Cannabis Referendum

This year, we get to have our say on whether or not cannabis should be legal for recreational (personal and/or leisure) use. Please note this has nothing to do with medicinal cannabis, used to treat health conditions. Medicinal cannabis is treated as a separate issue and is not the focus of this referendum.

Back to the herb or pot, weed or whatever you’d like to call it. For reference, the official Government term is always cannabis. Regardless of what you name it, if you want to be able to smoke it at home, or if you’d rather not have it readily available, then now’s the time to have your say. The referendum is a yes or no question: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill? So what is this ‘Bill’ they’re talking about? The reality is that even when legalised, there will still be some strict laws in place surrounding how, when, who, where and what you can use. Sound confusing? Hopefully this helps.

Below is a guide to the draft recreational cannabis laws. These are the rules that could come into place if recreational cannabis is voted in by the public - ahem - you. It is a good idea to read through these to see if you agree or disagree. If you already have an idea of your stance, these rules may just change your mind. So go on, have a read!

If we legalise the use of recreational cannabis, it will have an age limit of 20 years old. If you are 20 and over, you will be able to:

- Buy up to 14 grams of cannabis from licensed shops
- Grow two plants, with a maximum number of four plants per household
- Share up to 14 grams of cannabis with someone who is also over the age of 20
- Consume cannabis at home or on licensed premises. 

If this referendum manages to get Parliament to produce a law, to begin with, only dried or fresh cannabis, cannabis plants and seeds will be allowed. After that, the Government would look at regulating edibles and concentrates too. They’ve already set out some guidelines so you can have an idea of what cannabis regulation might look like in the future. Here they are:

- Edibles will only be allowed if they are baked and don’t require heating or refrigeration
- Edibles can’t be made in the same premises as conventional food
- Anything that “appeals to children and young people” will be banned. This will probably include lollies and gummies. 
- Anything that is mixed with a cannabis product that would negatively interact with cannabis will all be banned. This includes things like drinks, stems and roots. 

Now to where you can consume recreational cannabis. Weed cafes or “consumption premises” could open under the proposed law. Both BYO and retail premises will be allowed. This means cafes or spaces where you can buy or bring your own cannabis to consume. These spaces would need to provide food and drink and can’t supply alcohol or tobacco. They also need to give information on safe consumption. Of course, you’d have to be 20 or older to use or work in these spaces. If you want to smoke cannabis, you will have to go to an outdoor area.

Communities can oppose having consumption spaces in their area. It would most likely follow a similar format to opposing a liquor store. This process usually involves community feedback, information evenings and open discussion forums. 

As for the licensing of the cannabis itself, there would, understandably, be a lot. It starts with quality standards and limits on potency (how strong the cannabis is). All cannabis products would be taxed, with a higher tax rate for higher potency. All products would be required to be labelled with the amount of THC and CBD they contain. THC is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis which causes hallucinations (or the ‘high’). CBD is a non-psychoactive compound also found in cannabis. All products would also have health warnings displayed. These laws are similar to those of cigarette branding. 

Advertising cannabis would be illegal, and retailers would not be able to give products away for free or hold reduced-price sales. You would also need a license to import, cultivate, manufacture, process, research, test, sell, transport or operate consumption premises.

No one and no company can hold a cultivation (growing) licence and a selling licence together. You may only have one. This means there would be no direct-from-grower shops.

To get either license, you’ll need to be vetted by police. You can’t get a license if:

- You’ve been convicted in the last 10 years of dealing drugs, importing or exporting cannabis, supplying it to a minor, being part of a criminal group, money laundering or anything with a sentence of over seven years
- You’re on parole, a community sentence or home detention
- You’ve had a license revoked before under the acts that cover drugs, medicines, alcohol, food or customs.

The reason why New Zealand is considering legalising recreational cannabis use is because there are some benefits to legalisation. The Bill (proposed laws in Parliament) argues that this can reduce harm to communities because it could:

- Eliminate illegal cannabis supplies
- Restrict young people’s access to cannabis
- Control the quality and potency(strength) of cannabis
- Raise awareness of the health risks of cannabis, with things like health warnings on packets
- Improve everyone’s access to health and support services.

Remember, regardless of whether or not we vote to legalise recreational cannabis, these laws will stay the same: 

- You cannot supply cannabis to anyone under 20
- You cannot get high in public or anywhere that’s not a home or a licensed premise
- You cannot grow more than four plants per household or possess more than 14 grams, unless you are licensed
- You cannot feed cannabis to animals
- You cannot smoke any substance indoors
- You cannot send cannabis by mail or courier.

If more than 50% of people vote to legalise recreational cannabis in the referendum, these changes will not happen overnight like COVID-19 level changes. They might not happen at all. This referendum is not binding, meaning it just gives our politicians an indication of what the population thinks. It will help them to decide how important cannabis legalisation to Kiwis. And it will give Parliament the option to put a Bill through the procedures to make a law.

If you’d like to read the full proposal surrounding this referendum, head to the Government website: 

While we have tried to incorporate as much information as possible into this guide, it is not everything in the proposed cannabis legalisation Bill. However, anything we have left out is able to be found at the above site.