New Zealanders will finally be able to vote on whether they want cannabis to be legalized in the country in a referendum set for next year.
The government will hold a cannabis referendum during the 2020 general election. And according to Justice Minister Andrew Little, the vote would be binding.
However, he said that it will ultimately be up to the next administration to enact and implement the legislation.
Little explained that voters will answer a simple “Yes or No” question based on a draft piece of legislation. The exact wording for this question will be decided by the Electoral Commission.
The draft law under consideration outlines the exact proposal that the government is offering. It has not yet been released to the public, but Little assured that it will be delivered either by the end of the year or in early 2020.
Provisions of the draft cannabis law
The Cabinet paper released today sets out the broad parameters of what a favorable vote would constitute. This draft legislation includes the following provisions:
- Only individuals 20 and older can buy and use recreational cannabis.
- The sale and consumption of cannabis would be tightly regulated by the government.
- Only licensed establishments would be allowed to sell cannabis.
- Cannabis can only be consumed in private homes or on licensed premises.
- Cannabis products to be sold on licensed premises would be supplied by commercial growers.
- Advertisements for cannabis products would be prohibited.
- Growing a small number of cannabis plants at home would be allowed, but selling won’t be allowed.
- Only cannabis seeds can be imported legally and only with reason by licensed entities.
- Online sales of cannabis products would be prohibited.
A binding referendum
The referendum is binding, according to Little. But what does it mean?
First, there are two different kinds of referendums: indicative and binding. Indicative referendums give the government a steer on the public’s opinion regarding an issue, allowing them to entirely ignore the steer if they see it is fit to do so. Oftentimes, this happens with citizen-initiated referendums.
Meanwhile, binding referendums is where the current government is compelled to enact the result of the referendum.
Little explained that the government has argued that the cannabis referendum is binding because all parties in the government have committed to honoring the result by passing the draft law.
The earliest the draft bill could pass would be very late next year after the election. However, Little has expressed that he wants it to go through the full legislative process. And this means that a mid-2021 timeframe would be more likely.
The cannabis referendum was a part of a confidence and supply deal that the Green Party had negotiated with the governing Labour Party.
According to Greens MP Chloe Swarbrick, the draft legislation will set forth a clear regulatory regime to avoid any possibility of a “Brexit” scenario because the people will know exactly what the future holds, as well as how changes are going to be implemented.
Little said that the coalition government is dedicated to following a health-based approach to drugs, minimizing harm and taking control away from criminals.
Cannabis in New Zealand
In New Zealand, the unauthorized possession of cannabis in any amount is considered a crime under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. In December 2018, the law was amended by the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2018, allowing the broader use of medical marijuana and making it accessible to terminally ill patients who are in their last 12 months of life.