New Zealand looks set to become the next country to legalise cannabis on a national level with the public voting in a referendum next year.
The referendum will take place at the
same time as New Zealand’s general election, with a simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ option
being given to citizens.
If more than 50% of voters opt for
legalisation cannabis will be allowed to be consumed across the country apart
from in public spaces. Citizens will be allowed to carry 14 grams of dried
cannabis in a public space, which is anywhere between 14 and 42 joints.
Breaking this rule will result in a
fine of between $200 and $500, while illegal sellers of cannabis will also be
punished. As it stands only licensed stores will be able to distribute cannabis
and there will be a blanket ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis
The draft also states that cannabis
cannot be sold on the same premises as alcohol or tobacco, and that there will
be limitations on its potency.
There will also be a set limit on purchasing amounts, where users will only be permitted to buy a maximum of 14 grams per day.
“It’s important that voters go into the 2020 General Election informed about the referendums. The Government is committed to a well-informed, impartial referendum process,” said Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Argue for change
“My aim is to have the final draft
Bill available by early next year, so there is time to argue for change.”
The new bill also includes proposals
such as a minimum age of 20 to purchase and use cannabis, as well as limits on
the sale of cannabis to specifically licensed physical stores and the
establishment of state licensing in which all stages of cannabis growth and
supply chains are controlled by the government.
Selling cannabis online will be
prohibited in order to safeguard against underage individuals getting around
the minimum age limit for purchasing.
Early polls have indicated that 48
percent of New Zealanders would vote for yes, while 39 percent would vote
The surge in optimism surrounding the
potential legalisation in New Zealand comes after successful changes in
legislation in both Canada and the United States, both of which have seen a
huge rise in tax revenue.
Although it seems that the legislation
will most likely be approved, some authority
figures disagree with the stipulations and
would like to make amends, such as lowering the 14 gram possession threshold.
The National Deputy leader Paula Bennett started out in the yes camp but after learning more about the subject she has made a dramatic u-turn and stands firmly in the no category as she is afraid of the ‘unknown’ surrounding the industry.
out that Canada had only recently
legalised cannabis for recreational use and still has issues or firm facts
remain unclear on the effects of increased usage among young people and other
potential results of full legalisation.
Bennett would prefer New Zealand to
wait and see if any research and evaluation in the future can demonstrate a
clearer picture of what exactly the benefits and negatives of cannabis
Alternatively, a report
from the Helen Clark Foundation – a public policy think tank in New Zealand –
has come out in support of voting ‘yes’ in the referendum next year as it
claims that the criminalisation of cannabis has caused social inequity and has
been a burden on police resources. The report also suggests that New Zealand
should look to treat cannabis as a public health and social issues as opposed
to a criminal one and expunge prior non-violent or minor cannabis offences from
Former prime minister and patron of
the think tank, Helen Clark has suggested
that New Zealand should look to Portugal’s drug model of decriminalisation and
has coined it the ‘gold standard’ whilst detailing that the current policies in
New Zealand are evidently not working.
Clark reiterated Canada’s forward-thinking approach to
opiate addiction and how they provide safe consumption spaces where opiate
users can have their drugs tested and use in a safe environment. She compared
this to New Zealand’s innovative needle exchange scheme to stop the spread of
HIV/AIDS and she believes New Zealand would do well to follow Canada’s lead on
the subject of cannabis as well.
The rules outlined in the bill are not
the final rules to be voted on, they are part of the first draft which will be
put forward for submissions from the public and interested associations.
New Zealanders’ outlook on legalising
cannabis has wavered in the past year, going from a high of 60
percent in January to just 39
percent in August when support for the
referendum appeared to be failing. However, the support appears to be
increasing once more with the new November 2019 poll showing 48 percent are in
favour of voting yes.
Support for medical cannabis has
remained high, with influences stemming from people such as former trade
unionist Helen Kelly, who sadly passed away from lung cancer after campaigning
during her illness for the right to use medicinal cannabis and being open about
using cannabis oil throughout her battle.
Currently more than 500,000
people in New Zealand regularly use cannabis
and around 80 percent of citizens have tried cannabis at least once.
New Zealand has a population of just
4.7 million, but a change in legislation on cannabis still needs to be
carefully considered and regulated as the United States has faced a series of
teething problems within the industry.
Harmful contaminants in cannabis and incorrect
labelling has seen the industry suffer in North America despite the best
efforts of the FDA, who have been clamping down on a number of companies in
What’s critical is that the cannabis grown needs to be balanced in both THC and CBD, as an imbalance has the potential to cause issues to a user’s mental health. Strains that are high in THC with a low percentage of CBD can bring mental illnesses that may have not been prevalent before.