The Latest on Legalising Cannabis in New Zealand

Legalising Cannabis in New Zealand

New Zealand’s long awaited cannabis referendum is less than two months away. The country will become the first in the world to hold a referendum asking citizens whether recreational cannabis should be made legal, and a 51 percent majority Yes vote will push the proposed Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill forward. 

So far, opinion polls on the subject have shown both support and opposing majorities, making it difficult to gauge how things might turn out. In this post, we’ll give you the latest on legalising cannabis in New Zealand, to give you the information you need to make the right decision. 

The Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill 

New Zealanders will vote on the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill in October. The bill proposes that New Zealanders over the age of 20 can lawfully:

  • Purchase 14 grams or less of cannabis per day from establishments that are licensed to sell
  • Grow up to 4 cannabis plants per household
  • Consume cannabis on private property or areas that are licensed for cannabis consumption
  • Share up to 14 grams of cannabis with others who are 20 years or over

The bill also contains a lot of restrictions to ensure quality and maintain a health approach that reduces harm: 

  • Initially, only flowers, plants and seeds will be legally sold
  • Later, concentrates and edibles might follow, after fulfilling additional requirements
  • Cannabis beverages will not be allowed, at least for now
  • Cannabis products can not contain more than 15% of THC
  • The higher the THC in the product, the higher the tax
  • Those caught with cannabis while under the age of 20 will be fined or given a health-based response or education (no criminal charges).
  • Those who sell to users under the age of 20 will face up to 4 years in jail
  • Those who sell to anyone without a license will face 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. 

What will the cannabis referendum ask voters, and when?

The cannabis referendum will hold on 17 October, less two months from now, on the same date as the general election. Voters will be asked if the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill above should be considered. 

If the majority vote Yes, it will move forward. If the majority vote No, recreational cannabis will remain illegal. 

Is the cannabis referendum’s outcome binding on parliament?

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is not binding on the government, even if the majority (51 percent or more) of New Zealanders vote Yes.

The referendum only allows the bill to move forward in Parliament, where it will go through readings and votes like every other bill. The public will also be allowed to comment during that process, and more changes might be made. Only after that process can the bill become law and a date be set for the law to go into effect.

So far, the Labour, NZ First, and the Green Party have all indicated their support for the bill if the majority of New Zealanders vote Yes on 17 October. But considering the general election will be held on the same day, there is a possibility that a new party may take over the majority and oppose the bill.

For instance, if the National party were to become the majority, it is not clear whether they will support the bill even if New Zealanders vote Yes.  

Do current polls show that New Zealanders support the recreational cannabis bill?

Trying to gauge the public’s opinion on whether they will vote Yes or No has been difficult so far. Earlier votes showed overwhelming support for legalising recreational cannabis during the upcoming referendum, by as much as 67 percent in 2018. 

However, things began to turn in early and mid 2018, with the majority of respondents saying they would vote no, by as much as 52 percent. A more recent 1 NEWS Colmar Burton poll showed that 51 percent of respondents said they will vote against the bill.

Latest 1 News Colmar Burton

Latest 1 News Colmar Burton indicates the majority of New Zealand will vote against legalising recreational cannabis in September. src 

Now, though, another poll is showing that a small majority says they will vote Yes to legalise cannabis.

Recent 1 News Colmar Brunton poll

Recent 1 News Colmar Brunton poll shows a slight majority of respondents will vote Yes for cannabis legalisation. src

Final words - Go out and vote 

The Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill tells us what a legal cannabis New Zealand will look like. On Saturday, 17 October, New Zealanders will either approve of that vision or disapprove. So far, there’s nothing definitive about which of these outcomes are likely, and so the only way to turn the tide in your favour is by going out there to vote.  

Keep in the mind that the cannabis bill isn’t about supporting drug abuse. On the contrary, it’s about promoting health and drug education. Rather than punish our way to eliminating drug use, the bill proposes education and treatment, along with restrictions to promote the quality of cannabis products and responsible usage. 

A legal cannabis New Zealand will also benefit on some great, much needed tax revenue - up to $490 million just a year after legalisation. It will also free up police resources, allowing them to concentrate on actual crimes - real crimes that actually affect New Zealanders. Nothing about the cannabis bill causes alarm - instead, it should be welcome.