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A State-by-State Guide to Cannabis in Australia (Updated 2024)

Australia federally legalised medicinal cannabis in 2016, and Australia's cannabis market has seen major growth since then.

Medical cannabis approvals were up by 120 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. Statista forecasts that Australian cannabis revenue will reach AU$3.73 billion in 2024 and grow at an annual rate of 3.22 percent, culminating in market volume worth AU$4.53 billion by 2029.

However, Australia’s cannabis industry is still young. Recreational use is not legal and medical access remains limited and highly regulated. Yet, public support for legalisation is growing. YouGov data released in January 2024 showed that over half of Australians polled are in favour of decriminalising cannabis, and half of the respondents between the ages of 18 and 49 support legalising personal use.

In 2023, the Australian Greens, the country’s only seat-holding federal party in favour of legalisation, introduced the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023, sponsored by the party’s leader Senator David Shoebridge. This was Australia’s first parliamentary effort to legalise cannabis.

The legislation proposes that all citizens above the age of 18 can grow up to six plants per household and share homegrown cannabis products with others. Additionally, it proposes allowing individuals to possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. The bill was amended based on a survey and expert feedback to address concerns related to underage buying and consumption, as well as quality, packaging and labelling of cannabis and its products.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee began an inquiry into the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 on September 14, 2023, and released its report on May 31, 2024, in which the committee recommended that the Senate not pass the bill. However, according to the Australian Green’s Facebook page, they plan to bring the matter to the Senate for a vote.

As for the medical side, medical cannabis patients have access to various forms of the drug, including flower, oils and tinctures. However, only two medicinal cannabis products, Sativex and Epidyolex, are registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and none are subsidised through the country’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Patients who want access to medicinal cannabis must go through special pathways, and doctors who want to prescribe medicinal cannabis have to apply to do so.

At the state and territory level, the situation is more complex as each area of Australia has different rules that must be followed. Read on for a breakdown of the laws for medicinal and recreational cannabis in Australia’s six states and two territories, including one that legalised recreational cannabis possession.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: New South Wales

Use, supply and possession of cannabis is illegal in New South Wales (NSW), but first-time offenders with less than 15 grams on hand may only be issued a caution. Up to two cautions can be received; they often come with a referral for drug-related information. In February 2024, the NSW government expanded the program, allowing offenders to complete a drug and alcohol intervention program in place of paying the AU$400 fine.

However, any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis if it is determined an appropriate treatment and the doctor has the approvals required to do so. The NSW government has also allocated over AU$9 million to the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation to educate the community, monitor clinical trials and conduct research into cannabis’ efficacy in treating conditions such as epilepsy and nausea associated with cancer treatments.

In February, while announcing a task force to drive growth in NSW’s hemp industry, Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty told Guardian Australia that while the cultivation of hemp and cannabis are separate issues, she was open to increasing medicinal cannabis production and reforming state drug laws. An inquiry into the “true socio-economic cost and the opportunities of cannabis legalisation” was launched on March 21, chaired by Legalise Cannabis MP Jeremy Buckingham.

During its run for the last election in 2023, the Labor Party of NSW promised to hold a five day Parliamentary Drug Summit, the first of its kind since 1999. Since the Labor Party was elected, no date has been set, much to the frustration of Australians in NSW.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Victoria

Recreational cannabis possession and use is a criminal offence in Victoria, but similar to New South Wales, those caught with a first offence of 50 grams or less are typically given a caution and directions to attend drug counselling. It’s more serious if there are additional charges or if a person is found with over 50 grams; 250 grams, or 10 plants, is considered a traffickable quantity of cannabis. However, the current Labor party of Victoria has expressed a willingness to explore reformation.

Victoria was the first state to legalise medical marijuana use, and young children living with epilepsy were the first to gain access. Medical cannabis can be prescribed by any physician to a patient with any medical condition if the physician believes it is clinically appropriate and has obtained the necessary approval from the relevant regulatory body.

On May 20, the government announced the launch of a closed-circuit trial to assess driving abilities of medical cannabis users. Under the current law, drivers found with any trace of THC in their saliva face a mandatory licence suspension and fines, even though THC is detectable for several hours after ingestion. The trial is due to begin in September 2024.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Queensland

In Queensland, growing cannabis and recreational use are illegal under four different acts. Under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986, unlawful possession, supply, production and trafficking have maximum penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment, depending on circumstances such as how much cannabis is involved.

Medicinal use is less frowned upon in Queensland as any registered medical practitioner in the state can prescribe medicinal cannabis if clinically appropriate. Previously, the medical practitioner must have obtained Commonwealth approval in most circumstances; however, after new legislation changes in June 2020, any Queensland doctor can prescribe Schedule 4 CBD or Schedule 8 THC or CBD oil products without formal approval from state health authorities.

Medicinal cannabis can be administered via vapour, capsules, sprays or tinctures — smoking cannabis is not allowed in Queensland. Advertising medicinal cannabis is restricted to the medical, wholesale and pharmaceutical professions only.

However, Essential’s August 2023 poll results show that half of Queenslanders support the state's legalisation, and members of the Labor party have called for the legalisation of personal possession of small quantities. This year, several Legalise Cannabis MPs joined festival-goers at MardiGrass 2024, an annual Cannabis Law Reform Protestival held in Nimbin, a small town about 20 kilometres from the NSW border that’s known for its residents’ alternative lifestyles as well as for cannabis culture.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: South Australia

Cannabis flower, cannabis oil and cannabis resin are all illegal to keep, use, grow, sell or give away in South Australia. Possession for personal use can be penalised with an expiation, which is a fine without a criminal conviction. Large-scale trafficking or selling can attract big penalties of up to AU$1 million, 15 years to life imprisonment or both.

Those looking for medical cannabis products can obtain them via prescription from an authorised medical practitioner in the region. Approval under South Australian Controlled Substances legislation is also often required, although there are exemptions for elderly and terminal patients.

Despite South Australia having the most supporters for legalisation, reformation attempts have been unsuccessful. Member of Legislative Council Tammy Franks of the South Australian Green Party re-introduced the Cannabis Legalisation Bill 2022 in May 2022, but it has not progressed through the legislative process.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Western Australia

Even though Western Australia previously decriminalised cannabis in 2004, Liberal Premier Colin Barnett repealed the decision in 2011 as part of a “tough on crime” approach.

Possession of 10 grams or less can lead to a cannabis intervention requirement (CIR). This means the individual can attend a cannabis intervention session instead of facing a criminal conviction. If the person is 18 or older, they may receive only one CIR; however, those younger can receive two. Possessing more than 10 grams can result in a fine of up to AU$2,000, two years in jail, or both. Penalties are more severe for possession of over 100 grams.

Medicinal cannabis is available via prescription from any doctor in WA providing they have the required government approval. Prescriptions can be dispensed at any pharmacy. Driving with THC in your system is an offence in Western Australia.

Recently, two Legalise Cannabis MPs proposed bills to the State Parliament. The first would allow Western Australians to possess up to 50 grams of cannabis and to grow up to six plants per household. The Bill was introduced on March 21, 2024, and the matter will be debated on June 13. The second bill called for a referendum question on the subject to be included on the state election ballot in March 2025.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Tasmania

Prior to July 1, 2021, obtaining medicinal cannabis was fairly complicated in Tasmania — patients had to be referred to a specialist by their general practitioner, and then the specialist would make a decision. Generally cannabis would only be provided by specialists in limited circumstances once conventional treatment had been unsuccessful. Now general practitioners can fill out prescriptions if they believe it is clinically appropriate and if they have both Commonwealth and state approval to do so.

Possession of cannabis is illegal in Tasmania — in fact, any utensil or appliance for preparation, smoking or inhalation of cannabis is illegal and can attract a maximum fine of AU$7,950. Trafficking an amount of 25 grams of oil or 1 kilogram of plant material carries a serious imprisonment term of up to 21 years. However, police may issue up to three warnings for possession of less than 50 grams.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Northern Territory

Cannabis is largely decriminalised in the Northern Territory (NT), but possession of a small quantity in a public place still carries an imprisonment penalty. Possession of less than 50 grams in your own home is penalised with a fine of up to AU$200. The penalty for cultivating, even small amounts of less than five plants, is 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment. A commercial quantity of more than 20 plants results in life imprisonment, as does “cultivation in front of a child.”

The first NT medicinal cannabis patient to fill a script did so in November 2019, but uptake has been slow since then and the NT has a low number of users. That’s largely because there are few doctors who are authorised prescribers in the NT, and as the area is remote, travel to those clinics is not feasible for all residents.

Guide to cannabis in Australia: Australian Capital Territory

In September 2019, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed a bill to legalise the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use as of January 31, 2020, if the possessor is 18 years of age or older. It's important to note that the ACT’s state laws conflict with federal laws, which still prohibit the recreational use of cannabis, and federal lawmakers have attempted to overturn the legislation in the past.

ACT residents who are over 18 can carry up to 50 grams of dry cannabis, or 150 grams of wet material, and can grow as many as two plants per person (or four per household). Exceeding limits precipitates a fine, not criminal charges. Plants must also be grown outdoors only, leaving them open to theft.

Medicinal cannabis is available for patients with a number of conditions on a case-by-case basis. Doctors must have approval from the ACT chief health officer and the Therapeutic Goods Administration to prescribe.

This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2021.

Don’t forget to follow @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Meagen Seatter, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.


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