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New Zealand to Vote on Cannabis Legalization

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 08, 2019   
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New Zealanders will be able to vote on whether their country should have legal, recreational cannabis in a referendum next year. 

If approved by voters, the drafted legislation would allow adults aged 20 and older to use, possess, sell, and cultivate cannabis. 

In a press statement, Justice Minister Andrew Little described the 2020 referendum as a part of a wider health-based approach from the government.   

“The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals,” he stated. “The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.”

“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.”

This drafted legislation will include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls
  • Limited home-growing options
  • A public education programme
  • Stakeholder engagement

The press statement goes on to call the 2020 referendum “binding”, but it will ultimately be up to the next administration to enact the legislation.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand, the minister explained that the three-party government “made the decision at the end of last year for a binding referendum. That decision remains.” 

“[But] once Cabinet has made its decisions, and we're in a position to announce the next phase... we'll be able to explain what 'binding’ actually means.”

Of course, any approved recreational cannabis use would come with limitations. Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick, who helped draft the referendum paper with Mr Little, told Radio New Zealand that it would still be illegal to light up in the street or outside schools.

“There will be limited spaces where people can consume, those are private premises and licensed premises.”

Given the notoriously divisive nature of referendums, the New Zealand government is keen to distribute the facts early and keep the public informed throughout any upcoming campaigns. Citing the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union as an example, Ms. Swarbrick stressed that the New Zealand government would never want to construct such a misleading public vote.

“As it is a 'yes' vote, it will be informed by a clear regulatory regime set out in draft legislation that people will know and understand. We will avoid any potential of a 'Brexit' situation because people will know exactly what the future holds, and how these changes will be implemented.”

Regarding the referendum’s outcome, 60 percent of New Zealanders would vote to legalize cannabis, according to a poll released in January. Just 24 percent of respondents said they would vote against legalization and 16 percent were left undecided.

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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