On Tuesday 7 May 2019, the Justice Minister released some much-awaited details about what we will be voting on in 2020. We’re excited that the government appears to be taking a really sensible approach to this.
The government will draft a bill setting out a health-focused model for cannabis legalisation by early 2020. On the day of the referendum, voters will choose whether they’d like to see that bill come into law, or whether they’d rather keep the status quo. The three coalition partners have all agreed that they are committed to abiding by the outcome if New Zealanders vote ‘yes’. It’s not clear yet if National will agree to do that too, should they come back into power in 2020, though it would be a brave government that went against a yes vote!
What will the draft law look like? Cannabis will be legal to buy and use for those over 20, and adults will be able to grow some plants at home. Cannabis will be sold in licensed outlets only – there will be no online sales. Adults will be able to consume it only at home or at licensed venues. Products will be carefully regulated for potency and safety.
The government is taking a health-focused approach. The cabinet paper released alongside the announcement clarifies that there will be investment in public education and in programmes that reduce cannabis-related harm. The goal of the law will be to reduce use over time, and to reduce the harms that cannabis causes in communities. There will be many safeguards in place to ensure young people cannot access cannabis.
There’s also an acknowledgement from government that Māori are disproportionately harmed by prohibition. The proposal aims to lower the number of New Zealanders, especially Māori, whose future opportunities are negatively affected by cannabis use charges. It also mentions protecting Māori rights and interests should cannabis become legal, though it doesn’t give detail on how this might be achieved.
The proposals are an excellent start. The government now has its work cut out to get the finer detail sorted in time for the referendum. They’ll need to ensure good public consultation takes place as the bill is drafted. We also expect them to put a lot of thought into how they will educate voters before the referendum takes place.