After a recent announcement made by the government, New Zealanders will be given the opportunity to have their say on whether or not they think cannabis should be legalised. This process is going to take place at the 2020 New Zealand general election as a referendum.
The key point to this announcement is that this referendum will be binding, which means that whatever decision the country makes, the government at the time must listen and implement it. This decision, however, has been faced with criticism that if cannabis were to become legal in New Zealand, it would be negative.
New Zealand constitutional lawyer Andrew Geddis says New Zealanders should be presented with a specific proposal as an alternative to what we already have.
“The ideal way to proceed would be for a Bill to already have been drafted and passed by the House, with the referendum result then automatically deciding whether or not that Bill becomes law. This is how the vote to introduce MMP proceeded.
“The benefit of this approach is that it would allow everyone to know what it is they are voting on. We can all see in advance what form of reform we are talking about. Is it decriminalisation? Is it legalisation? Would it permit grow-your-own or a full market regime?
“So, for example, we didn’t just vote on the question ‘Do you want to change the flag?’, then leave it to Parliament to decide what a new flag would look like. We instead got to choose between a bunch of different possible options, knowing that a vote one way or the other would produce a certain result.”
The Minister of Justice Andrew Little has recently announced that when it comes time to vote in 2020, voters will be given clear information around what this legislation will look like and be presented with a shortened version of the draft bill.
“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.
“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot. The result of the referendum will be binding.”
A summary of what Nexus knows that will be included in the referendum:
- 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
Key parts to the research that is informing the development of this draft Bill show that cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand. Around 10 to 12% of adults use cannabis at least once a year.
Along with this, the research shows nearly a third of those people are Māori. It acknowledged that it must promote equity and improve opportunities for Māori, as Māori are "more likely to receive a cannabis-related conviction than non-Māori".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that the cabinet had made a decision around this, and added that this is not about the current government and the decisions it is making.
“This is about asking a question for New Zealanders to have their say on this issue.”
A recent poll conducted by the NZ Drug foundation shows strong support from New Zealanders for cannabis to become legal.
The results of the poll show that 67% are in favour of law changes when it comes to recreational cannabis. 35% say they would want it legalised, whereas 32% say they just want it decriminalised.
It also showed 60% would prefer the selling of cannabis in stores to remain illegal, and 69% wanted growing cannabis for friends to stay illegal.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says support for both legalisation and decriminalisation has become much stronger over recent years.
“This is a sign that people are ready to vote for change in the cannabis referendum due to happen on or before the 2020 election.”
So if this becomes legal, what happens to previous criminal records?
Andrew Little says he has thought much about this, adding that parliament doesn’t usually overturn convictions on historical laws.
“We recently did the law on expunging historical homosexual offences, because in an enlightened age, that law was immoral. Whether Parliament would take the same view about old drug laws, I’m not sure.
“But if it comes up, I guess we’ll have to have a response to it.”
Sam, BCS: I’ve smoked a couple of joints with friends before. But this issue doesn’t really phase me much. It doesn’t affect me.
Bree, BSc: Yeah sure, it’s natural isn’t it? It has to be better than the shit that’s in the synthetic stuff aye.
Ashley, LLB: I’m not a fan of this. There are too many harmful side effects reported, we already have enough issues with society.
Matt, BSocSc: Fuck yeah. This means I don’t have to go to my dodgy dealer. I can get it safely.