This September Kiwis will have a historic say as they vote whether they want to pass the bill known as ‘Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill’ to legalize cannabis in New Zealand and regulate how it would be sold.
New Zealand has a referendum scheduled for 19 September on whether to legalize weed for recreational use, which will be held at the same time as the 2020 general election, almost two years after the country has legalized the use of medicinal marijuana.
Soon after the general election in 2017, the Labour Party promised the Green Party they would hold a referendum on legalizing recreational pot at or by the 2020 general elections.
While recreational weed is still widely illegal in New Zealand, the country has already a colorful history with the drug. Weed is widely consumed by New Zealanders, and the police are known to turn a blind eye to small-scale, personal use.
The Cannabis bill‒which was announced and defined as ‘binding’ in 2019 by prime minister Jacinda Ardern and justice minister Andrew Little‒will also set out a regulatory regime that would legalize possession but also the production of cannabis in New Zealand for adults aged 20 years or older.
The cannabis referendum questions would ask New Zealanders whether they agree with the new law proposed by the government, on which they should answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
As this is going to be a big decision, voters must be ‘educated with the content of the law’ rather than instinctively voting on the issue. There is a website set up by the justice ministry that offers credible information regarding the proposal.
Legalizing Cannabis in New Zealand: What's the deal?
Should the bill passes, the legal changes would demand somewhat tighter weed restrictions than restrictions for tobacco or alcohol sales.
For instance, young persons under the age of 20 caught with weed would receive a ‘health-based’ response such as fine or educational classes, instead of conviction. However, those under the age of 20 caught selling weed could face time in jail as well as more substantial fines.
The use of marijuana in public areas such as beaches, parks, or outdoors would remain illegal, however, users should be able to smoke on private properties or licensed grounds like cannabis shops or coffee shops which are a possibility if the bill passes.
Legalizing cannabis in New Zealand would allow residents to purchase up to 14 grams of weed per day‒an amount that has been deemed as too much by the main opposition party of the islands nation‒with weed products up to 15% rich in THC, which even pro-legalization NZ Drug Foundation thinks is too much. The reasoning behind this is taxing, however. Higher taxes would be applicable for cannabis products stronger in THC.
Companies will be able to pick between selling or growing cannabis, but they will not be allowed to import or export any cannabis produce.
New Zealanders would be able to homegrow cannabis plants of their own‒two plants per person, or four per household.
The legalizing of cannabis in New Zealand might not encompass edibles. The option to sell edibles has been considered under the newly-proposed law, although products that look appealing for underage populations, especially children‒think gummies and lollipops‒could be banned.
What do the polls suggest?
Even though Kiwis who enjoy the occasional puff and those who are dedicated to Mary Jane are hoping for the positive outcome of the referendum, a One News Colmar Brunton poll conducted in February suggests that a disappointing 51% of respondents may vote against legalizing cannabis in New Zealand. According to the poll, only 39% of people said they would vote ‘yes’. The remainder of respondents said they will not vote or still are not sure whether they are positive about allowing cannabis on the island or not.
For the bill to pass, 50% of voters must say ‘yes’ so that the law can be changed; the process should be then finalized in parliament.
The executive director of Drug Foundation, Ross Bell told Stuff.NZ the final draft of the bill is a world-leading piece of public health legislation.
“The Bill delivers government-controlled regulations over the production, supply, and use of cannabis, with the intent of reducing harms, particularly for young people,” Bell said.
According to Bell, more than 600,000 consumers are at present accessing weed from an uncontrolled illegal market, thus introducing proper legislation may be the only hope to resolve issues related to illegal sales.
“This Bill doesn’t create a cannabis market, it puts solid public health controls over this existing market. Police spent almost $200 million of cannabis enforcement and convictions, which should be put to better use protecting us all from serious crimes,” he said.
Closer to home, the green revolution is on the high rise. A 2019 poll saw 65% of U.S. adult respondents approve the legalization of marijuana, and over 40 U.S. states may partially legalize marijuana by the year’s end.
Cover photo: Fairytale sights from New Zealand: a photo from the Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata, NZ