The Australian Capital Territory law to legalise cannabis possession seems to “do practically nothing to finish the continuing operation” of commonwealth offences, Christian Porter has warned.
The lawyer general’s comments to Guardian Australia recommend Canberra cannabis customers will be left in legal limbo when the laws take impact from February, contradicting the ACT government’s claim that its law delivers a defence to the federal offence.
The Morrison government has stepped up its rhetoric against the laws. On Monday the wellness minister, Greg Hunt, accused the ACT government of becoming “blind and indifferent to the wellness consequences” of cannabis right after asking it what health-related proof was regarded as ahead of legalising it.
In September the ACT legislative assembly passed laws enabling adult residents to possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and develop two plants, up to a total of 4 plants per household.
Federal law prohibits cannabis possession but the ACT pushed ahead citing clauses which permit a defence for men and women engaged in conduct “justified or excused” by a state or territory law.
Porter mentioned he was nevertheless contemplating the challenge “on its merits” and had received a final copy of the ACT law only on Monday.
“Based on a preliminary examination of the ACT legislation, it would seem it does practically nothing to finish the continuing operation of commonwealth laws with respect to possession of a prohibited substance, which would continue to make possession of amounts of cannabis beneath 50g unlawful in the ACT,” he told Guardian Australia.
“Nevertheless, I shall be contemplating alternatives and will of course respond straight to the ACT lawyer common in due course.”
On Monday Hunt accused the ACT government of getting “no thought of the wellness consequences” of cannabis, warning it can have “dangerous psychotic effects” like escalating the threat of schizophrenia.
The ACT government has warned the commonwealth against interfering by passing a bill to explicitly override territory laws, as it did on euthanasia.
Hunt played down the want to do so, saying there have been “already clear, robust federal laws” in spot.
In the ACT the Australian federal police and its ACT policing unit enforce each federal and neighborhood laws, which could leave cannabis customers at threat of arrest based on the exercising of discretion of person officers. An ACT policing spokesman mentioned it was “still assessing the implications of the new legislation”.
In September the ACT government received guidance from the commonwealth director of public prosecutions, Sarah McNaughton, which backed its view that neighborhood laws would supply a defence to the federal offence. She then withdrew her guidance citing unspecified “legal complexities”.
A spokesman for the commonwealth director of public prosecutions told Guardian Australia the guidance was withdrawn “following communications with the lawyer general’s department” and “further legal consideration was offered to the issues”.
The bill’s architect, Labor MLA Michael Pettersson, has dismissed issues that legalisation would raise cannabis use, saying the law did not legalise sale or provide and arguing it was “disingenuous to pretend” cannabis was difficult to access.