Adult use cannabis is illegal throughout Australia, but some states have decriminalized personal use and cultivation. Medical marijuana is currently illegal in all Australian states except for Victoria, which has passed legislation allowing epileptic children access to medical cannabis. Tasmania announced it will allow specialist doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to seriously ill patients beginning in 2017.
The use, possession, sale, transportation and cultivation of cannabis are illegal throughout all of Australia. In some states, including Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and the Northern Territory, personal use of small amounts of cannabis and cultivation of a small number of plants have been decriminalized and are penalized only by fines. In New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, the use and cultivation of cannabis continues to be a criminal offense. The penalties for the criminal offenses vary state-by-state.
* Victoria – Possession of cannabis is a criminal offense. First or second-time offenders with less than 50 grams may only receive cautions.
* New South Wales – Possession of cannabis is criminal. In cases of less than 15 grams, offenders may receive cautions up to two times.
* Western Australian – Possession and cultivation of cannabis are criminal offenses. However, possession offenders with no prior cannabis offenses that are caught with no more than 10 grams must only attend a Cannabis Intervention Session.
* Queensland – Possession of cannabis is criminal, but cautions may be administered. First-time offenders caught with up to 50 grams are first offered participation in a drug diversion program.
* Australian Capital Territory – Possession of cannabis up to 25 grams or the cultivation of 5 plants is not criminal but offenses but come with an AU $108 fine and jail time of two years. Possession of more than 50 grams was punishable by an AU $8,000 fine. The Australian capital Canberra became the country’s first city to legalize recreational marijuana for those 18 and over in 2019. The new law will likely take effect on January 31, 2020.
* South Australia – Cannabis possession of no more than 100 grams (or 20 grams of resin) or the cultivation of 1 non-hydroponic plant is not criminal but come with maximum $150 fines.
* Tasmania – Possession of cannabis is criminal offense, but in cases of less than 50 grams, offenders may only be cautioned up to 3 times in 10 years.
* Northern Territory – Possession of cannabis up to 50 grams (or 1 gram of hash oil or 10 grams of hash or cannabis seed) or the cultivation of 2 plants is not a criminal offense but comes with $200 fine.
The growing of industrial hemp is legal in Australia, but states require farmers to have a license. In addition, CBD hemp oil is legal throughout the country.
Medical Marijuana Laws
On August 31, 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Administration made the decision to legalize medicinal cannabis starting November 1. Citing the desire “to provide genuine patients access to a safe, legal and sustainable supply of locally products products for the management of painful and chronic conditions,” the TGA moved medical marijuana from a Schedule 9 entry to a Schedule 8 entry, a classification that includes substances specifically for medicinal purposes. Once the federal government sets up its national oversight system, patients with a prescription from a medical doctor will be able to get legal access to medical marijuana. While the change takes effect November 1, setting up the national regulatory system is expected to take longer, causing a delay for patients.
Federal Parliament had already amended its Narcotic Drugs Act to allow for the cultivation and production of cannabis for medical purposes in February, but the latest decision will legalize medical marijuana use throughout the country.
While patients wait for the new decision takes effect, in Victoria, children with severe epilepsy can already get legal access to marijuana, thanks to the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill, which passed in April 2016. Under the bill, an Office of Medicinal Cannabis oversees the manufacturing and regulates distribution throughout the state.
Separately, the state of Tasmania has said it will allow specialist doctors legally recommend medical marijuana for patients with serious or chronic illnesses beginning in 2017. In April 2016, Premier Will Hodgman and the Minister for Health Michael Ferguson announced the adjustment, which will occur without any legislative changes made to the law. Tasmania will not be limiting marijuana access to specific diseases or age groups, but doctors will need to seek approval from an expert panel of clinicians before being allowed to prescribe the substance to patients.
Factbox: Cannabis laws in Australia. (2015, February 27). SBS. Retrieved from http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2012/04/03/factbox-cannabis-laws-australia.
Federal Government to legalise growing of medicinal cannabis; Labor calls for nationwide scheme. (2015, October 16). ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/
Medicinal cannabis legalised in Victoria, child epilepsy patients to be given access from 2017. (April 13, 2016). ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-12/victoria-becomes-first-state-to-legalise-medicinal-cannabis/7321152.
Medicinal cannabis to be legalised in Australia from November. (2016, September 1). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/medicinal-cannabis-to-be-legalised-in-australia-from-november-20160901-gr6kb5.html.
Seriously ill Tasmanians to get access to medicinal cannabis from 2017. (2016, April 22). ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-23/doctors-to-prescribe-medicinal-cannabis-in-tasmania/7352844.