New Zealand looks set to become the next country to legalise cannabis on a national level with the public voting in a referendum next year.
The referendum will take place at the same time as New Zealand’s general election, with a simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ option being given to citizens.
If more than 50% of voters opt for legalisation cannabis will be allowed to be consumed across the country apart from in public spaces. Citizens will be allowed to carry 14 grams of dried cannabis in a public space, which is anywhere between 14 and 42 joints.
Breaking this rule will result in a fine of between $200 and $500, while illegal sellers of cannabis will also be punished. As it stands only licensed stores will be able to distribute cannabis and there will be a blanket ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis products.
The draft also states that cannabis cannot be sold on the same premises as alcohol or tobacco, and that there will be limitations on its potency.
There will also be a set limit on purchasing amounts, where users will only be permitted to buy a maximum of 14 grams per day.
“It’s important that voters go into the 2020 General Election informed about the referendums. The Government is committed to a well-informed, impartial referendum process,” said Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Argue for change
“My aim is to have the final draft Bill available by early next year, so there is time to argue for change.”
The new bill also includes proposals such as a minimum age of 20 to purchase and use cannabis, as well as limits on the sale of cannabis to specifically licensed physical stores and the establishment of state licensing in which all stages of cannabis growth and supply chains are controlled by the government.
Selling cannabis online will be prohibited in order to safeguard against underage individuals getting around the minimum age limit for purchasing.
Early polls have indicated that 48 percent of New Zealanders would vote for yes, while 39 percent would vote against it.
The surge in optimism surrounding the potential legalisation in New Zealand comes after successful changes in legislation in both Canada and the United States, both of which have seen a huge rise in tax revenue.
Although it seems that the legislation will most likely be approved, some authority figures disagree with the stipulations and would like to make amends, such as lowering the 14 gram possession threshold.
The National Deputy leader Paula Bennett started out in the yes camp but after learning more about the subject she has made a dramatic u-turn and stands firmly in the no category as she is afraid of the ‘unknown’ surrounding the industry.
Bennett pointed out that Canada had only recently legalised cannabis for recreational use and still has issues or firm facts remain unclear on the effects of increased usage among young people and other potential results of full legalisation.
Bennett would prefer New Zealand to wait and see if any research and evaluation in the future can demonstrate a clearer picture of what exactly the benefits and negatives of cannabis legalisation are.
Alternatively, a report from the Helen Clark Foundation – a public policy think tank in New Zealand – has come out in support of voting ‘yes’ in the referendum next year as it claims that the criminalisation of cannabis has caused social inequity and has been a burden on police resources. The report also suggests that New Zealand should look to treat cannabis as a public health and social issues as opposed to a criminal one and expunge prior non-violent or minor cannabis offences from individuals’ records.
Former prime minister and patron of the think tank, Helen Clark has suggested that New Zealand should look to Portugal’s drug model of decriminalisation and has coined it the ‘gold standard’ whilst detailing that the current policies in New Zealand are evidently not working.
Clark reiterated Canada’s forward-thinking approach to opiate addiction and how they provide safe consumption spaces where opiate users can have their drugs tested and use in a safe environment. She compared this to New Zealand’s innovative needle exchange scheme to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and she believes New Zealand would do well to follow Canada’s lead on the subject of cannabis as well.
The rules outlined in the bill are not the final rules to be voted on, they are part of the first draft which will be put forward for submissions from the public and interested associations.
New Zealanders’ outlook on legalising cannabis has wavered in the past year, going from a high of 60 percent in January to just 39 percent in August when support for the referendum appeared to be failing. However, the support appears to be increasing once more with the new November 2019 poll showing 48 percent are in favour of voting yes.
Support for medical cannabis has remained high, with influences stemming from people such as former trade unionist Helen Kelly, who sadly passed away from lung cancer after campaigning during her illness for the right to use medicinal cannabis and being open about using cannabis oil throughout her battle.
Currently more than 500,000 people in New Zealand regularly use cannabis and around 80 percent of citizens have tried cannabis at least once.
New Zealand has a population of just 4.7 million, but a change in legislation on cannabis still needs to be carefully considered and regulated as the United States has faced a series of teething problems within the industry.
Harmful contaminants in cannabis and incorrect labelling has seen the industry suffer in North America despite the best efforts of the FDA, who have been clamping down on a number of companies in recent months.
What’s critical is that the cannabis grown needs to be balanced in both THC and CBD, as an imbalance has the potential to cause issues to a user’s mental health. Strains that are high in THC with a low percentage of CBD can bring mental illnesses that may have not been prevalent before.