New Zealand residents got a first look on Tuesday at details of a draft marijuana legalization proposal that will be the subject of a voter referendum next year.
“The Government is publishing a draft Bill at this point to ensure that New Zealanders are informed about the direction being taken and the decisions that have been made to date,” a summary states.
The draft bill outlines the basic elements of establishing a regulated cannabis market for adults. It will be updated with more details, taking feedback into account, ahead of the referendum vote.
If more than 50 percent of voters approve the legislation, the incoming government will have to enact a law legalizing marijuana for adult use.
The measure, as proposed, would set an age limit of 20 to purchase cannabis products, require marijuana to be consumed in private residences and licensed facilities, mandate investments in public health education campaigns, impose restrictions on advertising and create a licensing scheme for marijuana businesses.
Individuals could purchase up to 14 grams of cannabis per day and cultivate up to two plants for personal use.
The government would establish a body called the Cannabis Regulatory Authority to regulate the industry, approve licenses for marijuana businesses and promote public health. It would also be tasked with setting an excise tax so that the government recoups the administrative costs of implementing a cannabis program.
“By making the referendum questions and the initial draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill available early the intention is to encourage public awareness and discussion,” Justice Minister Andrew Little said in a press release. “It is important that the public feel they can meaningfully participate in the referendum process.”
Little added that he’s invited representatives of each party to meet on Thursday to discuss the proposal.
“My aim is to have the final draft Bill available by early next year, so there is time to argue for change,” he said. “Experience from overseas tells us that provision of factual, explanatory information is vital for the public to be informed and for an outcome that can be accepted by voters even if the result is not what they voted for.”
The Cabinet also unveiled policy positions that informed their decision to make the question of legalization a referendum issue.
The agreed-upon primary objectives of the legislation are to promote policies in order to “minimize harms associated with cannabis” and reduce rates of marijuana consumption through education and treatment programs. The secondary objectives are to eliminate the illicit market, reduce the prison population and ensure quality control for cannabis products.
Early details about the legalization proposal were first released in May. The referendum on the issue is the product of a deal that the Green Party struck after agreeing to help install Labour Party head Jacinda Ardern as the prime minister.
In early 2020, a more comprehensive bill will be issued to ensure that lawmakers, stakeholders and the public have ample time to consider its various provisions before its put to a vote.
As it is currently drafted, here’s the language of the referendum question that will go before voters:
Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?
Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
Polling released this week indicates that more New Zealand residents are opposed to legalizing cannabis (49 percent) than support the policy change (43 percent). While that’s a higher percentage in favor of reform compared to a June survey, the referendum’s chances of passage remain uncertain.
“The major focus of this draft law is to reduce access, particularly for our young people, and to shift control out of the hands of the black market,” Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick said in a video. “Whether you are 15 or 50 in this country and you want to get your hands on cannabis, you can. Drug dealers do not check ID and they sure as anything don’t care if the product that they are passing over is safe or not.”
BREAKING: Public release of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (draft law) for NZ's 2020 referendum. pic.twitter.com/1SLgi8F7xl
— Chlöe Swarbrick (@_chloeswarbrick) December 3, 2019
“For the last 40 years, we have locked people up and pushed those with problems further and further underground, further away from help,” she said. “But you have the opportunity to change all of that.”
Read the full draft New Zealand marijuana legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Tākuta.