A State-by-State Guide to Cannabis in Australia
Australia made waves when it federally legalised medicinal cannabis in 2016, and its marijuana market has experienced significant growth since then.
A study from FreshLeaf Analytics pegs Australian medical market sales at AU$95 million in 2020, while research firm Prohibition Partners indicates that Oceania’s cannabis industry is expected to be worth US$1.55 billion by 2024; medicinal cannabis is expected to account for 40 percent of the industry.
Despite that growth, the country’s cannabis industry is still young. Recreational use is not yet in sight, and even medical access remains limited and highly regulated.
Currently only one medicinal cannabis product, Sativax, is registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), 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.
The situation gets more complex at the state and territory level, as each area of Australia has different rules and regulations 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.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: New South Wales
Use, supply and possession of cannabis is illegal in New South Wales (NSW); however, first-time offenders with a small amount on hand may only be issued a caution. Up to two cautions can be received, and they often come with a referral for drug-related information.
The NSW government recognises the potential of medicinal cannabis to treat debilitating or terminal illnesses. Any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis if it is determined an appropriate treatment and the doctor has the approvals required to do so.
In another show of support for the drug, the NSW government has established the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation to educate the community and monitor clinical trials.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: Victoria
Recreational possession and use of cannabis is a criminal offence in Victoria, but similar to NSW, 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 an amount over 50 grams; 250 grams is considered a traffickable quantity of cannabis.
Medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by any doctor for a patient with any condition if they believe it is clinically appropriate. Victoria was the first state to legalise medical marijuana use, and young children suffering from epilepsy were the first to gain access.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: Queensland
In Queensland, growing cannabis or recreational use is illegal under four different acts. Under the Drug Misuse Act 1986, unlawful possession, supply, production and trafficking have maximum penalties of up to 25 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.
After new legislation changes in June 2020, any Queensland doctor can prescribe Schedule 4 CBD or Schedule 8 THC or CBD 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. Interestingly, advertising medicinal cannabis is restricted to the medical, wholesale and pharmaceutical professions only.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: South Australia
Cannabis, 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 means a fine that does not attract a criminal conviction. Large-scale trafficking or selling can attract big penalties of up to AU$500,000 and 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.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: Western Australia
Even though Western Australia (WA) officially decriminalised cannabis in 2004, Liberal Premier Colin Barnett repealed the decision in 2011 as part of a “tough on crime” approach.
Today, driving with THC in your system is an offence in WA, regardless of whether it is medicinal or recreational. Personal cultivation is illegal.
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.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: Tasmania
Obtaining medicinal cannabis is arguably most complicated in Tasmania. A patient must have their general practitioner refer them to a relevant specialist; the specialist can then provide medicinal cannabis in limited circumstances once conventional treatment has been unsuccessful.
Tasmania is taking steps to make medicinal cannabis more accessible. Starting on July 1, 2021, general practitioners will be able to fill out prescriptions, although the process is still expected to be slow.
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.
Guide to Cannabis in Australia: Northern Territory
Cannabis is largely decriminalised in the 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 only. 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.
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 — as the area is remote, travel 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. Confusingly, the ACT’s state laws conflict with federal laws, which still prohibit the recreational use of cannabis.
ACT residents who are over 18 can carry up to 50 grams of cannabis and grow as many as four plants — although the 50 gram amount is less than what one plant produces. Plants must also be grown outdoors only, leaving them open to theft.
Medicinal cannabis is available for patients with a number of conditions and also on a case-by-case basis. Doctors must have approval from the ACT chief health officer and the TGA to prescribe.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.