S. Australian legalization bill follows Canada’s lead

| David Brown

The Australian Green Party has released a bill that proposes to legalize and regulate cannabis in South Australia. 

Cannabis Legalisation Bill 2021, introduced in South Australia’s legislative council on November 17, calls for the strict legalization and regulation of cannabis.

Below is an overview of the proposed legislation so far. If the bill progresses through parliament, many aspects of it could be changed. 

The Act in many ways mirrors Canada’s legalization legislation—passed in 2018—which was framed around the idea of legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis in order to protect public health and safety. 

The Greens’ bill, “An Act to legalise cannabis and cannabis products, to regulate the sale, supply and advertising of cannabis and cannabis products, to make related amendments to the Controlled Substances Act 1984, and for other purposes” often closely mirrors language used in Canada’s Bill C-45. 

To oversee all aspects of the new regulations and the commercial industry, the bill would create the South Australian Cannabis Agency. In addition to managing regulations, the agency would control all sales between producers and distributors—although if this means the agency would have a physical warehouse or only oversee these sales is unclear at this stage. The agency would also inspect licence holders.

The bill’s sponsor, Tammy Franks, had this to say when introducing the bill:

“It is time for South Australian politicians to concede that a prohibition approach, that so-called war on drugs, has failed. Despite billions of dollars poured into this drug war, one in three Australians have tried cannabis. Prohibition has failed even by its very own standards. A government war on drugs is in fact a war on their very own people.”

“When it comes to cannabis, that war on drugs is often a war on sick people, disabled people, and people desperate to get out of pain. It doesn’t have to be this way. The ACT has taken a small step, South Australia can now take a great stride. Canada, Uruguay, and others show us the way forward.”

The proposed legislation seeks to create two separate licence categories overseen by the agency: one for production and one for distribution, as well as an agency to oversee the entire regulatory regime and commercial industry. 

A production licence would allow for all forms of commercial cultivation, importing seeds, research and analytical testing, as well as processing, packaging and labelling of commercial cannabis products. Commercial producers would have production limits.  

A cannabis distribution licence would allow for sales of cannabis plants, seeds (through a nursery licence) and cannabis products to the public via storefronts. It would also allow for on-site consumption in a retail setting under a special permit.

Like Canada, the bill also includes a micro-cultivation category for small-scale commercial cannabis production, although the details on this licence category are still undefined.

Holding both a production and distribution licence at the same time is not allowed. There is a $550 fee to be licensed, which is then paid again on an annual basis. Production licenses can last for up to five years, distribution licences up to one year. Licenses are not transferable.

The agency, if created, would also create an advisory board to develop strategies to—among other goals—“prevent the over-commercialisation of the cannabis industry, or domination by large-scale business in the cannabis industry,” as well as potentially establish THC limits on some products, and “develop and promote strategies for reducing the harm caused by cannabis.”

All labels on products sold would have to carry the South Australian Cannabis Agency seal, as well as THC and CBD levels and public health warnings. 

Age of access

No one under the age of 18 allowed to consume, possess, or work with cannabis.

Home growing

The bill includes language that would allow a person to cultivate up to six cannabis plants as long as there are reasonable precautions made to prevent them from being accessed by the public. 

Clearing criminal records

The bill calls for a plan to allow those who have been convicted of certain minor crimes involving cannabis to potentially have their records cleared.

Advertising restrictions

Like Canada, under the proposed legislation advertising is allowed but only on a limited basis. A person with a cannabis distribution licence can advertise their retail business as long as it’s not promoting a specific product or giving information on price. Non licence holders would be prevented from promoting cannabis products or brands. Fines for non-compliance are from $2,500 to $15,000.

Cannabis can also not be part of any prize or promotional giveaway, nor can anyone give away cannabis for the purpose of promotion. Sponsorships are also not allowed. 

No public consumption

Unlike Canada, the act would not allow anyone to consume cannabis in public. But retailers can apply for a licence that would allow consumption on site. 

The Legislative Council is also currently debating the Road Traffic (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (No. 97), also introduced by Tammy Franks that seeks to provide for “a complete defence against the charge of driving with the detectable presence of THC in oral fluid or blood where a person has a valid doctor’s prescription for a medicinal cannabis product containing THC.” 

Franks has told South Australian media that she doesn’t expect much movement on the bill before an election scheduled for next March. South Australia’s Legislative Council has 22 members, two are Greens. South Australia’s Liberal Party, which currently forms government, has in the past been supportive of the medical cannabis industry emerging in the state.

Three companies currently have medicinal cannabis manufacturing licences in South Australia, two also have cultivation licences and one also has a research licence.