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New Zealand’s Cannabis Legalization Bill Could Do With Some Improvements, Say Addiction Researchers

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jul 14, 2020   
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New Zealand’s referendum on whether to legalize recreational cannabis is now less than two months away.

But before the big day arrives, the country's legalization bill could still benefit from a few edits, say leading addiction researchers.

Home improvements

After months of deliberation, ministers and government officials finalized the country’s legalization measures this May.

If approved in the September referendum, the new recreational model would initially only allow the sale of fresh and dried cannabis. Caps would also be placed on both consumers (anyone over the age of 20 would be limited to 14 grams per day) and businesses (no license holder would be able to hold more than 20 percent of the market).

At the time, these proposals and others were welcomed by many drug policy advocates. But now two of the researchers who provided feedback on the first draft of the bill say improvements could still be made.

In a letter published in Addiction they argue that the proposed tax system, which would excise tax based on THC potency and weight, would be difficult to implement due to the amount of testing required. Instead, a weight-based tax – which would be in line with the taxation of tobacco – could be a more practical alternative.

The researchers also argue that the bill’s objective of lowering cannabis use over time will come into conflict with the proposed commercial cannabis sector, which, they say, will focus on expanding sales.

“Entrepreneurs rarely establish businesses with the idea of reducing customers and sales over time,” they wrote in their letter.

Other, non-commercial cannabis outlets, such as cannabis social clubs, could bring more benefits to consumers, the researcher say. But the legalization bill, as it stands, doesn’t include a framework to support these social enterprises.

The letter’s authors also advocate for a formal minimum pricing system and lowing potency caps for cannabis products to help reduce dependence issues.

“High-potency cannabis has been found to be associated with increasing first-time cannabis treatment admissions, transition to daily use, cannabis dependence and higher risk of psychosis and psychosis relapse,” the letter reads.

The ‘reefer-endum’ draws near

The question over legal recreational cannabis will be posed to the country’s electorate on September 9, when New Zealand will hold its general election.

“The New Zealand referendum vote will be the first time a country will have the opportunity to vote on a comprehensive regulatory framework to legalize cannabis rather than a general question asking whether cannabis should be legal or not,” Chris Wilkins, an associate professor at Massey University and co-author the Addiction letter, said in a statement.

“It’s therefore important that New Zealand voters clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed CLCB [Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill].”

A recent poll found that a majority of Kiwis may be in favor of the measure; 56 percent of respondents supported legalization, while 43 percent were against the idea.


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