Supporting the legalization of Cannabis in New Zealand in the 2020 referendum. We aim to provide facts on some of the relevant considerations – the economic, scientific, sociological and other costs and benefits of legalizing Cannabis for recreational consumption.
Why Do We Think Cannabis Should Be Legalised In New Zealand?
Despite strict regulation, cannabis use, along with support for legalisation, has increased over the years
Cannabis is strictly controlled in New Zealand. In fact, prior to December 11, 2018, Sativex was the only pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoid product that could be prescribed by a specialist physician. Further, even though Sativex was available, getting prescriptions for it required patients to meet strict criteria. Unapproved pharmaceuticals and non-pharmaceutical cannabis productscould only be approved on a case-by-case basis by New Zealand’s Minister of Health. Recently though, on December 11, the New Zealand Government passed a medical cannabis bill making cannabis legal for terminally ill patients.
According to the New Zealand police, cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the country. New Zealand has a population of over four million people, of which 13.4 percent of those aged 16 to 64 use marijuana. We must point out that recent polls showed a decline in support for cannabis legalization. But over the years, those in support have been the clear, majority. For instance, a poll from early 2019 showed that 60 percent of the country’s voters want personal use of cannabis made legal or decriminalised.
Labour leader and Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, promised New Zealand, after the last general election, that she would offer a referendum for cannabis legalisation. This is hardly surprising, considering the increasing use of illicit marijuana and extensive support for legalisation. Both the Labour Party and the Green Party proposed a public referendum on cannabis legalisation as part of the agreement between them.
What will the referendum do?
The public referendum will hold this year during the September election. It will propose a law and process allowing people to grow and possess cannabis legally, for recreational purposes. A legal recreational cannabis law will make marijuana easily and quickly accessible to the terminally ill. New Zealanders will be asked to vote on whether or not cannabis should be legal for personal use, a move that places the tough decision in the hands of the country’s citizens. A 51% Yes vote is needed for the proposed legal cannabis bill to move forward.
Given the delicacy of such a scenario, different experts have different suggestions for the questions to be asked during the poll. For example, Manu Caddie, the managing director of Hikurangi Cannabis Company — a leading medical cannabis research and development enterprise — suggests the following three questions:
- Should adults be allowed to use cannabis?
- Should adults be able to buy cannabis from licensed dispensaries?
- Should adults be allowed to grow their own cannabis?
Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party spokesperson for drug reform, suggests asking citizens if they support a proposed law that legalises, taxes, and regulates marijuana.
But the final draft legislation for the legal cannabis bill to be considered if New Zealanders vote Yes has recently been released. The draft states that the question will be a Yes or No question, phrased as follows:
Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?
The draft bill clearly takes a health-based, harm reduction approach to legalizing recreational cannabis. There are several compromises there, showing an effort to find balance for both supporters of cannabis legalisation and their opponents. Here’s what’s inside:
- Only plants and seeds will be legal, initially (edibles might be approved later).
- You must be 20 years or older to purchase and consume cannabis.
- You can only purchase 14 grams of cannabis at a time, and grow a maximum of 2 plants (4 plants per household).
- Cannabis products can’t contain more than 15% of THC (the higher the potency, the higher the tax).
- Cannabis can only be used at private residences (at home) and in licensed premises like cannabis stores. No public smoking.
- Those under the legal age of 20 who are caught with cannabis will face a fine or health-based response or education. No conviction will be recorded.
- Those who sell to people under age 20, on the other hand, will face up to 4 years in jail, and selling to anyone without a licence could land you up to 2 years in jail.
- Advertising cannabis products is prohibited.
- Companies will have to choose between selling or growing cannabis – not both.
- Companies will be limited on how much cannabis they can get from the national stock.
- Imports and exports of cannabis will be prohibited.
Despite how reasonable the bill’s parameters are, cannabis opponents are bent on remaining in a criminal-marijuana climate. And their voice has grown stronger per recent polls that show the majority voting No to legalization. If you’re a cannabis supporter, you must take the recent polls seriously, and go out there to vote Yes – that’s the only way to see the change you want come to fruition.
The top 6 reasons cannabis should be legal
Proponents of cannabis legalisation have several reasons for supporting such reform. However, perhaps arguments for legalisation can be simplified with clearer messages. Clear messages generally require narrowing the reasons supporting legalisation, and forming a specific framework around those reasons to mount a decipherable argument.
The following are six of those reasons, selected for their merit to the argument for legalisation.
1. New Zealanders’ support for legal cannabis:
Recent polls show that support for legalization is declining. However, those polls haven’t lasted long enough to be the norm, compared to the increasing support for cannabis ligalization over the years. For instance, a poll commissioned by the New Zealand Drug Foundation (NZDF) found that public support for cannabis legalisation soared in 2018 to 2019. The poll found 35 percent of New Zealanders want marijuana to be legalised and 32 percent support decriminalisation. Up to 67 percent of the 943 eligible voters polled support personal possession; 61 percent support the personal growing of cannabis. Support for decriminalising or legalising marijuana for pain relief has increased from 78 percent last year to 87 percent this year.
Further breakdown of the statistics show increasing support from voters in all parties:
- National Party voters’ support has increased by up to 11 percent;
- Labour voters’ support has increased by up to 6 per cent;
- NZ First voters’ support has increased by up to 7 per cent;
- Greens voters’ support has increased by 14 per cent.
Further, a 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll last year found that 46 percent of New Zealanders are in favor of cannabis legalisation, while 41 percent don’t support legalisation and 12 percent were undecided. But it’s important to note that subsequent Colmar Brunton polls showed a significant decline in support, and a significant increase in opposition – 39% to 51%, to be exact. Although, as we’ve stated, this doesn’t show an extended period of overall opposition in the country, it must be taken seriously. Supporters must go out there in September and vote Yes if they want change.
Although the most recent Colmar Brunton poll shows a decline in support, the increase in support over the years is undeniable. The NZDF (New Zealand Defence Force) executive director, Ross Bell, says that support for both cannabis decriminalization and legalisation has continued to grow, which shows that people are ready to vote for the cannabis referendum to be held on or before the 2020 election
2. It will reduce the crime rate:
Inflated black market prices for cannabis often compel some drug users to commit street crimes or other illegal activity such as robbery, prostitution, and drug dealing to pay for their drug use. Also, drug cartels use intimidation and violence to remove competitors and expand their market share. Violent competition between cartels, street gangs, and even individual dealers, can injure or sometimes kill innocent third parties. Such possibilities create a fear of crime and victimisation in neighbourhoods where drug markets exist. The New Zealand police recorded increased offences related to drug dealing and trafficking.
Cannabis legalisation has led to a 12.5 percent drop in crime rate in the United States of America, especially in the states bordering Mexico. Many opponents often state that there is a correlation between cannabis use and criminal activity. However, the economist Yu-Wei Luke Chu, of The Conversation, revealed that medical marijuana legalisation had decreased the rate of violent or property crimes in nearly all of the states in which medical marijuana is legal. These findings support the theory that the decriminalization of marijuana reduces the crime rate in markets controlled by criminal organizations.
3. It is economically profitable:
We’ve seen several predictions about the positive economic impact that legalizing cannabis will have. A report commissioned by the NZDF suggests that New Zealand could earn $240 million in tax revenue from legal marijuana sales. Decriminalising cannabis, creating a legal market and investing more in healthcare would earn the country about $450 million a year. The regulated cannabis market in New Zealand could create between $185 million and $240 million in tax revenue, while saving between $6 million and $13 million in the justice sector.
The most recent predictions, though, are even more promising. The NZ Institute of Economic Research estimates that a legal cannabis New Zealand could see $490 million in taxes each year.
Currently, half of New Zealand’s adults consume marijuana illegally, and the entire money goes to the black market. Legalisation will take the control out of the hands of criminal organizations, and the money will flow towards the government’s coffers, to be spent on resources that further the country’s agenda.
The report presented by the NZDF foundation proposes decriminalising the use of cannabis, legalising the use and supply of marijuana, and boosting harm reduction and treatment services and drug education. The benefits of these proposals will outweigh the additional cost of increased drug harm education, harm reduction and treatment services following the reform of cannabis law. Also, widespread legalisation of medical cannabis allows patients to use and grow the plants legally. It means they don’t have to buy illegal cannabis anymore. Thus, drug trafficking organizations will have far fewer customers.
4. It leads to the safe use of cannabis:
Although recreational cannabis use is illegal in New Zealand, half of the country’s adult population, or around 1.4 million people, are using it. As stated, they obtain it either from drug cartels, who often sell harder drugs, or get it from synthetic cannabis. Though cannabis and synthetic cannabis appear similar, the synthetic version often consists of dried herbs sprayed with chemical compounds and encompasses hundreds of different strains. These chemicals may be harmful and discarded by pharmaceutical companies. Considering the harms of synthetic cannabis, the New Zealand Government outlawed it in 2014, moving the drug underground and into the black market.
Marijuana products in the black market are manufactured without any safety or health regulations. Manufacturers and dealers fail to realize — or perhaps fail to care — how strong these chemicals are and that they can cause consumers serious side effects including vomiting, hallucinations, paranoia and seizures. Provisional figures from the Coroner suggest that synthetic marijuana killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year. Ross Bell, executive director of NZDF, said people who are manufacturing are intentionally or unintentionally selling highly concentrated drugs that are more dangerous and more potent.
Cannabis legalisation will create a safe market for consumers. It will create an educational environment surrounding the drug and help consumers make an informed decision with cannabis use, leading to harm reduction. Improved quality and safety control will translate to less of a burden on the medical system.
5. Cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco:
A scientific study shows that alcohol consumption presents the highest risk of terminal diseases and death, followed by cocaine, tobacco and heroin use. Marijuana, on the other hand, is significantly less harmful and has been consistently ranked as the safest recreational drug. In most cases, consuming too much alcohol is life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 88,000 alcohol-related deaths occur each year, while binge drinking accounted for half of these deaths.
Similarly, a comprehensive study, led by UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) and UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham), finds that smoking tobacco accounts for around 443,000 deaths every year in the United States. Smoking tobacco can cause severe lung damage, including lung cancer and respiratory illnesses.
In contrast, the number of marijuana-related deaths is almost zero. According to one study, an overdose of Tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH) – the potent chemical in cannabis – would require between 15 and 70 grams. However, a typical marijuana cigarette — or “joint” — consists of only half a gram of cannabis. This means you’d have to smoke between 238 and 1,113 “joints” a day to overdose on cannabis — an unlikely feat that’s hard to imagine.
6. Frees the police so that they can focus on real crimes:
The aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws needlessly forces thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of the government’s dollars. Despite being a strictly regulated drug nationwide, the war on marijuana has failed to reduce its use and availability. Instead, valuable court and police resources that could be better invested in New Zealand communities have been wasted on the endless, so-called war.
Cannabis is a relatively harmless drug, especially when compared to other substances that happen to be legal — i.e., alcohol and tobacco. But marijuana illegality established a risky, unregulated, black market with potential for harm — crime and violence. Thus, it unnecessarily engages the police in marijuana crimes, instead of focusing on major crimes with real victims.
Between 2007 and 2011, the New Zealand police arrested 1,050 people for marijuana-related offenses. Each person cost an average of $12,250, so the country spent a total of $12,862,500 on handling marijuana crimes. This amount includes imprisonment costs only and doesn’t include the costs to Police, courts, probation or treatment.
Legalising cannabis will allow police the freedom to engage more serious crimes and focus on drugs which are doing real harms. It will, eventually, cut down the unnecessary expenses that go into policing and court convictions of people for minor drug offenses.
What the other side will say (arguments against the legalisation of cannabis)
Opponents have their reasons for advocating continued bans on cannabis. Like proponents, their reasons are many. To get a clearer argument, their most compelling reasons are discussed below.
No solid science-backed therapeutic benefits of cannabis:
Though cannabis is believed to make patients feel better, there is a lack of medical evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine. Many studies, including a Christchurch Health and Development study, have shown a connection between the regular use of marijuana and adverse side effects, such as lung disorders and psychosis, especially among young and daily users. According to the United States’ Federal Drug Administration, in order to legalise medical cannabis, the medicine must demonstrate that it doesn’t cause any harm if taken as per the prescription. However, these studies show that can’t be said about cannabis.
Cannabis legalisation opponents say that cannabis users often run higher risks of developing serious mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and depression. In fact, according to New Zealand’s former Associate Health Minister, Peter Dunne, even physicians are too conservative about prescribing medical cannabis, saying they reject their patients’ applications because of their “downright prejudice” about marijuana.
Legalising marijuana leads to increased use in adolescence:
Legalising marijuana for adult use may lead to increased use in adolescents, due to easier and greater availability and, possibly, lower prices. Studies show that legalisation may introduce new innovative forms of cannabis with potentially higher potencies. Such new forms may attract adolescents, especially in cases where marijuana products may come in attractive flavors. Stores in the United States, commercializing innovative cannabis products, are offering record-high levels of THC potency. They sell different forms of cannabis, such as hash oil used in vaporizer pens and attractive edibles like soda and chocolates, enticing users of all ages, especially those underage. The legal marijuana producers are avidly embracing creative trends in marijuana product development, which encourages not only more users but also more intense use of cannabis.
Though adolescent consumption patterns after legalisation are still unknown, it may cause degraded school performance and the development of psychotic illnesses. Claims about the medicinal benefits of cannabis introduce additional challenges for adolescent prevention efforts as they contrast with messages of its harmfulness.
Marijuana is addictive:
A growing number of people believe that marijuana is not an addictive substance. But the data clearly shows that nearly 10% of cannabis users become addicted. Anyone who experiences marijuana, especially for recreational purposes, can eventually become addicted to it. Consumers may feel normal while using marijuana for many years, but eventually difficulties emerge. Data show that about one in eleven marijuana users will become addicted. Further, those who begin smoking marijuana in their teens have a one in six chance of becoming addicted.
Consumers who seek treatment for cannabis addiction often have a history of 10 years of use. The withdrawal syndrome consists of restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and change in appetite. It affects about 44% of frequent cannabis users and may lead to the addictive potential of the drug.
Although these figures may be less than that of opiates, opponents insist that cannabis addiction is not a myth.
Recently, the New Zealand government passed a law legalising medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. The government has also promised a public referendum on full cannabis legalisation by 2020, and one study suggests two-thirds of the country’s population supports legalisation of some kind. Further, arguments against cannabis legalisation are far fewer than those in its favor.
Where opponents frame arguments around risks of adolescent use and medical risks, several solutions can mitigate such fears. After all, alcohol and cigarette use carry those same risks at even higher rates, but those substances are legal. Simple regulative steps can help alleviate any such risks, beginning with common-sense age restrictions.
Proponents point out many reasons for legalising the crop. Cannabis legalisation, under a regulated framework, will have the effect of reducing the crime rate, increasing revenue, reducing policing costs, damaging the black market, and more. These strong reasons for legalisation, along with the increasing public support, may soon result in New Zealand joining Canada and Venezuela as one of the nations where cannabis is fully legal.
The Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana in Australia
The current scenario
New Zealand awaits September, when the referendum concerning the legalization of cannabis for recreational use might begin a new era. New Zealand will become the first country to seek the opinion of its citizens regarding a nationwide legalization of cannabis use for recreational purposes. A “Yes” would also make it the first Asia Pacific country to legalize the plant for recreational use in a region where the drug is prohibited.
According to research, 80% of New Zealanders have tried marijuana in some form or the other before the age of 21. The public’s acceptance of cannabis use has grown over the years, and so is the market. Also, with the government legalizing the drug for medicinal use, the odds in favor of allowing the drug for recreational purposes are good.
What do the statistics say?
Polls have shown a steady increase in support for cannabis legalisation in the past few years. According to a survey by Massey University, most New Zealanders are likely to favor the legalization of the cannabis for personal use. The poll showed 27% of the respondents in the survey voted for using the drug in home production, whereas 21% voted for a profit-driven market. Furthermore, according to a study by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, 32% of those surveyed support decriminalization of cannabis, whereas 35% want an outright legalization. Also, a recent survey by 1 News found that 46% of the total respondents were in support of legalizing cannabis, whereas 41% were against it.
These numbers are approximately 2% higher than the 2017 survey, a scenario that implies the steady increase of support for legalizing cannabis for personal use. There seems to be a general consensus, among the citizenry, that the current status and classification of marijuana is not beneficial to any person or group.
However, we must note a recent turnaround – the latest 1 NEWS Colmar Burton poll shows the majority oppose cannabis legalization. But this hardly reflects the years worth of increased support for cannabis legalization – it only reflects months. Perhaps support for cannabis legalization in New Zealans remains very strong, but we must take this recent poll very seriously. The only way to ensure cannabis becomes legal in Australia is to vote Yes in the September referendum.
What is the current law?
Currently, marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug in New Zealand. Punishment for possessing or supplying cannabis may vary from a $500 fine to a 14-year prison sentence. Where a juvenile, 17 years or younger, is caught using cannabis in small quantities, the sanction is a trip to the Police Youth Aid section for education, along with a warning upon release. However, in more serious cases, the juvenile is produced before the Youth Court.
Pros of legalizing the cannabis
The current climate suggests a real possibility that New Zealand might soon legalize the use of cannabis. Given the legalization of cannabis for medical use, the support of recreational cannabis use has become even stronger, and a lot of that support is due to the advantages of legalization.
Economic aspects and benefits to the government
In Australia, there are approximately 2000 cannabis convictions annually, with an average jail term of 65 days and fines of $16,250 per convict. This adds up to a whopping $29 million per year. With the full legalization of cannabis, the criminal justice system will see significant financial relief. Those savings can then be put towards the welfare of the country. Other countries, where legalization of cannabis has been enacted, have reaped the benefits of diverting those funds, once drowned into policing cannabis, into building their nation.
If the referendum passes in September, New Zealand is likely to make $1 billion per year from medical cannabis and $5 billion from the recreational cannabis market. The figures are expected to increase upon full legalization, given the global opportunities regarding the import and export of the drug. Furthermore, states where the drug is legalized have seen significant savings on taxes. New Zealand is likely to witness the same trend in the years to come.
The recurring economic benefits continue with the government’s opportunity to save on prohibition costs. Legalization means significant reductions, if not outright elimination, of monetary resources divested into enforcing laws against cannabis. Such savings will also apply to the courts, giving the government an opportunity to significantly reduce those costs as well. There is also the likelihood of financial benefits from taxes regarding cannabis sale, if legalized.
These savings and revenues can be used for much better purposes. Perhaps the most obvious would be for the betterment and welfare of the country and its citizens.
Increase job opportunities
Another economic benefit will result from the creation of cannabis outlets and nurseries. This will create job opportunities, increasing economic activity. It will directly and indirectly induce jobs in New Zealand, creating opportunities in sales, distribution, farming, and processing cannabis.
Enhancement in investment opportunities
Legal cannabis presents a high possibility of investment. If the market will be open to foreign investment, investors that are unable from countries were the crop is illegal may see great opportunities in New Zealand.
The dismantling of the black market and crime reduction
For decades, the black market has been the only source of cannabis access. However, if legalized after the referendum, marijuana will be openly available. In essence, legalizing cannabis will have the effect of neutralizing the black market and reducing criminal activity significantly. Open markets will mean legal, registered stores complying with tax requirements and other regulatory standards.
Gang-related drug fights are a common issue in New Zealand. Eliminating the opportunity created by the illegal cannabis market will have the effect of reducing such gang-related fights. Legalization will thus reduce, if not eliminate, one source of violence, thereby partially reducing the crime rate in the country.
Further, the legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis will allow law enforcement focus on more serious crimes. Courts are often overwhelmed with hearings regarding petty possession of cannabis. Such low level crimes unnecessarily clog the system. Eliminating such hearings will provide the courts and police with the resources to fight violent crimes.
Regulated drugs are safe
One of the most persuasive arguments in favor of legalizing cannabis is that it ensures the quality of the drug being consumed. Drugs sold illegally by peddlers and dealers often possess harmful substances. Regulation would reduce negative effects on health and educate the end-user about the safe quantities of cannabis to consume.
Cons of legalizing the pot
Although several benefits exist in favor of legalizing cannabis, several drawbacks also exist. The following describe some of the drawbacks and disadvantages of cannabis consumption and legalization.
Cannabis is addictive
According scientists, one in every ten cannabis users becomes addicted to the drug. Further, reversing marijuana addiction results in withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and irritability. The severity of these withdrawal symptoms are unlike those experienced by cigarettes smokers.
Potential lung diseases
Smoke inhaled during marijuana use can cause lung diseases. This isn’t only true for the user, but for those around the user who inhale second hand smoke. Inhaling smoke regularly introduces carcinogens into the lungs, a scenario that can result in lung cancer. This can, however, be avoided if cannabis is consumed through means other than smoking.
Hampers the mental health
Some studies suggest that regular cannabis use tends to can reduce the amount of blood flow to the brain. Such blood flow reduction causes the individual user’s mental health to decline. Constant use can result in depression and memory loss.
Cannabis is a gateway drug
Some research suggests that cannabis is a gateway drug. It is believed that people who consume it will eventually move on to consume harder, dangerous drugs. This theory suggests that, upon legalization, the amount of marijuana users will increase, thereby increasing the number of those who move on to harder drugs, such as heroin.
Elevate the accident rate
Similar to alcohol, marijuana can alter perception and causes impaired driving. Driving under the influence of cannabis can result in higher accident rates because it impairs the ability to drive. Cannabis users cannot drive under the influence of the drug even if it’s prescribed by a medical practitioner.
New Zealand’s September 2020 referendum could potentially change the course of history. As countries worldwide tackle the topic of cannabis legalization for both medical and recreational purposes, it becomes clear that such considerations are driven by a growing support of legalization by the public. Regardless of opinions, the fact remains that legalization, and cannabis itself, have several benefits and drawbacks. The task at hand is to figure out which outweighs the other, and find the balance in that answer. Nations and states will arrive at different answers to the question, but the expectation is that each will eventually have to answer the question.
New Zealand has chosen to do so sooner rather than later, and has sought the citizens’ help in the matter. As the country awaits the 2020 referendum as a tactic for addressing the cannabis legalization matter, there is no doubt that the rest of the world is watching to see how that tactic works.