Top officials in New Zealand’s government are set to discuss details of a long-promised 2020 referendum on marijuana legalization on Monday.
There are few details currently available about the legalization proposal, which the country’s justice minister is expected to place before the rest of the Cabinet for approval, but it will likely involve allowing adults at least 18 or older to possess, use and cultivate marijuana for personal use, according to The New Zealand Herald. (Sources told another outlet the age minimum would be 20.)
It is said to include marketing restrictions and a ban on public consumption, as well as possible THC limits.
There has been much discussion about whether the measure to go before voters will be binding, as in directly leading to the establishment of a legal cannabis market if approved, or if it will be advisory in nature. Justice Minister Andrew Little said on Monday morning that the referendum would in fact be binding, but declined to elaborate ahead of any official announcement on what that meant or if the measure could be amended after passage by voters.
Reform advocates have been closely watching developments New Zealand since the release of a minority coalition government agreement following the 2017 elections. The “confidence and supply” deal stipulated that the Green Party would help elect Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern as the country’s prime minister on the condition that voters get an opportunity to decide on legalization.
Ardern, who supports medical cannabis, has been repeatedly pressed about the process her government has in mind. In April, she declined to say whether a legalization bill would be introduced prior to a referendum, stating “that’s something that will be announced once Cabinet has finalized its decision.”
If the referendum passes and lawmakers follow through in introducing a legalization bill shortly thereafter, it’s expected to take approximately a year to get it through the legislature. The election is scheduled for November 21, 2020.
The opposition National Party obtained what it said was a leaked government document outlining four possible options for the referendum, detailed as follows:
- A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
- A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;
- A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.
- A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.
New Zealand’s government has already expressed an interest in pursing alternative approaches to drug policy, with officials calling on law enforcement to avoid criminalizing people for personal possession or consumption of synthetic drugs in the midst of a drug crisis and instead treat cases as a public health issue, for example.
A January poll found that 60 percent of New Zealanders said they would vote for a legalization referendum, with 24 percent against and 16 percent undecided.
If New Zealand ultimately does legalize, it would join Canada and Uruguay as the only countries where cannabis is federally legal and regulated, at least so far. But Mexican lawmakers are also making progress on a legalization plan, so it’s yet to be seen which nation is next in line to end prohibition.
Photo courtesy of Tākuta.