• The Government has said the vote will be binding
  • Citizens over the age of twenty years will be able to buy, use and grow cannabis

  • Advertisements will be banned
  • Current opinion polls suggest that more than 60% of the NZ adult population supports legalising cannabis

New Zealand has announced it will be holding a referendum on whether or not to legalise cannabis for recreational and medicinal use.

The referendum, which will take place in 2020 during New Zealand’s General Election, will ask voters for a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the legalisation of cannabis.

That draft legislation will include

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls
  • Limited home-growing options
  • A public education programme
  • Stakeholder engagement

New Zealand’s Justice Minister, Andrew Little, made the announcement in a press release, confirming that the vote will be binding:

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.

“We hope and expect the National Party [The Opposition] will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision.”

The bill may open the door for New Zealand’s first Amsterdam-style coffeeshops, or Spanish cannabis clubs, as the Cabinet papers on the referendum indicate options to include “licensed premises,” which could “provide an opportunity for staff to monitor and promote safe consumption” of cannabis.

The draft legislation also takes into concern how cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted minority communities in New Zealand, stating the “model must promote equity and improve opportunities for Māori”, as Māori are “more likely to receive a cannabis-related conviction than non-Māori.”

“This is, of course, massive news and the first solid piece of information we can give you guys on the cannabis referendum.”
– Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party MP

Chlöe Swarbrick, a Green Party member of Parliament, added in a video celebrating the announcement:

“In line with a health-based approach, consumption will be limited to private spaces or to those that are licensed.

“We are also guaranteeing that there is going to be no advertising because the last thing we want to do is open the door to big corporates and invite another ‘Big Tobacco’ or ‘Big Alcohol’ and replace the black market with some big corporate control.

“This is, of course, massive news and the first solid piece of information we can give you guys on the cannabis referendum.

“Over the next year and a half, I will be doing my utmost to get around the country and hear from all of you about how we can create the best possible piece of legislation.”

Chloe Swarbrick explained the Coalition Government wanted to avoid the chaos Britain has seen following its referendum on whether to leave or stay in the EU:

“[We want to]… avoid any potential of a ‘Brexit’ situation because people will know exactly what the future holds, and how these changes will be implemented.”

After a poll found that 60% of New Zealanders would vote to legalise cannabis for personal use in a referendum, there is a good chance that NZ will see legal cannabis in a year’s time, especially as only 16% of respondents said they would not support legalisation.

Legalisation would be a huge boost to NZ’s economy. An independent economic analysis commissioned by the NZ Drug Foundation last year found that a legal, regulated market for cannabis would bring between $185-240m a year in tax.

The analysis also found that the country could save money elsewhere in the budget, as $150m a year back into health services would see wider societal benefits equating to about $225m a year.

The only potential block to NZ legalising cannabis now is if right-wing party National Party, currently in the Opposition, wins in the 2020 General Election and refuses to implement the ‘binding’ vote.

Medicinal cannabis was legalised last year, with the Government also creating measures to protect people eligible to use illicit cannabis for palliative care without fear of prosecution.

If all goes according to plan, New Zealanders could be smoking recreational cannabis within a year.

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