Progress in New Zealand's Cannabis Legalisation Journey

The legal cannabis journey continues

Last year, New Zealand legalised cannabis use for medical purposes, and announced its intention to hold a referendum in 2020 on whether cannabis should be legalised for recreational use as well. So far, details of the referendum haven’t been so forthcoming, but an unveiling of a cannabis plan this week is likely to change that. 

Last year, the 2020 referendum announcement came as good news to kiwis throughout the country, as New Zealand is cited as one of the world’s largest consumers of cannabis. Over half of those aged 15 to 45 in the country have admitted to using cannabis, and public support for legalisation continues to increase.

Support for recreational cannabis legalisation continues to increase ahead of the 2020 referendum.

The majority of New Zealanders across all political parties claim they will vote Yes for the legalisation of recreational cannabis during the 2020 referendum. Source

Now, the New Zealand government plans to unveil a recreational cannabis legalisation plan this week, well ahead of the 2020 referendum. This step should give us an idea of the government’s intentions toward the ordeal, and how implementation of a legal cannabis law will look in the event the citizens vote for legalisation.

  

The 2020 referendum 

Earlier this year, a Helius Therapeutics poll revealed that 60 percent of New Zealanders will vote Yes in the 2020 referendum, approving cannabis legalistion for recreational use. The country experienced the same type of increasing support for medical cannabis prior to its legalisation in December.

 Cannabis support continues to increase.

Cannabis support grows in all categories. Source.

The referendum, however, has been scanty in details to date. All that has been expected of the government so far is that the referendum be held around the election period in 2020, and not much else. Depending on who you ask, the referendum is expected to be binding, while others claim it will be non-binding. 

A non-binding referendum will give the government some wiggle room on the matter, meaning that the citizens’ vote, whether for or against legalisation, does not necessarily mean the government will in fact draft legislation that’s reflective of the referendum’s outcome. This, of course, is likely not what most New Zealanders want to hear, considering their abundant support for legal marijuana. 

Considering the lack of details so far, clarification on the process is certainly needed. For now, new details are expected this Monday regarding what a legal cannabis landscape will look like.

 

The legal cannabis plan to be unveiled this Monday 

New Zealand’s justice minister is set to unveil a legal cannabis plan this week. So far, as stated, details have been hard to come by regarding the 2020 referendum and what a legal cannabis New Zealand will resemble, if that turns out to be the case. 

With the expected unveiling of a cannabis plan this week, however, some information have trickled out, preceding the said unveiling. 

  • First, a legal cannabis New Zealand will probably allow those 18 and over to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal, recreational use. However, there’s still some confusion here, as some are reporting the legal age will be 20 and over.
  • We also expect marketing restrictions on recreational cannabis.
  • Public consumption of cannabis will likely be banned.
  • Also, there may be limits to the amounts of THC allowed in cannabis products. 

Even with these expectations, nothing is concrete. Hence, the need for a cannabis legalisation plan to have an idea of exactly where the government’s idea of cannabis legalisation is. We will get that this week. 

In the meantime, however, National’s Paula Bennet claims to have seen a leaked paper from Cabinet on the issue of the 2020 cannabis referendum. According to Bennet, the plan does place the legal age at 20 or older. Bennet also claims there are four options for consideration, including a question of whether you support the personal use of recreational cannabis, which is a broad route to determining whether to legalise the drug or not.

 

Final words - when could we expect a fully implemented legal cannabis law? 

The expectation is that, following an approval of legal recreational cannabis by New Zealanders next year, the government will introduce a bill to that effect. We can expect that bill to be finalised within a year of the vote, if in fact the government listens to its citizens and follows through with whatever the outcome of the referendum will be. 

That being said, a Yes vote during the referendum will likely result in a legal cannabis New Zealand by the end of 2021. This could place the country as the third in the world to fully legalise the drug, behind Uruguay and Canada, barring any other countries (such as Mexico, for example, which is currently debating the topic) tackling the issue in the interim. 

In the meantime, speculations continue as to what exactly the referendum will look like, as well as plans and bills regarding recreational cannabis legalisation. This week, at least some questions will be answered regarding the matter as the minister of justice unveils the legalisation plan, giving us an idea of what to expect in 2020 and beyond.