NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann has introduced a bill into state parliament that aims to establish a regulated retail cannabis market in NSW – as well as decent provisions for homegrow – at a time when, if world trends are anything to go by, there’s a real likelihood the plant could be legalised.

Canada passed laws legalising recreational and medicinal cannabis use nationwide from October 2018. In the US, eleven states have made adult use a lawful pastime, while in November, another four states voted to get on board what’s colloquially become known as the green rush.

Faehrmann’s Cannabis Legalisation Bill 2021 is a comprehensive piece of legislation that covers the administering of the legal marketplace, different levels of licensing and advertising restrictions. It has addressed the concerns of parents and it caters for the needs of home cultivators.

So, with all bases covered from a legislative perspective, an avenue is now wide open for state lawmakers to establish an official market, which would provide not only commercial profits but a fresh stream of tax revenue.

Indeed, in its sixth year in operation, the regulated retail market in the US state of Colorado turned over $2.2 billion in sales last year, which generated $387.4 million in tax.

The writings on the wall

“It’s time for us to seriously start considering what cannabis legalisation is going to look like in NSW and the benefits that it could bring,” Faehrmann told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “People can see the writing on the wall, that cannabis legalisation is inevitable.”

The NSW Greens drug law reform spokesperson explained that these days there’s more Australians in support of cannabis legalisation than there are against it. And she added that the reaction to the bill has been quite telling in terms of it either being “vocal support or silence”.

“Even five years ago, you would have had shock jocks and conservative media piling on to condemn the ‘loony, hippy dope-smoking Greens’,” she continued. “Now even they know they can’t make those arguments anymore.”

The guts of the bill

Section 5 of the proposed Cannabis Legalisation Act states that despite any other laws, it is not a criminal offence to cultivate, supply, manufacture or produce, or possess cannabis, a cannabis product or a cannabis accessory.

Part two of the Act establishes the NSW Cannabis Authority. This body corporate is charged with administering licensing, dealing with quality control, monitoring an inventory tracking system, overseeing supply, and preventing the over commercialisation of the industry.

Part three sets up a series of licensing systems that include commercial cannabis production and distribution licenses. Then there is a license for cannabis social clubs, which are not-for-profits groups that grow and share amongst members.

In terms of homegrow, this can be done without a licence. A household of no more than two people can grow up to six plants, while a premises with more than two can grow up to twelve plants. This must be done discreetly. And there’s a $1,100 fine that applies to breaches.

The proposed Act also creates offences around minors. A first time offence of selling a cannabis product to a person under 18 can see an individual fined $11,000 and a corporation $55,000. While purchasing cannabis on behalf of a minor would see a person hit with a $5,500 fine.

There are restrictions on consuming cannabis in public. And in terms of advertising, there are heavy fines created to prevent the display of cannabis advertising, as well as its distribution, and there’s a proposed blanket prohibition on sponsorships involving cannabis products and brands.

Use is legal in the capital

The personal possession of cannabis and its recreational use was legalised in the Australian Capital Territory on 31 January last year.

“There is nothing in the ACT that has pointed towards a meaningful increase in the rate of consuming cannabis,” Faehrmann said.

“Positive roadside tests for THC have not increased, neither has the number of young people directed into drug programs or hospital presentations related to cannabis.”

The Greens member asserted that the Canberra experience shows that those who want to consume cannabis already do via the black market. And rather than increase consumers, her model would ensure safer products for pre-existing ones, without any prospect of arrest or prosecution.

“The ACT has shown that we can take a new approach towards cannabis use in Australia and the sky won’t fall in,” Faehrmann concluded. “I think it’s normalised the idea for a lot of Australians.”