The Federal Coalition is trying to stop the ACT Government from decriminalising the possession of drugs such as cocaine, MDMA, and ice in small quantities.
The ACT passed decriminalisation laws last year. They are set to take effect in October.
The Coalition wants to use federal parliamentary powers to block the law, but is unlikely to succeed.
The ACT laws
The ACT laws will see police issue fines of $100 for low-level illicit drug possession, instead of criminal prosecution and possible jail time.
Criminal penalties would remain for possession above the threshold, and for other drug-related offences such as supply, trafficking, manufacture, and driving under the influence.
Drugs covered under the law include MDMA (up to 1.5g), cocaine (up to 1.5g), heroin (up to 1g), ice (up to 1.5g), and magic mushrooms (up to 1.5g).
The ACT decriminalised low-level marijuana possession in 1992.
The Government says the changes reflect “modern community standards [and] seek to treat drug use as a public health problem and not one first and foremost of the criminal justice system.”
The ACT and the NT have their rights to self-government given to them by the Federal Parliament.
This means the Federal Parliament can in theory intervene at any time to block a territory law.
In practice, this is rare, but it has happened before. Until recently, the Federal Parliament prevented territories from passing their own laws on voluntary assisted dying.
Federal Coalition Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash introduced a bill yesterday seeking to block the ACT drugs reform.
She accused the ACT Government of “rolling out the red carpet to ice, heroin, cocaine, speed, acid and other drugs. Our nation’s capital should not be the drug capital.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton suggested Canberra would become “a tourism attraction” for drug users.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr called the Coalition’s move “an assault on territory rights”. ACT Liberal Leader Elizabeth Lee, who opposes the drug policy, also criticised the attempted intervention.
ACT Senator David Pocock said the attempt demonstrated “people who live [in the ACT] have less rights… we have Federal Senators who feel like they can reach into our democratically elected legislative assembly when they don’t like decisions.”
The Coalition’s bill is unlikely to pass.