The pros & cons of legalising marijuana in New South Wales

Legalising Marijuana

Earlier this year New South Wales Greens Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Cate Faehrmann introduced a bill into NSW State Parliament that aims to decriminalise cannabis for personal use. The bill makes provisions for home growing and also for establishing a regulated, legal retail market.

Importantly, it also creates criminal offences for selling to minors. There are also restrictions on consuming cannabis in public, and on advertising and distribution. The bill also proposes blanket prohibition on sponsorships involving cannabis products and brands.

It’s an interesting piece of legislation, not least because it follows a move by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government to legalise cannabis last year, but also because many governments around the world are doing the same.

Canada was one of the first countries to pass laws legalising recreational and medicinal cannabis in October 2018. When it did so, many countries looked on, wondering how the legislation would actually be managed in practice.

Despite early teething problems, mostly with supply chains, the regulated retail market is thriving. The US state of Colorado has been a similar success. It turned over $2.2 billion in sales in 2020, generating almost $390 million in tax revenue for the government.

Why legalise cannabis?

About a quarter of Australians are in support of legalising cannabis. Here in Northern New South Wales, the HEMP Embassy, which is based in Nimbin, has been campaigning for decades to have personal cultivation, personal use and possession of marijuana legalised.

Australia has long had a highly punitive approach to drug offences, and cannabis offences do take up a significant portion of police time,court resources and corrective services. If marijuana was legalised, some pressure would be removed from our local courts.

Another benefit of legalising marijuana is the creation of a  regulated market that would remove supply away from criminal gangs, and provide much better protections for our youths. Legalisation would also guarantee consistency and quality of the drug itself, providing consumer safety.

The Cons of legalising marijuana

However there are many cons too, and these need to be considered as part of the equation.

The long-term health effects of marijuana are not fully understood. Legalising the drug, and therefore making access easier could end up creating a burden for the health system.

There are also questions around whether marijuana use is a gateway to other, more serious drug use.  A recent study from Christchurch in New Zealand showed that adolescent weekly users of cannabis were 100 times more likely to use other illicit drugs.

Other studies, including one from Norway, suggests that regular marijuana use can result in overall de-motivation. It’s research showed that workers who use cannabis are less dedicated to their work than those who don’t. A similar study from the US determined that cannabis use by employees leads to increases in absenteeism, accidents, job turnover and worker compensation claims.

It is likely to be some time before we will see any discussion of the NSW Greens Party bill at a state political level.

Current laws in New South Wales

In the meantime, under current laws, the possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis possession of cannabis is a criminal offence in New South Wales.

The offence of drug possession is contained in section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act. It is a ‘summary offence’ which means it is decided in the Local Court rather than being referred to a higher court such as the District Court, and maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $2,200.

However, under the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme, police can, and sometimes do issue cautions rather than a criminal charge in certain cases. The police have discretion to issue a caution when:
the crime is a first offence,

  • the amount possessed is 15 grams or less, and
  • the offender admits that the marijuana is possessed for personal use.

The cannabis cautioning scheme

The cannabis cautioning scheme only applies to offences of possession, not supply. A record will be made and kept by police in case an offender is caught with cannabis again or faces any other drug charges, but it won’t show up as a conviction a criminal record.

Police cannot use the cannabis cautioning scheme for anyone with a previous conviction for drug offences, violence or sexual assault and a maximum of two cautions can be given. After this formal charges need to be laid, and the offender will face criminal proceedings in court.

This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a drug possession charge in northern NSW or any other specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.


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