Australia’s Cannabis Laws Explained In Terms You Could Understand In… Any State of Mind

An image showing a cannabis plant to illustrate cannabis legalisation Australia

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in Australia. Despite a century of prohibition, billions of dollars, and decades of police time spent trying to control the supply, sale, and use of cannabis, the drug is more popular than ever.

According to the most recent data, 11.6 per cent of the population used cannabis once in the past 12 months. 36% have used the drug at least once in their lifetime. The average user is 36 years old and it tends to be more popular in regional areas than metropolitan ones.

While countries around the world are increasingly switching to legalised and decriminalised models of cannabis control, Australia continues to resist calls to minimise the harms associated with the ongoing criminal framework we apply to the drug.

In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable shift in the way cannabis is perceived and treated by both the public and law enforcement. Drug laws in Australia are complex and regulated at both the federal and state and territory level, but there have been a number of significant shifts and promises of change made in various jurisdictions.

So where does Australia currently stand on recreational cannabis laws and what do the rest of the states and territories have to say about the cultivation and use of the world’s oldest plant medicine? Here’s where we are.

Note: This article is about the personal, ‘recreational’ use of cannabis and does not deal with laws regarding medicinal use, driving laws, commercial cultivation or possession.

It also deals with the current legal status of cannabis, updated May 2023, with potential upcoming changes discussed at the bottom.

Cannabis Law Australia

At a federal level, Australia regulates drugs and their possession and use through a number of different legislative tools.

The primary one is the Poisons Standard, updated annually, which categorises drugs and medicines into schedules, determining how they can be used. This is the main framework for how cannabis is treated in Australia, but, like the rest of these laws, it’s not entirely straightforward.

Medications containing 150mg or less of isolated CBD, one of the non-psychoactive compounds in cannabis, are considered Schedule 3 and can be sold over the counter in pharmacies. So far, no CBD medications have been approved by the TGA and so none are on sale in Australia just yet. Medicines containing more than 150 mg are Schedule 4, prescription only.

Cannabis itself is a Schedule 8 drug when prepared and packaged in accordance with medicinal cannabis regulations. Otherwise, ‘recreational’ cannabis as might be bought on the street, is a Schedule 9 drug.

Schedule 9 drugs are “Substances which may be abused or misused, the manufacture, possession, supply or use of which should be prohibited by law except when required for medical or scientific research, or for analytical, teaching or training purposes with approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities,” according to the poisons standard.

Australia also regulates cannabis use, possession, cultivation, and sale under its import and export regulations and the Criminal Code Act 1995.

This all being said, most cannabis-related crime is dealt with at a state and territory level which varies depending on the jurisdiction.

Cannabis Laws Victoria

The use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking of cannabis are all illegal under Victorian law. 

The state is more lenient than most regarding personal use of the drug and the laws are rather straightforward.

Most people caught with small, personal quantities of cannabis will be given a caution. This is however up to the discretion of the police.

The charge for small quantity cannabis possession in Victoria is a maximum of around $800. You can’t go to jail simply for using weed.

Small quantity: 50g

Possession: 50-250gs

Cannabis Laws Australian Capital Territory

The use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis is legal in the ACT for personal quantities of the drug and plants. 

The ACT is Australia’s most progressive jurisdiction when it comes to cannabis. Users above the age of 18 are free to grow, possess, and consume cannabis in private residencies. 

Cannabis cannot be bought and sold or used in public places and people under the age of 18 cannot be exposed to cannabis via use or storage. You also can’t grow cannabis using a hydroponic set-up or in areas that can be publicly accessed.

Personal: 50gs dried, 150gs fresh, two plants per person, four maximum per household.

Cannabis Laws New South Wales

The use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking of cannabis are all illegal under New South Wales law. 

NSW is also fairly lenient when it comes to personal use of cannabis. If you’re caught with up to 15gs of cannabis, police can issue up to two cautions at their own discretion. They can also issue an on-the-spot fine of $400, although this is less common.

Personal quantity: 15gs

Possession: 15-300gs

Cannabis Laws Queensland

The use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking of cannabis are all illegal under Queensland law. 

Queensland has some of the harshest penalties when it comes to cannabis and the laws are not exactly specific. It operates a ‘first quantity’ and ‘second quantity’ scheme and the punishments for possession in either category increase with the amount.  

More than one person can be charged with possession of the same drug so if cannabis is found in a house, everyone in the house is liable.

First quantity: Up to 500gs

Second quantity: Upwards of 500gs 

Cannabis Laws Northern Territory

The use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking of cannabis are all illegal under Northern Territory law. 

Cannabis laws are fairly relaxed in the NT. Anyone above the age of 18 found in possession of up to 50gs of cannabis can only be hit with a fine of $200. That’s if the cannabis is found in your home. Possession in a public place can result in a two-year maximum sentence.

Less than a trafficable quantity: 50gs or five plants. 

Trafficable quantity: 50-500gs, 5-19 plants

Cannabis Laws Western Australia

The use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking of cannabis are all illegal under Western Australian law. 

Western Australia used to be relatively relaxed when it came to cannabis before a 2011 Liberal government’s ‘tough on crime’ intervention. Since 2017 however, cannabis laws have once again become more lenient, though not as much as they once were.

Being found with 10gs or less of cannabis for personal use will almost always result in the issuing of a Cannabis Intervention Requirement. This means the individual will have to complete a cannabis awareness course with a registered therapist. Five plants or fewer may also count as personal use.

Personal quantity: 10gs or 5 plants.

Possession: 10-100gs, 20 plants. 

Cannabis Laws South Australia

Cannabis use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking are all illegal under South Australian law. 

Much like the NT, there is a common misconception about South Australia that recreational cannabis is legal. It isn’t, but police aren’t likely to take it very seriously. The SA ‘expiation’ system makes it one of the least risky states to use recreational cannabis in Australia.

Smoking cannabis in a private residence, growing one plant, or having up to 100gs of cannabis can all be expiated with a small fine at the officer’s discretion. 

Personal quantity: 25gs, one plant.

Possession for personal use: 25-100gs, 20 plants

Possession with intent to supply: More than 100gs, 20 plants.

Cannabis Laws Tasmania

Cannabis use, possession, cultivation, and trafficking are all illegal under South Australian law. 

Despite its reputation as a chilled-out hideaway, Tasmania’s cannabis laws are some of the toughest in the country. Possession of any implement used for consuming cannabis carries a maximum fine of $7,950.

However, TAS also operates a court diversion programme. Anyone caught with less than 50gs of cannabis can be issued a caution up to three times. 

Small quantity: 100gs, 20 plants. 

Intent to supply: 100gs, 20 plants or more.

New Cannabis Laws

In NSW, following the recent state election of the Labor Party, Premier Chris Minns announced that he doesn’t have a “mandate” to change cannabis laws, despite speaking in favour of legalisation in 2019. He has said the state will undergo a drug summit that will inform broad drug reform but has yet to set a date on that.

Queensland made headlines in February when it announced it would be overhauling its drug laws. Queensland Parliament is set to pass changes that will expand its drug diversion programme for people found in possession of a range of ‘hard drugs’. There are no plans however to decriminalise or legalise cannabis.

In Victoria, driving laws for medicinal cannabis patients are set to be overhauled, allowing people prescribed the drug to avoid loss of licence and other punishments if they test positive at the roadside. There are no broader changes planned.

Other jurisdictions have similar changes being pushed for but none are as far along as the above.

Experts are convinced that it is only a matter of time before cannabis is legalised across the country. The ACT pulling the pin first in 2020 only emboldened those claims. With more and more countries shifting their attitudes to the drug, and a growing number of medicinal users bringing driving revenue to the pharmaceutical sector, that change appears to be just around the corner. Then again, it always does.

Please note, laws are always subject to change. Check your state’s most recent legislation for up-to-date advice.

Related: Here’s All the Nice Things We Could Afford If We Legalised and Regulated Cannabis

Related: How to Buy Medicinal Cannabis in Australia

Related: The Next Hit: How Close is Australia to Legalising Cannabis?

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