arm of the Federal Government in the insidious War on Drugs. It is a site for disinformation and misinformation in my view.
    Change will come in Australia. Of that I have no doubt. It will be medical cannabis patients wanting to self treat that will drive the politicians to make that change.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • tronica's avatar
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Dec 2012 - 2:00 PM
    Great article Andrew, thanks for including me.

    One addition (also in response to Smokin Moose), cannabis users with experiences of medicinal use should make submissions to the NSW parliamentary inquiry before 13 Feb 2013, see http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/7641E8D87AC53FB3CA257ABF00134E57

    Or if you are a medical user in Australia and want to include your voice in our survey, that would be great too. We will make a submission to the inquiry based on data from our medical user/growers. You can reach our anonymous survey here: http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/grow/

    Monica Barratt
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • ProfJ's avatar
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Dec 2012 - 4:03 PM
    Gosh Mr Moose I'd hate to think there was disinformation and misinformation on the NCPIC website - especially as it is one the main information sources for this article. Can you provide an annotated list of the dis/misinformation with peer reviewed papers to support your assertion and we will address this mis/disinformation ASAP where it is demonstrably wrong or unbalanced
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • gagged voice's avatar
    gagged voice
    Date and time
    Saturday 06 Apr 2013 - 2:58 AM
    It won't ever be legalised any time soon, because that would threaten the powers of the beast!
    To many people have believed the propaganda and are afraid!
    Religious groups have had major influence as well in making out to be of the devil! Where they misunderstood it is a healing plant from God, with many benefits, I know, I am a christian and after being ran over by a car, nothing else gives me relief like this plant! Medical drugs left me heavily addicted and ruined my stomach to the point I just cant them! What else am I suppose to do!
    I am very sad indeed that i am marked as a criminal and as a devil! At least God promises one day through Ezekiel 34:29 And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.
    People don't understand that this plant can actually save the planet from climate change! It produces about 150 litres of ethanol an acre, not including the biodiesel from the seed! All taking the carbon out of the atmosphere! It saved Australians in two famines in the past, as a nutritional food! Better omega 3 6 9 than fish- no lets keep killing the fish! Better protein than meat! Where are the greenies in all this! Why do they even have seats in parliament! No but this world won't have any bar of it! Because we are ruled by money the root of all evil! Companies like big petrol and big pharma! I have lots to say on this, but it will be pointless till things get much, much worst! - I am not the criminal and devil here people!!!
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.
  • aoe's avatar
    Date and time
    Tuesday 14 Oct 2014 - 10:08 AM
    I couldn't agree more with the above comment from 'gagged voice'!!!

    Funny how the things that destroy health, (tobacco for smoking, alcohol for drinking), but make a ton of money out of people, are allowed, despite their massive destructive implications for people's health, social safety, physical addiction, and intoxicative powers - but the things that heal health, (like 90% of the ways you can take from the cannabis plant), but take a ton of money out of industries, are prohibited, hunted down and persecuted!

    How well the powers that be have indoctrinated the children and the generations, from school age up, to be afraid of this marijuana drug like it's something that will destroy you if you so much as be in the remotest vicinity of it! And to be afraid even to talk about it for fear of what others will think of you so liberally discussing so taboo a topic!

    How well the powers that be, have SUPPRESSED all knowledge of what this plant can truly do, by outlawing even RESEARCH on the thing - as if it's a ticking, potent time-bomb, ready to explode with immorality and destruction if not handled delicately in controlled, government-sanctioned conditions!

    How well the powers that be, have made children (who then grow up into today's adults), only ever think of marijuana as 'DRUG' - (and if there's one knee-jerk adjectivally - 'DANGEROUS') - and not the (amazing) PLANT from our natural earth that it is in reality!

    It's time for society - this generation of indoctrinated school children - to GROW UP - and WISE UP about pot. Yes, POT. weed. MARIJUANA. Get USED to those words invoking GOOD images (as it once was), and not the modern 'illegality', 'controversy', 'danger', 'immorality', and 'omg child abuse!!!!!'.

    POT - WEED - MARIJUANA - is a GOOD thing for society (with smoking it only a *tiny* part of its use, but all the system lets you know about, in one big propagandic lesson at school), and NO less abusable than alcohol or tobacco is for physical addiction, or our own God-given sexual organs are for sexual immorality.

    We only think it is, (more dangerous and serious than all of the above), because we have been BROUGHT UP with it COMPARTMENTALISED and DEMONISED, as such. INDOCTRINATED - to be such. Give it a title - 'narcotic drug' - give it stigmas, give it a scary name ('marihuana') and a bad story to underlie that name - and that powerful image and association will stick in people's (and in entire generations') minds, unless something is done to reverse that.

    Cannabis is so much MORE than the distracting story of smoking it just to get high, (...a convenient smokescreen? :P), and it's time people had their eyes opened to what has been severely suppressed and obscure knowledge over the entire past hundred years.

    Because, 'medical cannabis', cannabis for healing, is just the tip of the iceberg for this plant as a powerfully beneficial force in society - wait till you google and read up on how it actually has an amazing and powerful combination of unique phytonutrients (especially all the cannabanoids and things like terpenes), a complete protein amino profile, and perfectly-balanced (omega) fatty acids, that together make this no less than a miracle of nature daily dietary powerhouse SUPER FOOD!!!

    Yes - FOOD, not (interventionary) medicine!

    And no, I'm not referring to boring old 'hemp seed oil' (and not even 'cannabis oil' either), or hemp protein powder / hulled hemp seeds - I'm meaning CANNABIS GREENS. HEMP GREENS. Yes, raw cannabis leaves (+ flowers actually), for your SALAD. NON psychoactive. ONLY incredibly healthful. Thoroughly powerful. And decidedly outlawed.

    Move over Kale - cannabis is the new king of dark leafy greens - perhaps the final one to take its throne!!!

    Read http://www.rawhemp.tk if you wanna be enlightened on what hemp really can do for health!

    (And I haven't even mentioned uses outside human consumption, like its utter supremacy as a textile and paper fibre, its mind-boggling industrial performance in resin-stiffened cellulose form as a metal / petroleum-based material alternative, (google 'ford car hemp'), or its multiple uses for 100% CLEAN bio-fuel [BOTH diesel and petrol retrofittable systems using nothing but hemp as fuel - just google and find it out!])

    It is just amazing what this plant can do, if you (in ANY small amount) value health, the environment, or sustainability. It is a gift. Which we have had taken away from us.

    I can only explain the situation by this:


    Destruction, often fathers it.

    Healing, says goodbye to it.
    This comment has been flagged.
    This comment has been marked for removal.
    This comment has been marked as spam and will be purged.