In 2020 the Australian Capital Territory drug laws were amended to decriminalise the personal use of cannabis. It resulted in a bunch of confusing and conflicting laws that directly contradict the Commonwealth Criminal Code at a federal level.
The changes have placed ACT cannabis users in a bit of a legal grey area. They cannot be prosecuted for personal use under territory laws, but could receive a maximum of two years imprisonment under federal law.
To make things worse, the federal government holds the power to overturn laws made by states and territories. They did exactly that when the ACT enacted Australia’s first Civil Unions law in 2006, ‘making civil unions between same sex couples and heterosexual couples legally equivalent to marriage’. 1
So, read on as we dispel the myths, look at the cannabis laws and show you how to grow your own weed in the ACT.
Is weed legal in the ACT?
Weed is not technically legal in the ACT, although it has been decriminalised for personal use. The shift has allowed Australians aged 18 years and over to grow or possess a small amount of cannabis without fear of legal repercussions.
WHEN DID ACT LEGALISE WEED?
Although the ACT has not fully legalised weed, it was decriminalised for personal use on 31 January 2020.
WHAT ARE ACT’S MARIJUANA LAWS?
- You can now possess 50 grams of dried cannabis, or 150 grams of freshly harvested cannabis flower.
- Cannabis must be consumed in your own home, and be stored out of the reach of children and adolescents.
- It is an offense to expose children or adolescents to cannabis smoke.
- You cannot grow cannabis plants using artificial methods (hydroponics).
- You cannot sell or gift your cannabis to another person.
- Persons under the age of 18 cannot consume cannabis.
It is illegal to drive or operate machinery with any cannabis in your system. 2
HOW MANY PLANTS FOR PERSONAL USE?
At home, you are allowed to grow two cannabis plants per person for personal use. The maximum number of plants permitted per household is four.
IS WEED LEGAL IN CANBERRA?
Weed is not legal in Canberra, but it has been decriminalised for personal use.
CAN YOU BUY CANNABIS IN ACT?
You cannot purchase cannabis in the ACT. This is perhaps the biggest aggrievance for cannabis consumers. The laws have not aligned properly to deal with the issue of supply. You can grow a limited number of plants, although it is still illegal to purchase seeds and clones of plants.
CAN YOU BUY CANNABIS IN CANBERRA?
The laws for residents of Canberra apply to the ACT as a whole. Therefore, you cannot purchase cannabis in Canberra. You must grow your own cannabis at home if you wish to consume it. With this in mind, the second section of this article looks at the outdoor (legal) method of cultivation, with a specific look at local ACT conditions.
How to grow weed at home?
It remains illegal to grow marijuana through artificial methods in the ACT. This rules out the use of hydroponics, artificial lighting and indoor grows. This is despite chief executive of Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, Carrie Fowlie stating: “We are not aware of a logical or practical reason for retaining an offence of ‘artificial cultivation’ of cannabis, whilst legalising other forms of cultivation.” 3
So, if you are looking to grow your own weed in the ACT, here is everything you need to know:
When growing cannabis outdoors you require a lot less equipment than indoors. The natural environment, wind and sunshine negate the need for tents, fans, filters and lights.
With the inability to manipulate light cycles, we then have to go with what mother nature provides. This means planting in spring, and harvesting before the cold weather hits towards the middle of autumn.
The spring equinox is on September 22, with the autumnal equivalent taking place on the 20th of March. On these two days, night and daylight hours are equal (12/12), while the longest day of the year comes on December 22. 4
The cold autumns of the ACT mean that outdoor growing needs to be carefully planned. Everything from planting times to strain choice is of paramount importance to the success of the crop.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRAIN CHOICE
Consider growing a fast-flowering indica hybrid, as ‘most indicas flower with 8 to 11 hours of uninterrupted darkness (13-15 hours of light)’. 5 Other options are to grow autoflowering strains. These plants have had their genetics mixed with the ruderalis species of cannabis, resulting in a plant that ripens with age, and not due to light cycles.
Some autoflowering strains such a Lowryder and Critical Kush can complete their flowering cycles in 40 – 60 days. 6
Many sativas and sativa hybrids require longer dark periods to fully ripen than their indica counterparts. This would delay ripening until the end of autumn, or the start of winter, which could be disastrous for your crop.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED?
- Cannabis seeds (or clones from a mother plant)
- Seedling pots (< 1L)
- Good quality soil with slow release nutrients
- Watering capabilities
- Fertiliser (if not growing in super soil).
1. Plan your grow. Strains with longer growing times should be planted a little after the spring equinox, around mid to late October. It would be preferable to plant earlier, but the cold ACT nights can shock plants and stunt vegetative growth. Faster flowering strains should be held back a little to grow and flower during the warmest months of the year. These strains can be planted as late as early-to-mid December.
2. If growing from seed, you will need to germinate them. There are a number of methods for this. Seeds can be placed directly in the soil, or pre-soaked in a glass of water or in some damp tissue paper. More information can be found here.
3. The seedlings ought to be nursed in the cool, early spring weather in a controlled environment before being put out in the open.
4. Dig holes in an open, well drained area that is going to receive an abundance of sunlight.
5. Fill holes with good quality soil. We would recommend a treated, organic soil.
6.After your seedling has colonised the seedling pot and become root-bound, it is time to transplant to the hole in the ground. There is a quick informative video on seedling transplants here.
7. Watering and feeding. Cannabis plants thrive in moist, well-draining soil, so watering (and feeding) your plants is hugely important. You can find out more about watering outdoor crops here. It is important to know that cannabis grown in rich soil does not need a great amount of fertiliser, and will taste better if left to absorb the nutrients from the soil. This does not mean you will not need to fertilise your crop. It just means you should do so only when necessary. Look for a good organic fertiliser (I use guano). You can normally purchase two different formulas; one designed for optimum vegetative growth (more nitrogen) and one for the flowering stage (more phosphorus and potassium).
8. Your cannabis plant will begin flowering according to its genetics and the amount of daylight hours it receives. You will know that the process has begun when white pistils (hairs) begin to form on the plant. Monitor your buds closely as they develop. There are a couple of methods for identifying when cannabis has reached its peak potency. One method looks at the pistils that grow on the flowers. When 70-90% of the pistils have changed to a darker orange/ red/ brown colour, it is time to harvest. A more reliable method is to check the plant’s resin glands, known as trichomes. You will need a good magnifying glass (with at least x40 zoom) to view them. As the bud ripens, the trichomes go from clear to cloudy to amber. When most of the trichomes are a mixture of cloudy and amber, then you have achieved peak THC levels. If all the glands are amber, you have left it too long and the plant is beginning to lose its psychoactive properties.
9. When you are happy, it is time to harvest (guide can be found here). I like one clean cut at the bottom of the plant, before hanging it upside down in a cool, dark and ventilated space. Weed tastes better if it is dried slowly (at least 8 – 10 days), so if you live in a dry, low-humidity region, then consider leaving all the leaves on the plant during the drying process. This will slow down the process considerably. If you live in a humid region, then mould and bud-rot can become a problem. In these areas, consider trimming your plant completely (leaving only buds on the stems) before hanging to dry.
10. The curing process is just as important as growing. When you can snap the smaller branches of the plant in half, it means that your plant is dry enough to cure. Trim the buds from the branches and place them in a glass jar (or hopefully, many, many glass jars!). Place the jars in a cool, dark room, and open them briefly once per day to breathe and allow the humidity to adjust.
11. Sample your bud. Different strains have different curing times. Some strains are consumable immediately, whereas others may require many weeks to achieve your desired flavour. The curing process allows bacteria to breakdown the chlorophyll in the plant. 7 The chlorophyll gives the smoke a harshness. If you enjoy the flavour of your weed, it is good to go, and will only improve in aroma and complexity as the curing process continues.