The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has introduced a new policy decriminalizing possession of small amounts of eight specified drugs, shifting focus from criminal punishment to harm reduction. Despite some opposition, this change represents another positive step in Australia’s evolving drug policy, which has seen recent moves like the legalization of psilocybin and MDMA for medical purposes.
On Saturday, a new policy decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs came into effect in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), encompassing the nation’s capital, Canberra, and surrounding areas. ACT is the first region in Australia to implement such a change.
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Change in ACT Regulations
A year ago, lawmakers in the ACT approved a new policy introduced by the Labor Party’s Michael Pettersson. The new law eliminates criminal penalties for drug possession. Instead, the possession will result in a warning, fine, or participation in a drug prevention program.
Interested individuals can avoid a fine of 100 Australian dollars (about 64 USD) if they voluntarily choose to participate in the program.
New Possession Limits
The new policy applies to eight drugs, with specific possession limits established:
- Cocaine: 1.5 grams
- Heroin: 2 grams
- MDMA: 3 grams
- Methamphetamine: 1.5 grams
- Amphetamine: 2 grams
- Psilocybin: 2 grams
- LSD: 2 milligrams
The law also reduces the maximum penalty for possession of drugs that have not been decriminalized to a maximum of six months imprisonment.
Social Reactions to the New Policy
In response to the introduction of the new law, Pettersson wrote on Instagram: “Residents of Canberra understand that drug use is a health issue, and now our regulations reflect our values.”
A Thoughtful Approach to Drug Policy
When the law was adopted, Pettersson described it as a “reasonable approach to drug policy based on facts,” prioritizing public health over criminal punishment. However, not everyone was enthusiastic about the change. Senator Michaela Cash of the Liberal Party tried to block the change in the national parliament, expressing concern that the regulations would transform the nation’s capital into a “drug capital.”
In response to Cash’s criticism, Labor Party senator Tim Ayres said that if she wants to intervene in ACT policy, she should consider moving to the region and running for the legislative assembly.
History of Decriminalization in ACT
ACT had decriminalized cannabis as early as the 1990s. In 2020, a law was also introduced legalizing the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use by adults. Adults can possess up to 50g of cannabis for personal use and cultivate up to 4 plants at home.
Inspiration From Previous Policies
Pettersson emphasized that the previous policy regarding cannabis was an inspiration for the new, more comprehensive drug decriminalization law.
Future of Drug Policy in Australia
Despite resistance, many changes have been made to drug policy in Australia. Earlier this year, the government legalized psilocybin and MDMA for medical purposes, allowing access for people suffering from PTSD and treatment-resistant depression.
Legal Prescriptions Under Specific Standards
While these substances have not been legalized for widespread use, psychiatrists who meet specific standards can legally prescribe them.
Certainly, the debate on the decriminalization and legalization of drugs in Australia will continue, but changes in the ACT are a significant step toward an approach focused on public health and harm reduction.
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