New Zealanders to make the decision in cannabis referendum

Updated: May 12, 2019

The Government has announced details of how New Zealanders will choose whether or not to legalise and regulate the personal use of cannabis, said Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals. The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.

“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation”, said Little.

That draft legislation will include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis

  • Regulations and commercial supply controls

  • Limited home-growing options

  • A public education programme

  • Stakeholder engagement

The Cabinet paper delivered by Little offers further insight into the government’s thinking about the legalisation of cannabis. It dismisses the option of decriminalisation on the basis that “would not address the issue of supply” and would essentially require the law to be ignored in order to work. Instead, the recommendation is for “full regulation of recreational cannabis”. This would include:

  • Regulation of the potency of cannabis products

  • A state licensing scheme for all stages of cannabis production and manufacture.

  • The restriction of the consumption of cannabis to private homes and specifically licensed premises.

  • Restriction of sales to licensed physical stores only (no digital dispensaries).

  • The inclusion of health and harm minimisation messaging in the marketing and retailing of cannabis.

  • Recognition of and permission for “social sharing” of small quantities of cannabis among people of legal age.

  • Regulated sale of cannabis plant and seed for home cultivation, “including the requirement to keep children and underage individuals safe”.

  • Regulated sale of both edibles and cannabis concentrates. This is where we diverge somewhat from Canada, which has been shy of allowing the sale of concentrates. It would be legal to make your own edibles at home – but not your own concentrates, because Government considers the process to be dangerous.

  • A complete ban on cannabis advertising and restrictions on marketing (cannabis companies would be allowed to develop brands but be prohibited from advertising their products).

  • No importation of cannabis unless by a government-licensed wholesaler, for the current market “to minimise the consequence of an illegal trade.”

The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot”


Here is the paper on the personal use of cannabis referendum question that was considered by Cabinet.

The Justice Minister also confirmed there will be no other government initiated referendums at the next election.

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