Govt confirms yes/no question for cannabis referendum

By Talisa Kupenga

The government has announced that in the 2020 election voters will get to say 'yes' or 'no' to legalising cannabis, based on a law which is yet to pass in-house.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says, "The choice that NZ voters will have is 'is the status quo a better way of controlling what is a harmful substance?  Or is legalisation and allowing open and transparent regulation and control a better way?'."

But National Leader Simon Bridges says the details fall short.

"What's the tax rate going to be?  Will gangs be able, legally, to sell drugs in New Zealand?  Will edible gummy bears be legal?  These are the sort of things we need to know."

If supported, the legislation would:

  • Legalise personal use and purchase from age 20.
  • Only allow sale at a licensed premises.
  • Only allow consumption at a licensed premises or private property.
  • Allow limited home-growing.
  • Ban all advertising for cannabis products.

Little says "one of the objectives of legalisation would be that we're trying to get rid of the criminal elements and the black market too."

Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says social justice and equity details for Māori were missing, knowing Māori were more likely to use, experience harm from, be criminalised for use and possession of cannabis compared to non-Māori.

"Will Māori be given preferential licences?  With those people currently involved in the black market, if they're not involved in the gangs but are still involved in cultivation, is there a way we can take them out of the black market into the legal market?” asks Bell.

The draft legislation is expected to be ready early next year at the latest.