New Zealand’s illegal cannabis era may be coming to an end
Supporters of marijuana legalization can be found in all quarters, including the house of assembly, political parties, civil groups and medical practitioners. However, despite calls for legalization, marijuana remains illegal in New Zealand, except for medical use — a development that only occurred in December, 2018.
The push for marijuana legalization is now being powered not only by forces at home, but external pressures as well. Marijuana legalization is a formidable trend backed by empirical evidence currently sweeping through the developed world, with Canada being the latest first world country to remove the ban on cannabis. But given the traditionally slow pace of legislation reform in New Zealand, the status quo seems set to hold through for now.
The forecast is not all doom and gloom, however, as some positive developments followed last year’s medical cannabis legalization news. Along with that news came the reminder of a promise made by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, of the Labour Party: That a referendum on legalizing cannabis for recreational use will be held in 2020. This is an even more unique approach to the question, and an exciting one, given the fact that such a referendum will put the decision in the hands of citizens. This is especially exciting as the trending support for cannabis legalization continues to increase.
The Misuse of Drug Amendment Act: What does it do?
The government gave Auckland residents an elating, early Christmas present when it passed the Misuse of Drug (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act. Despite its illegality, Marijuana has remained the most popular mind-altering substance in Auckland, generating billions yearly. The reform serves to legalize that popularity.
The latest legalization policy acknowledges the meanness in prosecuting terminally-ill patients for consuming marijuana for medical purposes. It absolves patients who use marijuana, for medical reasons, of any crimes. Qualified patients with prescriptions will be able to buy medical cannabis from designated pharmacies. Furthermore, the bill stipulates a limit of 28 grams or a 100 marijuana cigarettes — or “joints” — per prescription, due to a presumptive supply lacuna.
The crown jewel of the reform is the greenlight for New Zealand companies to manufacture medical cannabis products for both local consumption and exports. This is poised to release a fresh flow of revenue for the economic betterment of the marginalized Maori communities, as well as for other parts of New Zealand, including Auckland.
The impact of such news can be visualized by thinking back to last year’s $160 million deal between Hikurangi Cannabis, a New Zealand establishment based in Ruatoria, and the United States of America (US), to export cannabis to the US. The impact can be visualized more clearly when it’s pointed out that the Hikurangi deal occurred prior to the December 2018 law legalizing medical cannabis use and greenlighting exports.
Effects of the new policy: The 2020 referendum promise
Last year, on December 18, the Government followed up the amendment act with an announcement of a nationwide referendum on the legality of marijuana for personal use. The date set places the referendum alongside the 2020 general election.
Until the enactment of the legalization reform, anti-marijuana policies and stigma had been a major bane for marijuana consumers — both medical and recreational users. The lack of favorable marijuana regulations also opened up loopholes for substandard medical marijuana products to flood the market. This included epileptic supplies that give rise to price fluctuation, to the peril of those who depend on cannabis to manage their health. This issue of substandard, overpriced products in the Auckland marijuana market was of major concern. The illegality of the drug meant there were no cannabis-specific enforcement agencies that patients could turn to when things go wrong.
The price of cannabis
With medical cannabis’ legality being a reality in Aukland now, users should familiarize themselves with the drug’s prices. A quick breakdown of the current market prices follows, along with the quantity usually purchased based on types of users.
A tinny, which is a small lump of cannabis (about one gram) wrapped in tin foil, generally costs $20. However, they’re usually not the cost-effective choice because they’re mostly geared to very light users or newcomers. The most cost-effective way to buy marijuana is in bulk, and that’s by far the best option for regular users.
The most viable, lowest quantity of a bulk buy is what is called 50 bags. 50 bags, which is an uncanny term for 3-4 grams of marijuana (depending on the seller’s mood and discretion), costs $50. The next best bulk measure is the Hundy bag, which normally contains about 7 grams of marijuana, costs $100.
Beyond these two, the next bulk measure of marijuana that regular users usually buy is the ounce (about 28 grams). An ounce of in-door grown cannabis normally costs between $300 and $350, while an ounce of the outdoor-grown version normally costs between $200 and $300. However, the blanket prices in rural areas of Auckland are relatively much cheaper.
In order to buy marijuana legally in Auckland, a prescription is needed. This requires you to prove you have a serious illness. Without such proof, residents purchase marijuana from from the black market. This presents a problem, given the nature of underground markets run by criminal organizations that can be prone to violence and substandard products.
The black market issue is a strong argument for cannabis legalization proponents. The fact is that regardless of whether cannabis is legal or not, users will find a way to purchase the drug. Why not create a safe environment for such a purchase? Full legalization of cannabis comes with many benefits, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime, Aukland residents can take refuge in the recent medical cannabis law.