ABC RADIO CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 26 SEPTEMBER 2019
Subjects: ACT cannabis legislation.
ANNA VIDOT: On the line with me is the Member for Fenner, the federal Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, what do you make first of all of the passage of this legislation through the Assembly yesterday?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G’day, Anna. Good to be with you. I think this is a modest change - as Andrew Barr has put it, evolution rather than revolution. It's been nearly a generation since the ACT first introduced Simple CannabisOffence Notices, which decriminalised possession of small amounts of marijuana. That's something that other jurisdictions in Australia have since followed, with South Australia and the Northern Territory among them. All they're doing is now saying in the ACT that those $100 fines will no longer be levied. There’s about 100 people a year, as I understand, who pay a $100 fine for having a small amount of marijuana and no longer will they have those fines. This means that the police can focus on frying bigger fish, focus on the offences that are of considerably more concern to the community.
VIDOT: As a matter of law and as a federal parliamentarian, Andrew Leigh, are you concerned about the conflict between the regime now or from the end of January in the ACT and the Commonwealth Criminal Code?
LEIGH: It's really important to remember, Anna, that the Federal Criminal Code and the ACT laws have in a sense been in conflict for a generation now. That 1992 change has been read as being in conflict with the federal Act. And that's also true of the other jurisdictions which have decriminalised, but we've managed to work our way through that. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions hasn't been taking resources away from prosecuting large scale drug importers or tax avoiders or going after some of the allegations coming out of the banking royal commission in order to chase Canberrans with one marijuana plant in their backyard. Appropriately enough, they've left that matter to the ACT police, and I imagine that's how things will continue to go. Anna, I think it's also important to understand that this is very much about the personal use of marijuana. It's not full scale legalization of commercial cultivation, as has happened in Canada, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois. There's a lot of places around the world that have done full scale commercial legalization. The ACT isn't doing that at all. It's simply taking away the $100 fines for small amounts.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for Fenner here in Canberra is on the line with me this evening on ABC Radio Canberra. Andrew Leigh, the harmonization I suppose aside between the ACT and the Commonwealth, what do you make of what's been referred to as the murkiness or the ambiguity? The fact, for example, that this legislation does not deal with supply. You can't, if you were smoking a joint, legally under these laws in your own home pass that to a friend because that would count as supply for example. Is it just that this legislation leaves open the possibility of people in complying with the law in some areas, they're very, very close to breaking the law in others?
LEIGH: Well, the legislation is very modest, and I think appropriately so. It's really just taking away the fines from a system which has been decriminalised for a generation now. Twenty-seven years ago, the ACT decriminalised. The sky hasn't fallen in that period and I don't think we've benefited as a community from handing out a $100 fine to about 100 people a year. Other countries are moving much more rapidly on this. Next year New Zealand will hold a referendum on the full legalisation of cannabis. That's not something that the ACT has done. This modest measure I think is appropriate to where the community is at. I understand that there is this conflict with Commonwealth law, but given that we've had that for a generation I think we'll be able to continue working through the system.
VIDOT: The ACT is unique in many ways of course, Andrew Leigh. One of which is that you as the Member for Fenner also are responsible for a territory which is in fact not within the sort of Kookaburra shaped jurisdiction of the ACT itself - that is to say, Jervis Bay. Will these laws apply in Jervis Bay?
LEIGH: They won't, is my understanding, and I think that's common to other areas the criminal law as well. As you know, Anna, the reason that Jervis Bay is part of my electorate is the notion of the founders that every capital city needed a port. And I should just urge your listeners, if they haven't spent time in Jervis Bay, it is a beautiful community there. The Wreck Bay community, the HMAS Creswell naval base come within my electorate of Fenner. But there changes won’t apply there. They’ll just apply within the area of Canberra.
VIDOT: The ACT mainland, if we can put it that way [laughter].
LEIGH: That's a nice way of putting it, yes.
VIDOT: Just finally, we have heard a lot of discussion already from some Federal Government ministers. We've seen the Attorney-General Christian Porter expressing his concern, the Home Affairs Minister who of course has law enforcement roles as well Peter Dutton saying he's very, very concerned about this. We've heard the Health Minister Greg Hunt expressing his concern, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack also very unimpressed by this legislation. At this stage the Commonwealth is not suggesting that they will intervene, but they are using language like ‘as yet’. Now the Canberra Liberals have said that they don't want their federal colleagues intervening in this space. What kind of conversations do you intend to have at a federal level about whether or not the Commonwealth should get involved?
LEIGH: Anna, I’d be flabbergasted if the federal government thought that its top priority was to prosecute Canberrans with one plant in their backyard. At a time in which we've got carbon emissions going up, we've got wages stagnant, we've got a prospect of a global downturn, a trade war between the US and China. There are massive issues that we need the federal government to focus on, and this would be an enormous distraction from those of those issues were the federal government to decide to take up the time in the national parliament in fighting what the ACT assembly has done.
VIDOT: Nonetheless, do you intend to - do you think you're going to have to talk to your federal colleagues about this?
LEIGH: Well, I'll certainly be speaking with them regularly. I've spoken with federal colleagues about this today. But the notion thatthe Commonwealth Government would come inin a heavy handed way to overturn what the ACT parliament has done would seem very strange indeed. We're not the only jurisdiction to have decriminalised, and I'm sure we won't be the only jurisdiction to ultimately legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal possession.
VIDOT: Have you heard any concern from your federal colleagues at this point about this change in the ACT?
LEIGH: I certainly read the remarks that you talk about from Peter Dutton and Christian Porter, and I guess I’d just say to them do your day job. Focus on getting kids off Nauru, focus on making sure you're prosecuting organized crime. Get some of those prosecutions out of the Hayne Royal Commission happening.
VIDOT: But have you heard similar concerns from any of your Labor colleagues?
LEIGH: No, I haven't had any concerns from my Labor colleagues whatsoever and I wouldn't expect to. They've got a healthy respect for the ACT legislative assembly, which I think has proven itself to be the intellectual equal of any parliament around the country.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Anna.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.