Australia's attorney-general says Canberra local law on cannabis has no legal force

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Sunday that Canberra’s new legislation legalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use do not provide legal protection and clash with federal laws.

FILE PHOTO: An employee of the Clever Leaves company shows a cannabis flower at a greenhouse in Pesca, Colombia, Colombia October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

In September, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became the first of the country’s six states and two main territories to legalize the possession of up to 50 grams per person of cannabis for personal use, with the law set to come into effect from Jan. 31, 2020.

Federal law prohibits such use, however, and Porter, who has been reviewing the ACT laws and on Sunday sent a letter to the ACT attorney-general, signaled this will not change.

“They’re terrible laws for a variety of reasons,” Porter told the ABC television Insider political show.

“The ACT laws removed the criminal component at a territory level but didn’t establish anything that is a positive right to possess, which means that there’s no defense to the Commonwealth law that criminalizes amounts under 50 grams.”

The use of cannabis for recreational purposes remains prohibited in most countries, but there has been a growing international debate about decriminalizing the possession of small amounts for adults. Canada and several states in the United States have moved recently to legalize such possessions.

When asked whether the Australian federal government should intervene to override the ACT legislation, Porter said it would not be necessary.

“If they leave their law as it is, why would there be any need to override a law which is effectively to no effect?” he said.

“My advice and the advice that I’ve provided to the ACT attorney-general is that it is still against the law of the Commonwealth to possess cannabis in the ACT.”

Earlier this month, the government said it would provide funds for research on medicinal marijuana, responding to a growing demand.

While legal in most of Australia, medicinal cannabis products are allowed only to patients on the prescription of a doctor, and a license is required to grow and make medicinal cannabis.

Reporting by Lidia Kelly, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan