New Zealand's cannabis referendum set for September 2020

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Government announced today that New Zealand's cannabis referendum will be held on 19 September 2020, at the same time as the general election.

The referendum will ask New Zealanders if they support the recently-released Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. A 'yes' vote would effectively end the prohibition of cannabis in New Zealand and establish a new set of regulations that allow for non-prescription therapeutic use and recreational use.

On 19 September 2020, the public will be asked a simple yes or no referendum question and if it passes, Parliament will then pass legislation to make it lawful. If the referendum results in a no vote, then the status quo will continue.

The referendum question is: “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?”

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced the 2020 general election dates today, which sets in motion a series of other dates and deadlines for the rest of the year. The dates issued by the Electoral Commission reveal more details about how votes on the cannabis referendum will be processed.

Votes on the cannabis referendum won't be counted on election night, and instead New Zealanders will have to wait until October 2 for the release of preliminary results.

Official results declared on 9 October 2020.

If more than 50% of the vote is 'Yes', recreational use of cannabis won't become legal straight away. After the election, the incoming Government will need to follow a process to introduce a Bill to Parliament that would make recreational use of cannabis legal. This process would include the opportunity for the public to share their thoughts and ideas on how the law might work.

If more than 50% of the vote is 'No', recreational use of cannabis will remain illegal, as is the current law. Medicinal Cannabis and hemp will not be affected. Medicinal use of Cannabis will still be allowed if prescribed by a health practitioner and hemp will still be legal.

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill would make cannabis legal, but apply a range of controls, including to its manufacture, retail, purchase and consumption.

The draft bill includes certain restrictions, such as:

  • Purchase and use restricted to those aged 20 and over.

  • Purchase would be limited to 14 grams a day.

  • Cannabis use will be confined to private homes and licensed premises.

  • Access will be through licensed dispensaries and cannabis cafés / social clubs

  • Retailers would be required to communicate “harm minimisation messaging”.

  • Consumption in public places will be banned, with use limited to private homes and premises licensed for the purpose.

  • Sale limited to licensed physical stores, with online or remote sales verboten.

  • Potency (presumedly THC) to be regulated.

  • A licensing regime to be introduced covering each part of the growing and supply chain, with limits on the amount of cannabis grown to be introduced over time.

  • Edibles would be legal.

  • Marketing and advertising cannabis will be restricted

  • Requirements for public health messaging on packaging

  • Quality and safety standards will be set for the licensed supply of cannabis, cannabis products, and related accessories.

  • Cannabis Regulatory Authority will be established

  • Equitable access to a stable supply of licensed cannabis and cannabis products available for purchase in New Zealand will be promoted.

  • Pricing of cannabis products will "balance the need for harm reduction" while at the same time, "drawing people away from the illicit cannabis market".

  • Government will ensure the proceeds of cannabis sales contribute to the economy and are taxed appropriately.

  • Individuals can grow cannabis for personal use and sharing, limited to 2 plants per person or a maximum of 4 plants (aggregate) per household.

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