New Zealand may become the world’s third country and the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to fully legalise cannabis.
After years of campaigning by chronically ill patients in New Zealand, last December the New Zealand government finally passed the bill to legalise medicinal cannabis. The legislation will allow New Zealanders who are suffering from terminal diseases to use marijuana without worrying about being arrested or imprisoned.
The law would also allow New Zealand companies to manufacture medical cannabis products for both the local and overseas market, leading to an industry that will turn the illegal cannabis industry into a thriving legal one. Moreover, this new law fully decriminalises cannabidiol (CBD) products, and empowers the Governor-General to establish regulatory standards for cannabis products. According to a report from the Health Committee, 96 percent of submitters on the bill supported medical cannabis, and only 1 percent of submitters did not support the intent of the bill.
While it will take around a year for the new regulations and licensing policies to be rolled out by the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, the law establishes an exception and statutory defense that has taken effect immediately for terminally ill patients to possess and use marijuana.
Medical cannabis legislation came ahead of a referendum on recreational marijuana use
The ruling Labour Party and the Greens proposed a binding referendum on legalisation as a part of a confidence and supply agreement between the two. Cannabis is a widely consumed illegal drug in New Zealand, with police largely overlooking small-scale, personal use. Currently, half of the country’s adult population consumes marijuana illegally, and the entire profit goes to the black market. The legalisation of cannabis will allow people to buy cannabis legally and openly from approved stores rather than from criminal organisations, allowing some profit to go to the government.
The recreational cannabis legalisation referendum proposes to allow people to be able to legally grow and possess cannabis for recreational purposes. It will also amend the medical cannabis law to make marijuana easily and quickly accessible to terminally sick people.
The referendum on whether to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes will be held at the general election in 2020. Andrew Little, the justice minister, said the government had already instructed the electoral mission to schedule the referendum at the time of the general election.
The Greens MP and long-time campaigner for cannabis legalisation, Chlöe Swarbrick, appreciated the government’s announcement and said it showed a commitment to considering marijuana use and addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
Recently the British Parliament rejected a proposal to legalise cannabis, which was proposed by Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat MP. During the brief debate in the Parliament Lamb said that the UK government’s recent move to allow restricted access to medical marijuana is inappropriate. He says it is total hypocrisy that lawmakers in national Parliament consume harder drugs in large quantities, while they criminalise nationals for using a less dangerous drug.
Similarly, according to Chlöe Swarbrick, a substantial number of lawmakers in Parliament personally admit breaking the law and consuming illegal drugs. She says presiding over that law which penalises people who use cannabis is not justifiable.
A telephone survey conducted by the New Zealand Drug Foundation (NZDF) revealed that two-third of participants think that cannabis should be either legalised or decriminalised for personal use. The survey found 35 percent of people support cannabis legalization and 32 percent want decriminalisation.
It shows support for cannabis legalization or decriminalization has continued to grow. Drug foundation executive director Ross Bell said New Zealanders now realize that prohibition surrounding cannabis is not working and they are ready for a future when marijuana is legal and regulated. Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says it’s time when the public should decide on whether to legalise or decriminalise cannabis in New Zealand.
Thus, considering the approval of medicinal cannabis bill in New Zealand and overwhelming support for the proposed referendum, it seems New Zealand may soon join Uruguay and Canada – world’s cannabis leaders.