Decriminalisation of Cannabis for Medicinal Use

Thursday 24 July 2014 @ 12.51 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

Despite NSW tabling a Parliamentary Discussion Paper in May 2013 regarding the medical use of cannabis, ACT has become the latest jurisdiction to propose legislation decriminalising the use of cannabis for seriously ill patients or patients with chronic pain.

Drug Legislation Amendment (Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 (NSW)

This bill was introduced as a notice of motion to a private member's bill in the Legislative Council on 18 March 2014. It aims to amend the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 (NSW) to provide for the use of cannabis for medical purposes and to make a consequential amendment of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).

There has been no further movement with this notice of motion, however, and NSW has instead released a subsequent issues paper on Medical Cannabis in June 2014. 

Commonwealth Cannabis Laws

Commonwealth legislation has a significant bearing on proposals to introduce a scheme legalising the use of cannabis for medical purposes, primarily with regard to the importation of cannabis and the regulation of therapeutic goods. The Commonwealth's ability to legislate in relation to such matters derives from its constitutional powers with regard to trade and commerce and external affairs.The key pieces of Commonwealth legislation that are activated by proposals for the introduction of a scheme dealing with medical cannabis are:

  • Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)
  • Customs Act 1901 (Cth)
  • Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth)
  • Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 (Cth)
  • Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (Cth)
  • Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1990 (Cth)

Cannabis Possession Across the States of Australia

At present, cannabis is a prohibited plant in all Australian State jurisdictions, and its possession, cultivation and trafficking is a criminal offence. 

However, not all possession of cannabis results in criminal proceedings. In ACT, SA and NT, cannabis possession has been decriminalised, meaning the offence can be dealt with by a civil penalty, such as a fine, rather than by receiving a criminal charge. 

Current Developments in Cannabis Possession for Medicinal Use - July 2014

ACT

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury has proposed legislation to make cannabis available to terminally ill patients or those suffering chronic pain. But the ACT Government has ruled out its support, making it difficult for the legislation to pass through the Legislative Assembly.

Mr Rattenbury clarified his planned laws would not allow cannabis use to be open to the general public:

"The system is designed to ensure that those people with a genuine medical situation are the only ones who can access it..There are requirements for both the doctor to give approval, then approval from the ACT Chief Health Officer and a range of other restrictions."

NSW

The Nationals MP for Tamworth, Kevin Anderson, is due to introduce a private member's bill to Parliament next month (August 2014), calling for the legalisation of the possession of 15 grams of cannabis by terminally ill patients. Premier Mike Baird had said he was sympathetic to the move, but any solution must address concerns of supply and regulation.

But Greens MP John Kaye has called on the State Government to support medicinal cannabis and deal with supply problems later:

"We should make sure that people can get access to medicinal cannabis without the risk of criminal prosecution...That might mean in the short-term allowing people to access their drugs off the illegal market if we can't solve the legal supply market."

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