The Fine Lines Defining Legal Weed in New Zealand

Medical use and small possession of cannabis have hardly been prosecuted in New Zealand in recent times

Medical use and small possession of cannabis have hardly been prosecuted in New Zealand in recent times

In What Forms is Weed Legal in New Zealand?

The quest for cannabis legalization is about to hit the climax – or an anticlimax, depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum. But for now, the country’s regulatory framework is a rough patchwork, with the lines between what’s legal and what not quite blurry. Law enforcement often turns a blind eye on what’s clearly punishable in the books. Some forms of the drug use have been sanctioned by the state, while others remain locked in prohibition.

Currently, the whole plant remains banned, but terminally ill patients will no longer be prosecuted for smoking a joint. Medical cannabis products, which usually come in the form of tinctures and topicals like balms and salves, can now be prescribed by doctors just like any other legal drug. The current requirements for prosecuting an offense are fraught with loopholes that can be exploited to get away with small offenses. For instance, prosecutors need to establish that you were aware of your possession of the drug and that you were in control of the drug. Minor offenders can easily get away with their charges if it’s difficult for the prosecutor to provide the judge with those requirements.

 

The Reality on Ground of Police Prosecution of Cannabis Offenses

According to the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1975, penalties for cannabis possession can be as high as $500 or a six-month jail term, and up to a 14-year jail term for sale or cultivation. Small-scale cultivation can incur a $2,000 fine or a 7-year jail term. However, no every offense is prosecuted, as the government is increasingly scaling back on its extreme prohibition measures.

For instance, most first-time offenders are allowed to walk free after a formal warning. People with prescription scripts for the drug are usually not prosecuted, except they’re found in possession of amounts that exceed their dosage.

Depending on the amount of drugs found, offenders caught in possession may also be subjected to alternative actions (diversion) – probation of sorts In most cases of minors in possession, the police can use family group conference techniques, or place offenders on an approved counseling course.

But law enforcement wasn’t usually as lax as they are now towards cannabis offenses. A few years ago, medical marijuana patients ran huge risks of getting slapped with a fine or a prison sentence at worse. Reports also show that NZ police have been the most heavy-handed in the world when it comes to cannabis offenses, making more arrests per head population than in any other country in the world. According to the Law Commission’s 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, NZ Police spend an estimated $100 million on enforcing cannabis law.

  

Notable Pro-Legalization Organizations in New Zealand

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is currently spearheading one of the most prominent pro-marijuana nonprofits in the country, The Helen Clark Foundation.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is currently spearheading one of the most prominent pro-marijuana nonprofits in the country, The Helen Clark Foundation. src

Calls for cannabis legalization in the country have come from a variety of quarters, from non-profit groups to political groups, indigenous groups, and private organizations. At the forefront of the pro-legalization in the country are groups such as:

  • The Cannabis Referendum Coalition (CRC):
    A relatively newer advocacy group formed by a fold of longtime proponents of cannabis legalization. The group's meetings are often attended by top government functionaries, renowned legalization advocates, and leaders of other pro legalization groups.
  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML):
    Established since 1980, NORML has made tremendous efforts at disseminating accurate information and debunking myths about the drug use. Their cardinal objective is to help bring an end to the prohibition. 
  • Health Not Handcuffs:
    A coalition of pro-legalization organizations.
  • NZ Drug Foundation:
    A nonprofit organization that advocates saner drug laws, especially those governing cannabis consumption.
  • The Helen Clark Foundation:
    Run by the country's former Prime Minister, now a staunch advocate for cannabis legalization.

 

Why do so Many People want Weed to be Legal in New Zealand?

Although some peddle misinformation from time to time, proponents often make a strong case for legalization using sound arguments backed by science. For starters, there's now no doubt that cannabis has been wrongfully classified as a dangerous substance that has no medicinal potentials. Cannabis has proved in an uncounted number of clinical trials and anecdotes to hold potentials for the treatment of a vast range of symptoms.

Also, through legalization, the government can finally gain control over the revenues pouring into the black market, generating millions of dollars from cannabis taxes. Also, through regulation, the government can make the cannabis industry much safer, protecting medical marijuana patients from substandard products through quality checks.