Cannabis Laws in New Zealand

cannabis laws in new zealand

Is cannabis legal in NZ

In 2018, cannabis became legal for medical use in New Zealand. However, the drug is currently illegal for recreational use. But there’s some good news for cannabis advocates looking for a fully legal cannabis environment. 

The government announced a referendum to determine whether or not recreational cannabis should be made legal in New Zealand. This marks the first time a country will put the question of legality in the hands of her citizens. In September of this year, New Zealanders will vote Yes or No on recreational cannabis, and the majority (51%) will determine the country’s future cannabis policy. 

But even before the referendum, a final bill detailing the recreational cannabis parameters has been made public. This way, New Zealanders know exactly what they are voting for - a health-based, harm reduction cannabis legislation. 

Here’s a look at what the final draft of the recreational cannabis bill contains:

  • Legalise cannabis plants and seeds first, and edibles might be approved later.
  • Only adults of 20 years and older can purchase and consume cannabis.
  • Purchase no more than 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.

Cannabis possession for medical use

Although cannabis has been legal for medical use since late 2018, the drug was only readily available to the chronically ill. Others who sought medical cannabis relied on imports, which are typically expensive and take a long time to arrive. 

In late 2019, the new Medical Cannabis Scheme was enabled, and it took effect in April of this year. The scheme guides cultivation and manufacturing of cannabis products locally, which should reduce the costs of the drug and ease the process for prescriptions and purchases. 

Although dried cannabis products are legal for medical use, any product intended to be smoked is not legal. Such dried products can be vaped, however. Other legal versions of medical cannabis include extracts like CBD oil.

Penalties for illegal cannabis use in New Zealand

For those who get caught possessing, distributing, or growing cannabis for recreational use, the penalties are uniform throughout the country. Note though, that they might not be enforced to the full extent, but severe penalties for cannabis crimes are still very much on the books in New Zealand. 

Cannabis penalties could range anywhere from a $500 fine for possession to 14 years in jail for those who supply and distribute the drug. If indicted, someone who actually cultivates cannabis illegally could land a 7 year jail term or a 2 year term immediately, and might include an additional $2,000 fine.

Summing up

The anticipated 2020 referendum on recreational cannabis is just around the corner. This September, New Zealanders will vote on whether or not cannabis should be fully legal, going beyond the current state of medical use. With a 51% majority Yes vote, cannabis will be come legal to possess and consume for recreational purposes if you are over 20 years of age. 

While earlier polls over the years saw the majority of the country in favor of legalising recreational cannabis, recent polls have indicated the opposite. The latest 1 News Colmar Burton poll suggests the majority of New Zealanders will vote against legalising recreational cannabis in September. The poll showed a 2% increase in No votes to 51%, and a 4% drop in Yes votes to 39%.

With the polls painting a daunting picture, it is imperative that cannabis advocates take the referendum seriously. Just because the question of legal recreational cannabis is on the ballot doesn’t mean it is a done deal. The only way to ensure the cannabis laws are changed is if you go out there and vote Yes.