What will the referendum question be?

The draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill details how the new cannabis law will look.

Voters will be asked to vote yes or no to the question “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?”

The Bill prioritises public health and safety and introduces a government-licenced production and retail market. It sets limits on personal use and restricts sales to those over 20.

For more information on what exactly is in the Bill, see NZ Drug Foundation's Vote Yes web page or the Government's referendum website.

How dangerous is cannabis actually?

Most people who use cannabis do so without causing much or any damage to themselves. But a small proportion experience negative impacts, and in some cases these can be severe. Impacts can include anxiety, depression, memory loss and mood swings. Cannabis can affect brain development and increase the risk of psychosis and other mental illnesses.

In other words, cannabis can cause harm - so our laws need to focus on reducing that harm, not increasing it as they do now.

Tightening public health regulations give our best chance at reducing cannabis-related harms. The Cannabis Control Bill proposes regulating potency, packaging, pricing and portion size. Public education campaigns will influence how often and how much people use.

How many people in New Zealand use cannabis anyway?

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug used in New Zealand. Fifteen percent of adults (that’s 590,000 adults) used cannabis in the past year, and 8.5 percent, or 330,000 adults, smoke cannabis monthly or more. Use is higher in Māori, young people and those in more deprived neighbourhoods.

Will legalising adult use of cannabis lead to more people using cannabis? And what about young people?

We might see overall cannabis use go up slightly, especially in the early days. A year after Canada legalised cannabis, overall use is about the same as before legalisation. And in both Canada and US States which have legalised, cannabis use by young people has actually decreased. 

The Cannabis Control Bill prioritises public health and safety and introduces a government-licensed production and retail market. Products will be clearly labelled, and potency will be regulated and controlled. There will be limits on personal use and sales will be restricted to those over 20. These regulations should mean harmful cannabis use will go down, especially over the longer term.

The Cannabis Control Bill encourages people to consume less often and consume less potent products. A levy will allocate funds for drug education and treatment, meaning those who are struggling with their use or are likely to run into problems down the track can get help.

Get more information from our fact sheet: Controlling cannabis will better protect young people [pdf [502.96KB]

What age will people be able to buy and use cannabis?

The Cannabis Control Bill restricts cannabis sales to people over 20. The Government chose that age because they are concerned that cannabis can affect brain development and is particularly risky for younger users. Setting the limit at 20 strikes a sensible balance between limiting consumption by young people and recognising the advantages of allowing them access to products that carry health warnings and potency controls.

Not many people are criminalised for cannabis, do we really need to change the law?

About 3,000 people receive a conviction for cannabis offences every year - and more than half of those are for low-level offences such as possession and use. The people convicted are mostly young, Māori, and male. And just one conviction has a major impact on someone’s life and their opportunities to get a job, travel and access credit. Regulating cannabis means police resources can be directed to focus on more serious crime.

Legalising cannabis will mean improvements in health, justice and economic development for Māori

Māori are targeted by Police more under our drug law and are 3 times more likely to get a cannabis conviction than non-Māori with the same level of cannabis use. Legalisation will mean fewer Māori encountering the criminal justice system and fewer trapped in endless cycles of reconviction.

Legalisation will also improve health outcomes. Māori are twice as likely as non-Māori to suffer a substance use disorder, but they find it hardest to access health and treatment services. The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill puts money from cannabis taxes into health and prevention programmes that will benefit Māori.

The Bill aims to actively promote Māori access to the financial benefits that a new regulated market will bring. This will be especially important in the regions in which cannabis is a common crop. Legalisation will bring news jobs and income.

The Bill allows every person to grow two cannabis plants at home, or four per household. Allowing small-scale home cultivation was an important issue for Māori during the drafting of the Bill. It is often used as rongoa, to treat a variety of medical conditions. The home cultivation provisions will allow people to continue this practice but without fear of the law.

What will adult use of legal cannabis mean for access by patients to medicinal cannabis?

While medicinal cannabis is now legal in New Zealand with a prescription, only a small number of products are available, and those available are very expensive. This means medicinal cannabis products are out of reach of most New Zealanders who need them, even those with life threatening or debilitating conditions.

Legal cannabis would mean easier access to a wider range of products and more affordable prices. Patients will be able to access the medicine that works for them without fear of prosecution

What about drug driving?

Drug driving will remain illegal – but we expect Police to have better tools to police it.

It’s not safe to drive after using cannabis. Thankfully, there’s no evidence from overseas that driving after using cannabis will increase after legalisation. In Canada, the number of people reporting driving within 2 hours of using cannabis did not change following cannabis legalisation, and the percentage of passengers driving with someone who had consumed the drug has even dropped slightly.

The Government is introducing a new drug driving law to help Police do roadside drug driving tests. This will be ready in time for the referendum.

Legalisation of cannabis will mean Police have the tools they need to better detect and enforce the law, as well as improved drug driving education.

You may have heard that car accidents have increased in US States which have legalised, but there are no good studies on drug driving post legalisation.

As the Chief Science Advisor reported: “There are two main ways these studies have been done so far. One way is researchers testing whether there are correlations between, for example, the number of car accidents and the timing of the law change. The limitation with this approach is that the drivers are not actually tested to see if they had used cannabis so the results could be caused or influenced by something other than cannabis. The other way is to test for the presence of cannabis (specifically THC) in the blood of drivers who crash. This method is still limited because it doesn’t actually test how impaired the driver was at the time of the crash and doesn’t take into account who was at fault in the crash. Because of the limitations in how these studies are done, all research into car accidents and cannabis legalisation should be interpreted with caution.”

What will legalising cannabis mean for mental health?

The Drug Foundation does not endorse cannabis use, but we acknowledge that many New Zealanders use cannabis now - an estimated 80% of New Zealanders have tried cannabis in their lifetime. Reassuringly, there is no evidence from overseas that legalising cannabis leads to more people using, particularly for younger people. Because we don't expect overall cannabis use to go up much, if at all, we wouldn't expect cannabis related harms, including mental health harms, to increase either.

Legal regulation of cannabis is the only way to ensure strong public health controls are in place to minimise the harms from cannabis use that are happening under prohibition. It will mean more money into treatment and drug education. Importantly, legalisation will also reduce stigma for using cannabis, meaning people can more easily get the help they need for any harm they are experiencing.

Doesn’t legalising cannabis conflict with the Government’s Smokefree 2020 goal?

No. The Smokefree 2025 goal is not about prohibition - it’s about using regulation and education to reduce the amount of people who smoke to less than 5% of the population. This is consistent with the goals of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill – which are to decrease cannabis use.

Reducing the number of people who use cannabis is very difficult to do under prohibition. In fact, cannabis use is currently increasing in New Zealand. Under a legalised market, the Government will be able to control the cannabis market and promote less harmful ways of consuming cannabis - such as vaping and using tinctures and oils.

What's this about cannabis being a gateway drug?

Despite persistent myths, there is no good evidence that using cannabis leads people to use other more harmful drugs. Many people have used cannabis - up to 80% have ever tried cannabis according to the Dunedin and Christchurch longitudinal studies. But very few have used more harmful drugs - only 1% of NZers used methamphetamine in the past year for example.

Currently people who use cannabis are more likely to be exposed to more harmful drugs because they have to buy cannabis from a drug dealer. Legalising cannabis means people will buy it from a shop, where they will never be offered synthetics or methamphetamine instead.

Won't legalising cannabis 'normalise' it?

We would argue that cannabis is already ‘normalised’ in Aotearoa – around 590,000 people used cannabis here in the last year. Anyone who wants to get hold of it can do so easily. We also know that cannabis use is not likely to increase under legalisation – this hasn’t happened in Canada, for example.

We do want to make sure that legalisation doesn’t cause people to use more often or more heavily that they do now. For that reason, the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill puts lots of measures in place to make sure cannabis doesn’t become more visible than it already is. For example, there will be no advertising, there will be few shops, and these will be discrete, and people won’t be allowed to smoke cannabis in public places. We won’t see cannabis companies sponsoring sports events as we do with alcohol. There will also be money set aside from cannabis sales to help educate young people about cannabis use.

We’re confident that legalisation will lead to lower harms from cannabis, and lower rates of heavy use over the long term. What can prohibition offer us in this regard? Ever increasing rates of use, easy access for any person of any age at any time of the day or night and no quality or potency controls. Under prohibition, cannabis use is normal and it’s uncontrolled. It’s time to turn that around.

Will previous cannabis convictions be expunged?

No, expungements are not part of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. If cannabis is legalised it would make sense to examine whether past convictions for cannabis use should be removed from people’s records. This conversation will be held separately to the conversation around whether we should legalise at all.

How does the Bill compare with how we currently regulate legal substances like alcohol and tobacco?

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill has tighter regulations than both tobacco and alcohol, which is good news for public health





Purchase age




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Purchase limit

Yes - 14 g/day



Retail licence




Limits on psychoactive ingredient

Yes - 15% THC



Limits on home grow/brew

2 plants, max 4 per household



Online sales




Use in public


(aside from Smokefree areas)

(aside from liquor ban areas)

Got more questions? Check out the NZ Drug Foundation's Vote Yes web page.

For more info on the Cannabis Legalisation & Control Bill, go to the Government's referendum website