Although recreational weed isn’t legal in Australia, cannabis tourism in the country is alive and thriving.
Every year, tourists flock to Australia to experience its soaring mountains, dazzling coastlines and adventure through its rain forests. Snorkeling and diving in the Great Barrier Reef and spotting kangaroos and koalas draw nature lovers from all parts of the world. The sights, sounds and tastes of cities like Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne attract those hungry for sports, shopping and fine dining.
What of those whose taste run a bit higher? Australia poses an interesting vacation conundrum for those who like to mellow out over a nice bowl now and then. When it comes to cannabis tourism in Australia, caution and common sense are key. This is because recreational cannabis is not yet legal in Australia or any of its states and territories. Currently, it is off-limits to residents and tourists alike.
Despite this, marijuana is the most frequently-used illegal drug in Australia. Over one-third of Australians 22 and older have used it and most people consider it relatively easy to obtain. A 2011 poll revealed that a majority of Australians (71%) would like to see marijuana legalized in their country.
Medical Cannabis in Australia
In the meantime, medical cannabis has been legalized in Australia. The law took effect at the federal level on November 1, 2016. Moving forward, individual states and territories will get to decide how to handle legislation regarding growth, production and prescribing. New South Wales and Western Australia were the first states to allow doctors to issue cannabis prescriptions to move forward within their borders, with more areas to come.
As this is an ever-changing situation, it remains to be seen how many states and territories will get on board with the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes. It’s also unclear what the legal requirements will be in order to obtain a prescription.
But Back to Recreational Cannabis…
The buzzkill is that there is nowhere in Australia where recreational cannabis is legal, per se. However, there are certain areas where it is not criminalized. What does this mean, exactly? It means that in certain states and territories, if you get caught with a very small amount, you could get off with nothing more than a warning or a small fine.
Australia has no national laws to punish those who are caught possessing or using cannabis. Rather, authorities deal with offenses at the state and territorial level. Penalties vary from area to area, with some treating possession like a minor civil offense. Meanwhile, other areas have enacted more serious penalties that make possession an offense that will result in a criminal record. Violent offenders or those possessing commercial quantities will (obviously) be charged as criminals.
More details about Decriminalization of Cannabis in Australia can be found here: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/decriminalization-of-narcotics/australia.php
How Do the State/Territorial Laws Differ?
If weed is technically illegal throughout the country, where’s the best place to hang out if you’d like to indulge? Let’s take a look at the different states and territories and how they deal with people who are caught with small amounts of weed.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
This is a federal district in southeast Australia that exists within New South Wales. It contains Australia’s capital city of Canberra.
If you get caught within the borders of ACT with a small amount of cannabis (up to 25 grams), you’ll be fined 100 Australian dollars. To avoid paying the fine, you can agree to attend the Alcohol and Drug Program.
There are no criminal charges for possession of small amounts of cannabis in South Australia. Get caught with a few joints in your pocket and you’ll be fined similarly to what you would pay for a parking ticket.
If you’re in possession of 10 grams or less, you’ll likely be required to attend a one-on-one Cannabis Intervention counseling session. People carrying larger quantities will be charge with a more serious offense and will draw a $2000 fine and/or two years in jail.
Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria
While both possession and use are criminal offenses in these places, enforcement isn’t 100%. Most people who are caught with insignificant amounts won’t be convicted. For instance, if you’re caught with up to 15 grams of cannabis in New South Wales, you’ll be subject to police discretion for up to two incidents. In Tasmania, the limit shoots up to 50 grams. There, up to three cautions are allowed. In all of these states, the focus is on education and treatment rather than punishment of offenders.
So Where Should I Go?
If you’re a weed enthusiast who has never traveled to Australia, all of this may leave you feeling a bit confused. It’s not legal, but it’s not criminalized.. As long as you carry small amounts, you won’t end up with a criminal conviction in mosts places, But where should you go to really be able to relax?
Do a quick Google search for “Nimbin” and one of the first auto-suggestions that pops up is “Nimbin weed”. And why not? Nimbin may not be the capital of New South Wales, but this awesome little village is definitely the capital of counterculture in the state. Home to artists, musicians and poets, it’s a great place to immerse oneself in alternative culture, and quietly enjoy your weed without being harassed.
While it’s home to counterculture, Nimbin is also home to cannabis culture in Australia. Naturally, it’s where you’ll find the headquarters of the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) party. They hope to educate the public in order to “re-legalise and regulate personal, medical and industrial use” of cannabis.
For the ultimate cannabis-themed getaway, plan your trip to Nimbin in May. That’s when the village holds its annual Mardi Grass Festival. As you may have guessed from the name, this festival is a celebration of everything ganja. Enjoy music on the Hash Bowl stage. Watch weed-themed movies and comedy acts. Cure your munchies with good food. Do outdoor yoga and attend “Hemposiums” to learn about Australian cannabis reform issues.
Even if you can’t make it in time for the Mardi Grass Festival, Nimbin still has plenty to explore and enjoy. Stroll through the streets and check out the murals and psychedelic colors on the storefronts. Cure your munchies at a wide array of local cafes and coffee shops.
Nimbin also gives visitors lots of ways to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Take a stroll through the Djanbung Permaculture Gardens and learn all about earth-friendly living. Backpack in one of three World Heritage Listed rainforests.
Explore New South Wales
On your visit to Nimbin, don’t miss out on your chance to get out and explore New South Wales. It’s a stunning region. Check out the cities that lie along Australia’s breathtaking coast. There, you’ll find world-class surfing that draws vacationers and professionals from all around the globe.
Spend some time in Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales. There, you’ll find a network of cobblestone streets to explore, finding amazing shopping, food and drinks along the way. Take a selfie in front of the world-famous Sydney Opera House and get your toes wet at Bondi Beach.
New South Wales has a world of attractions for nature lovers. The Blue Mountains, which are located inland, offer ample opportunities to take bushwalks, go canyoning and explore caves. For those interested in driving or hiking through Australia’s rainforests, seek out the Gondwana Rainforests in the region.
To further mellow out, it’s an absolute must to visit the Hunter Valley region and tour the world-famous wineries there. Known as the birthplace of Australian wine, you’re sure to find the perfect bottle to pair with your bud.
The Bottom Line: Be Low-Key and Conservative
While Australia might not be the draw for cannabis tourists that the Netherlands has always been, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful vacation Down Under and get a bit baked along the way. Having clear knowledge of the laws in various states and territories is important. Don’t carry large amounts with you, no matter where you go. And even if you’re in a relatively cannabis-friendly area like Nimbin, know that you can’t walk down the street and openly toke.
Simply keep it cool, take a deeeeeeeeep breath (and hold it)… and enjoy all that Australia has to offer.