New Zealand: referendum on cannabis legalisation to take place in September 2020

Following an agreement made in 2017 between the ruling coalition parties in New Zealand, it has been announced that a referendum on legalising the recreational use of cannabis will be held together with the next general election, on 19 September 2020.

On 1 May 2020, a draft bill was published alongside the referendum question: ‘Do you support the proposed “Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill”?’, with a yes/no answer. The stated purpose of the bill is to reduce cannabis-related harm, and it proposes the establishment of home grow and retail supply systems, as well as a ‘Cannabis Regulatory Authority’ to oversee the sector.

Under the bill, the minimum age for cannabis possession or purchase is 20 — by comparison, the minimum age for alcohol purchase is 18. A person may cultivate up to two cannabis plants, and the bill permits up to four plants per household. A person would be able to buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis per day or its specified equivalent (such as 3.5 grams of concentrates), to be consumed in private or on licensed premises. Social sharing of up to 14 grams would be permitted. Use in public would be fined up to NZ$500 (€280), and possession by an under-age person would be punished by a small fine or a health-based response. Selling to an under-age person would be punished by up to 4 years in prison.

Sales would be from licensed retailers, whose premises should not externally promote that they sell cannabis. Those selling cannabis to take away would not be allowed to sell tobacco, alcohol or food, while premises licensed for on-site consumption must provide food and non-alcoholic beverages for sale at the venue. Levels of THC would be limited to 15 % in dried cannabis, and THC and CBD content should be clearly labelled. Cannabis edibles, which must not appeal to children, may possibly be permitted for sale later but not at the first stage. Cannabis-infused products, however, could be produced at home. Neither the advertising of products nor online sales would be allowed. There would be an excise tax on retail products based on weight and potency.

The bill proposes a limit on annual production; the cap may be adjusted each year and apportioned between different types of growers, including micro-cultivators. No more than 20 % of the annual cultivation cap would be allocated to one licence holder. A special levy would raise money for harm reduction services, including education and treatment programmes.

The referendum vote does not bind the new New Zealand government to act. If more than 50 % of voters vote yes, cannabis will not become legal immediately; the government can introduce a bill to Parliament, which may be modified following public consultation. If more than 50 % vote no, the status quo will remain.

The government summary of the bill is here >>
The bill is available here >>


This content was published in the EMCDDA’s Cannabis drug policy news on 28.05.2020