ACT Cannabis laws
As he does most Thursdays, the Attorney-General, the Industrial Relations
Minister, Christian Porter joins us. Christian, good morning.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Morning, Gareth. How
Yeah. Well. Thank you for your time. So, the ACT's move on cannabis is sort of
the talk of the country. It's not the first time the ACT have struck out on
their own on these things. We've seen them pass laws around voluntary assisted
dying, which were overturned by the Commonwealth; on same-sex marriage, which
were overturned by the Commonwealth. Do you intend to overturn these cannabis
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look, I'll have a look at
them. I think the first point is that we actually can't find them on any
website anywhere. I think they passed last night. We had some line of sight
onto the original version of the bill. It was a private member's bill. It may
have been amended by government members on the way through. But in its earliest
form, like the way it was introduced, it simply withdrew, if you like, the laws
that apply to amounts under 50 grams so there was no law that would apply. So
therefore, you couldn't be charged under that law. But there are still
Commonwealth laws that apply in the ACT for those amounts as a possession
offence. So, I'm not quite sure what final form the bill has taken. I'm going
to have a good look at it…
CHRISTIAN PORTER: …in its final form.
So you haven't actually got the - you haven't been able to assess the actual
CHRISTIAN PORTER: No. No. I mean, oddly enough,
this just doesn't seem to be available. It seems to have passed last night. And
look, for West Australian listeners, the ACT, by population, is a very small
place. I mean, it's not much bigger than large councils like the City of
Stirling in WA. So they do go out on the edge on a lot of these sort of social
crusades. Drugs is one of them. I must say I think this is personally a very
bad idea. But nevertheless, they have a Parliament. We'll have a look at their
legislation and reserve our position. But the most important thing is that if
you're in the ACT waking up today and you want to possess marijuana, be careful
because there are Commonwealth laws that still apply.
Would you expect- I mean, I presume it's up to the AFP to police those laws.
Would you expect them to do so?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that's something that I
will meet with them about and receive their views on. But my expectation would
be that to the extent that a law of the Commonwealth is a valid law and
applies, that it's enforced like any other law of the Commonwealth. So, that'
something we'll be discussing with the AFP. But the expectation is that
Commonwealth laws are enforced.
I mentioned voluntary assisted dying and also same-sex marriage. I mean,
there's pretty clear precedents here for Commonwealth governments acting when
territory laws are in conflict.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. I mean, there are
precedents for it. I mean, they're three very different issues. But as I said,
I'll have a look at the actual bill and see how it actually interacts with the
Commonwealth law. But the first point and the most important point is that
there is still Commonwealth law that applies to the ACT, where a person commits
an offence if they possess a prohibited substance, which would include
marijuana. So whether or not this law actually does what is seeks to do is an
open question at the moment. Certainly, in its original form, the way it was
introduced, it didn't seem to me that it, in any way…
[Talks over] Well-
CHRISTIAN PORTER: …overrode the Commonwealth
law, in that you would still be breaking the law if you possess marijuana.
What if the AFP turn a blind eye to it?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that won't be the
expectation that we would have as a Government. But we'll talk to the AFP about
that. But as I say, look, it's very early. I haven't even really seen a copy of
the legislation yet and certainly there was no interaction with us before the
law was passed, it just kind of happened.
Okay. You said earlier you think it's a bad idea. Why?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean I think
marijuana and its use and its levels of addiction which are very high has been
shown to cause enormous social problems, enormous problems for the individuals
who use it and become addicted to it. So the idea that you can use any mount of
it safely or that it doesn't lead to addiction and long term serious health
consequences- to me, it's not a drug that you want to make easier to access and
cheaper to access. I mean it's something that we should put every effort and
resource into ensuring that people don't use, not pass laws which encourage
people to use it. I think it's crazy.
That's not been the trend though, is it? In certainly, North America, you're
seeing some American states start to go even much, much further than the ACT
have gone. You're seeing it in Canada as well. Do you think that other
Australian states will follow this path?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well look, you know places like
California seem to me to be not quite the best examples about how we want to
run policy in Australia. And I think this is a really dumb idea. I recall that
it occurred, as a level of decriminalisation in WA where you were allowed to
grow a certain number of plants and that was reversed.
[Interrupts] Yeah, it was the Government that you were a part of that reversed
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Indeed. And I think that was
the right thing to do. Look, this is a terribly dangerous drug, marijuana. It
destroys individual lives. The documented, scientific evidence about the
sustained use of it causing extreme mental health problems, including
psychosis, is just beyond doubt. Why any jurisdiction would pass a law which
effectively encourages more use of a drug like this is beyond me.
Would you be better off treating it as a health issue though, rather than a
criminal justice issue?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well the two things aren't
mutually exclusive. But where you have the ability to make something unlawful,
and historically, marijuana in all other jurisdictions, its possession, its
cultivation has been unlawful. You do that because you recognise that the
health effects of its use are terrible. So one doesn't mean that you don't do
the other. I mean of course, it's a health issue. But I think the starting
point is the clear message from any responsible society that this is not a drug
that we accept that people should be using.
Okay. I mean I'm sure you've seen the jokes doing the rounds already, about
politicians in Canberra and, you know: we think they're on drugs anyway. Would
you expect any MPs to take advantage of this ACT law when they descend on
Canberra for sitting weeks?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I know The Daily
Telegraph in Sydney had a massive picture of a joint above Commonwealth
Parliament House, but it's not our law. I mean this is the law of the ACT
Assembly. So look, I think that's a big stretch. I think what I'm concerned…
[Talks over] Who'd be most likely? Who'd be most likely? Which MPs would be
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Mate that is a matter for
individual MPs but I'm not aware of any use of the substance around Parliament
[Interrupts] Not even the Greens?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, who knows? But
this is a serious issue for a place like the ACT. I mean do you want to have a
jurisdiction in Australia that effectively encourages through the law the use
of an extremely dangerous drug with capacity for long-term addiction and
incredibly destructive health effects. Now, the answer that I had to that
question when I was a State Attorney-General was: no, you shouldn't do that. My
view is the same as a Commonwealth Attorney-General and we'll have a good look
at the legislation.
Okay, sounds as you're not really keen on it at all then.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Not at all.
Alright. Thank you for your time this morning.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Cheers, mate.
Attorney-General Christian Porter.