Legalising Smoking vs Legalising Cannabis

smoking vs cannabis

The cannabis referendum is almost here

On 17 October, New Zealanders will decide whether the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill should be pushed through congress. Kiwis will vote in a non-binding referendum during the general election, and a 51 percent or more majority will be needed to move the recreational cannabis bill forward. 

But while this historic event is just a month away, it’s important to know exactly what the bill could legalise, and to what extent. A key question lies in the differences between legalising smoking and legalising cannabis. These two concepts might seem identical, but that isn’t entirely the case.  

What’s in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

Before we dive into the technicalities of legalising smoking and legalising marijuana, it might help to look into what the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill actually legalises, if voted for and passed into law. The bill authorises those aged 20 and over to: 

  • Purchase 14 grams or less of cannabis per day from establishments that are licensed to sell.
  • Grow up to 4 cannabis plants per household.
  • Share up to 14 grams of cannabis with others who are 20 years or over.

But despite the legality of cannabis if the bill becomes law, it still restricts some products and behaviour associated with marijuana use. For instance: 

  • You can only consume cannabis on private property or areas that are licensed for cannabis consumption.
  • Concentrates, edibles, and cannabis beverages won’t be sold initially (might be authorised later).
  • Cannabis products with over 15 percent of THC aren’t authorised.

So while the bill, if passed into law, will legalise cannabis, it doesn’t legalise all cannabis products or all behaviour associated with cannabis consumption. The same applies to smoking, to an extent. 

Does legalising cannabis mean smoking cannabis is legal? 

While it seems logical that legalising cannabis is the same as legalising smoking, this isn’t entirely the case. There will be restrictions on smoking cannabis even if the drug becomes legal. This is mostly due to the indiscreet nature of smoking - you can’t really hide the fact that you’re smoking cannabis given its odour, and others who don’t smoke might not approve of inhaling second hand marijuana smoke. 

An example of a restriction on smoking cannabis is in the bill. There, it states that its only legal to consume cannabis on private property or licensed areas. This means that, although the bill would legalise cannabis if passed into law, it would not legalise public smoking of cannabis. 

Also, in places where cannabis use has been legalised, restrictions on the drug can be placed by other entities outside government. For instance, in the United States where cannabis is legal in 33 states for medical use (and for recreational use in 11 of those states), property owners can restrict their tenants from smoking cannabis on the premises, even inside their own apartments. The pungent odour of burned cannabis is simply too strong to go unnoticed.  

New Zealand’s new Medical Cannabis Scheme bars products that can be smoked

Another example of how legalising cannabis differs from legalising smoking cannabis lies in New Zealand’s new Medical Cannabis Scheme, which went into effect in April of this year. The scheme allows for local production of cannabis products to increase availability and distribution, and cut down costs significantly. 

The scheme goes ahead to authorise several medical cannabis products, including dried products, tablets, and liquids. However, none of the authorised medical cannabis products can be smoked. Instead, it only permits vapourising cannabis products.  

Final words - Alternatives to smoking

Thankfully, smoking isn’t the only way to consume cannabis. Vaping cannabis concentrates is a common alternative, although recent developments show that this method might have some serious health risks - lung damage and even death, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   

As a result, other alternatives are best, such as:

  • Vaping cannabis flower, instead of concentrates
  • Consuming cannabis edibles
  • Consuming cannabis beverages
  • Cannabis pills
  • Tinctures and sublinguals
  • Topical cannabis products
  • Suppositories