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NZ: Government reveals cannabis referendum legalisation details

If passed, the cannabis bill would allow cannabis to be consumed, sold, and purchased for recreational use, by people 20 years or older.

Proposed cannabis legalisation will ban items designed to appeal to young people, set a four-year prison term for selling to under 20-year-olds and allow cannabis 'coffee shops' to open.

On Friday, the Government released details of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which will be voted on in one of two referendums at this year’s general election.

It was released in draft form in December last year.

The final version also confirmed the wording of the cannabis referendum question will be a straight 'Yes or No' option.

The Bill sets out the regulation regime that would legalise the production, possession and uses of cannabis in New Zealand for those aged 20 years and older.

It reveals how the regulation of consumption premises would work, the approvals process for cannabis products and which products would be prohibited, the licensing requirements, how the bill proposes to reduce young people’s exposure to cannabis; and infringements and penalties.


The cannabis market would be overseen by the Cannabis Regulatory Authority.

The market would start with the phased introduction of cannabis, starting with fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis plants and seeds.

The law would allow people to buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) per day but only from licensed outlets.

People will also be able to grow up to two plants, with a maximum of four plants per household and share up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) with another person aged 20 or over.

Green Party drug reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said the Bill took an evidence-based, harm-reduction approach.

It also sets fines of up to $500 for using in public and up to four years in prison for supplying cannabis to an under-20-year-old.

But a person under the age 20 found in possession of cannabis would not face conviction.

They would receive a “health-based response” such as an education session, social or health service, or they would pay a small fee or fine.


The bill also opens the potential for cannabis ‘coffee shops’.

These would include BYO cafes and combined retail and consumption premises that would be required to provide conventional food and drink.

They would not be able to sell alcohol or tobacco but smoking or vaping cannabis indoors would be allowed.

The referendum website states that the primary objective for "consumption premises” was to provide lawful places to consume cannabis outside the home.

They would have to provide information on how to consume cannabis and safely monitor customers.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the public should feel like they could meaningfully participate in the referendum.


In what is likely an NZ First push, the Government has made clear it does not want teens smoking pot.

Cannabis edibles would have to meet specific requirements and would be banned if they are found to appeal to children and young people.

They would be required to be solid at room temperature and must be restricted to baked products that do not require refrigeration or heating and be produced in separate premises to those used for conventional food production.

The bill bans beverages that include cannabis, products designed to increase the psychoactive or addictive effects of cannabis, packaged dried or fresh cannabis containing roots or stems.

Products containing alcohol and tobacco and injectable products, suppositories, and products for the eyes, ears or nose will also be prohibited.

Advertising, promoting, and sponsoring cannabis products and cannabis businesses would also be banned.

Packaging could not be targeted towards children and young people in any way and requirements that discourage cannabis consumption, such as plain packaging and health warnings, would be developed.

A person under the age 20 found in possession of cannabis would not face conviction.


Regulating how cannabis is produced and supplied would be done by limiting the total amount of licensed cannabis for sale, controlling the potency and contents of licensed cannabis and cannabis products and applying an excise tax when a product is packaged and labelled for sale.

The tax would be based on weight and potency and a levy, similar to that applied to alcohol and gambling, would fund services to reduce cannabis harm.

There would be restrictions on the appearance of premises that would include rules against promoting the fact that cannabis is available for purchase inside.

A licensing system would also be set up for all cannabis-related businesses.

It would also regulate location and trading hours for premises where cannabis is sold or consumed, in consultation with local communities.

It bans people from importing cannabis and allows only licensed businesses to import cannabis seeds.

An assessment would apply to all licence applicants, directors, and people overseeing cannabis operations under an authorisation and police vetting would be included in the process.

Some less serious previous convictions will not, on their own, disqualify the person.

Cannabis edibles would have to meet specific requirements and would be banned if they are found to appeal to children and young people.

A cap would limit the amount of cannabis available for sale in the licensed market and no licence holder would be able to hold more than 20 per cent of the cap.

A cabinet paper reveals the bill did not address certain policy issues that have been deferred until after the referendum.

This included current laws under the Misuse of Drug Act and the interface with medical cannabis.

The Cabinet paper also states the law would face international legal issues and have foreign policy implications because New Zealand was currently bound by the United Nations Drug Conventions.

The law would be reviewed after five years of operating as a licensed regime.


If more than 50 per cent of people vote 'yes' in the referendum, recreational cannabis wouldn't become legal straight away.

After the election, the incoming Government could introduce a bill to Parliament that would legalise and control cannabis.

According to the referendum website, this process would include the opportunity for the public to share their thoughts and ideas on how the law might work.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was important all eligible voters had the opportunity to be informed about the upcoming referendums.

No further updates of the bill would be made before the referendum, he said.

Explanatory material on both referendums, would be included in the Electoral Commission’s enrolment update and EasyVote card mailouts to voters in the lead-up to this year’s election.

“It is important that the public feel they can meaningfully participate in the referendum.”

The referendum was a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, he said.

Green Party drug reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said Kiwis now had a clear vision of how a safe, regulated cannabis market would work.

The bill took an evidence-based, harm-reduction approach, to control access and produce better justice and mental health outcomes across Aotearoa, she said.

“Cannabis prohibition has left us with a dangerous, unregulated black-market which puts at-risk communities and young people in danger. It’s only pushed the issue out of sight, where it’s bloomed in the shadows."

“This bill is the framework for game-changing regulation. It includes controls over who can purchase cannabis, requirements for education of users, standards to hold licence to sell cannabis, and the establishment of a regulatory authority to monitor sale and supply," she said.


Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the final new details strengthened the controls from the initial draft, making it a world-leading piece of public health legislation.

“The Bill delivers government-controlled regulations over the production, supply and use of cannabis, with the intent of reducing harms, particularly for young people.”

There were almost 600,000 regular consumers currently accessing cannabis from an un-controlled, illicit market, he said.

“This Bill doesn’t create a cannabis market, it puts solid public health controls over this existing market.”

Police spent almost $200 million on cannabis enforcement and convictions, which should be put to better use protecting us all from serious crimes, he said.

He believed a legal regulated market for adults would free up police time and resources.

“With a strict R20 rule, the Cannabis Control Bill sends a very clear message that cannabis is for adults only.”

Originally published here: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/121373149/government-reveals-cannabis-referendum-legalisation-details