The legalisation of cannabis for medical and recreational use will have positive effects
On December 2018, the New Zealand government legalised the broader use of cannabis for medical purposes. Now, the drug is legally available to terminally ill patients in their last year of life. On the 18th of December, soon after the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, the sixth Labour Government announced a nationwide referendum around the legalisation of recreational cannabis. The referendum is expected to be held as part of the 2020 general election in New Zealand.
Current classification of cannabis in New Zealand
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 controls cannabis use in New Zealand. Cannabis possession is illegal, with the maximum penalty being imprisonment for a term not more than three months or a $500 fine. Cultivation of the drug carries a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment, and selling cannabis to a person under the age of 18 carries a penalty of up to eight years’ imprisonment.
Cannabis oil is a class B drug, and those convicted of manufacturing cannabis oil face a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.
Anyone caught with at least 28 grams of cannabis, or 100 cannabis joints is considered to be a supplier unless the defendant can prove they are not. Cannabis is a class C drug, and the penalty for marijuana dealing carries a maximum imprisonment of eight years under the Act.
Why should New Zealand government legalise cannabis?
The use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited in New Zealand. Still, cannabis is the fourth-most widely used recreational drug in the country, after tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol. Moreover, marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the country. Nearly 13.4 percent of the population of New Zealand aged 16-64 uses cannabis.
Used marijuana in their lifetime, aged 16–64 years, by gender and age group
The data clearly suggests that existing cannabis laws in New Zealand are failing. People in the country are sourcing cannabis illegally - and illegal marijuana often encourages crime and violence. Cannabis legalisation will help reduce the crime rate and significantly cut down the cost of policing minor cannabis crimes. Moreover, cannabis legalisation in New Zealand could add up to $240m in tax revenue.
What is the process New Zealand would go through to change cannabis legislation?
Cannabis legalisation has garnered overwhelming support from the public as well as from many prominent political parties in New Zealand. The government has promised to hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalisation at the 2020 New Zealand general election. During the referendum, the government would seek an answer to the question of whether to legalise the personal use of recreational cannabis.
If the referendum on cannabis legalization sees more supporters than opponents, the New Zealand government will move forward to legalise the drug. Many polling and surveys revealed that there is a large group of people in New Zealand who would support cannabis being legalised within the country.
According to a poll conducted in July 2017 around growing and/or using marijuana for medical reasons (specifically for the treatment of terminal illness), 59% responded that marijuana growth and sue for this purpose should be legal, 22% supported cannabis decriminalisation, and only 15% opposed legalisation. When they were asked if possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be legal, 37% favoured decriminalisation, 31% said it should be legal, and 38% said cannabis should be fully legal.
Considering the increasing support for cannabis legalisation or decriminalisation, it’s the right time for the New Zealand government to look at cannabis positively.
Effects of cannabis reclassification
When and if it happens, the reclassification of cannabis will make cannabis more widely accepted in New Zealand, shifting cannabis from the category of dangerous drugs into a more socially accepted substance. People would be able to access it easily and legally, which will eventually reduce the crime rate and violence within the country.
The reclassification of cannabis will not only impact recreational aspects of using the drug, but it will also offer benefits in the medical cannabis field, and will likely make more funds available for medical research on marijuana. The scientific community will be able to explore the true potential and medical benefits of cannabis. Cannabis legalisation will have many positive effects for New Zealand, and will likely pave the way for other countries to follow in their footsteps.