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The Turning Point? Kiwis could vote for Cannabis Legislation in massive referendum

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Namaste NZ 22/08/2018

It looks like recreational cannabis legalization is finally on the cards! New Zealand politicians are currently working on scheduling a referendum date that will ask citizens to vote on whether to legalize recreational cannabis.  

In what is sure to be an incredibly exciting and divisive referendum, New Zealanders may be asked to vote on not just cannabis legalization, but also euthanasia.  

Cannabis Laws in New Zealand

There is currently much debate as to when the referendum will be held but it looks like the earliest could be the end of 2019, with the latest date looking like 2021. The Green Party has been promised a referendum on legalizing cannabis use by the 2020 election, which there has been some debate about.  

Minister for Justice Andrew Little has encouraged the idea of combining all of these issues into one referenda in an effort to curb government expenditure, stating “If you’re gonna do one, you might as well do a job lot […] it would make sense to not have to spend a lot of money on a succession of referenda”. Leader of the Green Party James Shaw has also stated his support for scheduling the referendum to coincide with the 2020 general election, stating that “people are going to be going to the polling booths anyway”. Shaw also referenced the declining popularity of post in New Zealand and stated that this could affect the turn-out on postal votes.  

However, others have highlighted that lumping so many big issues together into one bumper election/referenda extravaganza could result in an over-politicization of issues like cannabis legalization and euthanasia, while other important topics are sidelined as a result. Green Party spokesperson for drug law reform Chloe Swarbick stated “if we hold it in 2019, it may not be deeply politicized, polarized or pigeon-holed – and we are hopefully able to have more of an evidentiary discussion […] if we hold it in 2020 we might end up with something where it dominates the issues and we don’t end up talking about things like housing, criminal justice or healthcare”.  

It’s currently illegal to possess or grow cannabis in New Zealand, and medicinal use of cannabis is tightly restricted by the Ministry of Health. Individuals are required to meet strict criteria and can only be prescribed by specialist doctors. As of April 2016, Savitex is the only strain approved for use by patients in New Zealand who meet the set requirements. Not only is medicinal cannabis tightly regulated, but the distribution and individual use of CBD treatments is also regulated on a case-by-case basis by the Minister for Health  

One of the motivations for legalizing recreational cannabis use is to amend the unfair conviction rate among Maori youth in comparison to white youth, a huge cultural issue which has been highlighted by the NZ Drug FoundationLabour leader Jacinda Arden is a vocal supporter of legalization and has stated that the criminalization and conviction of anyone – especially youths – who smoke cannabis is “not a good response” for dealing with drug reform, and that cannabis use should be treated as a health issue - not a legal one.  

With full legalization looming just over the horizon, we at Namaste NZ are so excited to see what this means for the growth of the community and vaporizers in New Zealand, so watch this space... 

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