Consuming medicinal cannabis in public
Since medicinal cannabis was legalised in 2016, patient numbers have grown astronomically. In mid-late 2021 flower as a form of medication became the fastest-growing product type prescribed by doctors Australia-wide. While this is excellent news for patients, the laws around how patients may consume that medication are very unclear.
Many patients find themselves running into trouble with the police, not because they are doing anything harmful, but because even the police are unclear what the laws are. This article will uncover what the law says about consuming your cannabis medicine in public. The question we’re asked most about consuming cannabis is: Is it legal to smoke or vape my medicinal cannabis in public?
While we’ve worked with a lawyer to review and interpret the law, please remember this is not legal advice. Here’s what the article covers:
- Can I smoke medicinal cannabis in public?
- Can I vape medicinal cannabis in public?
- Can I take oral (oil or capsule) medicinal cannabis products in public?
Is it legal to consume my medicinal cannabis in public?
To answer this question, we need to look at two delivery method types for medicinal cannabis:
- Inhalable products – products like flower, hash and vape cartridges
- Oral products – products like oils, chews, and capsules consumed in a similar way to conventional medication.
Below we’ll cover both forms of delivery methods and explain what the law says (or doesn’t say).
Can I smoke medicinal cannabis in public?
No. You may not smoke medicinal cannabis anywhere, including in smoking areas. The reason for this is that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website explicitly states in their patient guidance section:
“A variety of products are currently available…These include raw (botanical) cannabis, which for medicinal purposes should be vaporised but not smoked.”
So, if you’d like to stay out of trouble with law enforcement (and do what’s better for your health and wallet), you should not be smoking medicinal cannabis. This information then leads to the question of vaping in public.
Can I vape medicinal cannabis in public?
There are no laws that prohibit the vaporisation of medicinal cannabis in public smoking areas. So, theoretically, the answer is yes, you can vape medicinal cannabis in public, but only in smoking areas.
However, even in smoking areas, the laws around vaporisation of your medicinal cannabis are grey. As a member of the Australian public, you are still subject to general law. And, because of this, law enforcement still has powers to stop you from vaporising your medication in public if, for example, they deem you to be a nuisance or causing a public disturbance.
In theory, you could be arrested or have your medication taken away even when vaping in a public smoking area. Lawyer David Heilpern gave us this example:
If you are vaping in a public area with people around, smoking area or not, a person could complain of public disturbance, and a police officer could tell you that you’re not allowed to vape around other people.
In the same sense that passive smoking of tobacco can be harmful, the passive inhalation of THC vapour also constitutes a risk to nearby persons. Although vapor dissipates faster than smoke from a cigarette, it still has a physical presence in the air and could be deemed a public disturbance or public nuisance.
In this scenario, you might then argue that you are a legal patient, are medicating, you’re not hurting anyone and will not stop, in which case you’d risk arrest under those broad police “public disturbance” powers.
Because the laws are so unclear, you need to be logical and listen to law enforcement if you encounter them. Always keep your medication in the original container, have your script handy, stay away from children, be discreet and make sure you obey the laws to the best of your ability.
Travelling locally within Australia?
If you are travelling interstate within Australia and want to know how to travel with your medication, check out our travelling with medicinal cannabis article.
Consuming CBD oil or other oral medicinal cannabis products in public
With oral products the answer is simple, like all other medications, you can consume an oral product in public.
Remember that police still have powers to stop you from doing this. However, it seems unlikely that you’d have any issues with a police officer if you’re taking a tablet or capsule in public.
There are no laws that explicitly state that you may not consume your cannabis medicine in public—noting that patients often cite the Medicinal Cannabis (Compassionate Access) Bill 2018 in NSW. However, that bill was not passed.
If you are taking an oil product, then the risk of having any trouble with law enforcement is very low. If you’re prescribed an inhaled product, you may only vapourise that product, not smoke it, and may only do so in smoking areas.
Always let logic prevail. If a police officer or someone asks you to stop, do what you’re asked so that you don’t have legal trouble. It’s not good for anyone when medicinal cannabis patients have trouble with the law.