Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK

Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain share a common political and cultural heritage. Recently, a non-profit organization by the name of CANZUK has attempted to solidify this close link by means of law.

Among other things, the organization strives for greater freedom of work, travel, and residency across these four countries. With their petition already at over 235000 signatures as I live and breathe and type this article, now is as good a time as any to study cannabis laws across the CANZUK countries. So what do stoners need to know before they spark up in these four nations?

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Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK: Australia

Stoner Sloth Shelters Test
Who remembers this classic Australian anti-cannabis commercial? (Image via Metro)

If you’re planning a trip down under and happen to be a cannabis user, the future is bright. While recreational cannabis is currently illegal, as of February 24, 2016, medicinal marijuana is permitted. However, future prospects for Aussie cannabis enthusiast are positive as a 2007 government survey reported that one in three Australians over the age of 14 had used cannabis at some time in their life. Even more promising is that one in ten surveyed had smoked weed in the past 12 months.All things considered, it looks like the land down under might be on the brink of a major paradigm shift with regards to cannabis. With increasingly liberal attitudes towards the plant worldwide and a plethora of scientific evidence emerging that solidifies the health benefits of the plant, it might seem like the fight for cannabis rights has already been won.

But the news is not all good. The political climate in Australia might not be ready for the hemp plant to flower just yet.

Map of Australia With Cannabis leaf on it
While Australia currently permits cannabis for medicinal purposes, legalization for recreational purposes could be a distant dream.

A South Australian bill was recently proposed that plans to introduce 2-year jail sentences for possession of marijuana. While the success of this bill looks doubtful, the fact that such draconian ideas of drug enforcement are on the agenda is not a good sign. In fact, the Turnbull government has made its stance quite clear on what it thinks of Cannabis. Health Minister Greg Hunt has referred to Marijuana as a gateway to other drugs like crystal meth.

Such statements fly in the face of scientific fact and reflect a government that is far too conservative to consider the prospects of legal weed. However, farther north, prospects for legalization seem a little less bleak.

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Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK: Canada

Man smokes Joint in front of Canadian Parliament building
A man smokes marijuana during the annual 4/20 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on April 20, 2018. (image via Reuters)

Canada is nothing short of template for cannabis legalization its commonwealth siblings. Medical marijuana has been legal since July 2001 and the Trudeau government has set the date for full legalization on October 17, 2018. Bill C-46 will permit Canadians to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants for personal use. This landmark decision will make it the first G8 nation to do so.

With the recent decision to privatize the province of Ontario’s cannabis industry by Doug Ford’s Conservative government, perhaps Canada could demonstrate to its CANZUK siblings how lucrative the legalization of weed can be.

Women Smoke weed in front of Canadian Parliament Building
Canada boasts the most progressive cannabis laws of the CANZUK with full legalization set for October 2018 (image via Getty)

However, the federal government’s legalization plan is not without its flaws particularly on the enforcement side of things. Notably, drivers convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana could face as much as 10 years in prison. That’s double the amount of time one would face for driving drunk.

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Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK: Great Britain

Londoners protesting at an annual 420 march
Londoners protesting at an annual 420 march (image via Daily Mail)

For Cannabis rights, Great Britain is arguably the most regressive of the CANZUK countries. As a class B drug in the UK, Cannabis is categorized alongside such dangerous substances as barbiturates, ketamine, and various amphetamines. Possession of it could yield as many as 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

There is a reason to be optimistic though, as the floodgates to full legalization may have been recently opened. Great Britain recently passed legislation to allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis. Notions of recreational weed have a powerful opponent however in Home Secretary Sajid Javid. The nation’s highest medical officer has shut down notions that this landmark decision could be a stepping stone for further cannabis rights.

Alfie Dingley with parents and Captain Kirk
The case of Alfie Dingley, whose parents used medicinal cannabis to treat his epilepsy has spearheaded the recent landmark decision for the legalization of medicinal cannabis in the UK (Image via PA WIRE)

Public opinion seems to be in favor of legalization by a slight margin. In a 2014 UK survey, 52% of those polled were in favor of legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana.

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Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK: New Zealand

A woman enjoying a joint
A woman enjoying a joint at New Zealand 420 celebrations (image via Daily Mail)

New Zealand is going through a period of reevaluation. The current coalition government plans to hold a referendum in 2020 on the legality of Cannabis for recreational use.  New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has publicly stated that she does not support the imprisonment of cannabis users.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern says she is opposed to people being jailed for cannabis (image via Japan Times)

Until then, however, it appears New Zealand pot smokers could still face legal repercussions for their recreational activities. The severity of these charges sometimes lies on the arbitrary lines of how cannabis users choose to use. Possession for cannabis itself is relatively minor, resulting in a $500 fine and no more than 3 months of jail time. Cultivation is a different tale, however, as growers could face as long as a 7-year imprisonment, while manufacturers of hashish and oils face double that.

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Conclusions on Cannabis Laws Across The CANZUK

There seems to be a fair bit of popular demand for greater unity between the Commonwealth nations. While culturally similar, and sharing a common heritage, these four nations could not be more dissimilar in their government’s stance on the legality of cannabis. Perhaps greater unity could bring about some sort of consistency for how the plant is regarded and classified legally… but only time will tell.

By: Stefan Hosko