Canada made waves when the news broke that cannabis is to be fully legalized come Fall of this year. Cannabis is currently legal in Canada for medicinal reasons only but come the 17th of October 2018, cannabis will be fully legalized for recreational use or otherwise. In Justin Trudeaus campaign run of 2015 he promised to fully legalize the controlled substance once given the power and he and his party, the Liberal Party of Canada have done it. The bill (Cananabis Act, Bill C-45) passed through the House of Commons in November of 2017 and then made its way through the House of Senate on the 22nd of March and finally on the 18th of June the House passed the bill. It was then, the following day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that as of the October 17 the use of marijuana will no longer violate the criminal code. Canada will be only one of two countries to formally legalize the drug, but can New Zealand follow suit in 2019?
New Zealand Government
Labour entered a coalition government with New Zealand First supported by the Greens on an agreement that Labour and NZ First would hold several concessions on tackling climate change, treating alcohol and drugs as a health issue as opposed to a social issue and a referendum on legalizing cannabis. The Green Party would also “urgently amend the law so sick people using medical marijuana were not penalized” The Green Party have pathed the way for discussion to occur about liberalising cannabis laws.
Is cannabis legal here?
As of writing this blog cannabis in New Zealand is legal for medical reasons only and was legalized to help those living with chronical or terminal illnesses but is still heavily controlled and mandated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 deeming possession of any amount illegal. The maximum penalty for possession is 3 months imprisonment or a $500 fine. Cannabis is the fourth most common drug used in New Zealand after caffeine, alcohol and tobacco and has the 9th highest level of consumption in the world. An opinion poll was conducted by NORML to find if people of New Zealand supported legalising or decriminalising cannabis and found an overwhelming support for the liberalisation of cannabis laws.
Take the power away from Gangs
Gangs in New Zealand currently hold the drug power. If a referendum passes and cannabis becomes legal on the island of New Zealand these criminal organizations lose money and when they lose money, they lose power. When they lose their power, they lose their ability to negatively affect society. If NZ liberalises its cannabis laws, it will lead to a decline in criminal activity - look at what Portugal did, it decriminalised all drugs and has led to a serious and positive decline in crime rates.
Will we see a referendum in 2019?
As for the political climate in New Zealand, the government is currently debating whether to hold the referendum in 2019 or 2020; holding it in 2020 would not be a good move politically with an incoming general election the same year. The NZ government are currently negotiating framework into what a New Zealand would look like post referendum, one where cannabis is free to consume recreationally or medically. They are also discussing when is the most suitable time to hold a referendum. When one country changes its laws so drastically, it always tends to have a domino effect on other jurisdictions; look at Ireland and Australia. Ireland won a landslide vote for same-sex marriage in 2015 and just two years later Australia did the same. Do not fear, fellow Kiwi’s, a new and safer New Zealand is on the horizon.