Government reveals details of cannabis referendum

The Government has announced that New Zealanders will vote on legislation to legalise recreational cannabis at the 2020 election. 

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

Justice Minister Andrew Little has revealed that voters will be presented with draft legislation that will include a minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis.

It will also include regulations and commercial supply controls, limited home-growing options, a public education programme, and stakeholder engagement.

"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," Little said.

Little highlighted how the referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Greens Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.

"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," Little said, adding that the voter's choice will be "binding".

Little said he hoped that the National Party would commit to "respecting the voters' decision", as the party's drug reform spokesperson Paula Bennett has spoken out against legalisation.

The Cabinet paper outlining details of the referendum has been published online, showing the four referendum approaches the Government considered, which were published on Sunday by National after it was leaked the Cabinet paper.

Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub

It included a non-binding question of whether voters support legalising recreational cannabis, or a non-binding question, accompanied by a policy framework document of how legalisation would work.

It also presented the option of a non-binding question accompanied by draft legislation, as well as a binding question accompanied by legislation already passed that would become law if the public voted 'yes'.

The Cabinet paper highlights how legislation will include "licensed premises" which could "provide an opportunity for staff to monitor and promote safe consumption" of cannabis.

It says full regulation would limit cannabis consumption to private homes and licensed premises, and the drug could not be purchased online or by remote sale.

Cannabis seeds legally on sale sale at a store in the Netherlands.
Cannabis seeds legally on sale sale at a store in the Netherlands. Photo credit: Getty

The Cabinet paper also acknowledged that should cannabis be legalised, the "model must promote equity and improve opportunities for Māori", as Māori are "more likely to receive a cannabis-related conviction than non-Māori".

It also noted how, despite prohibition, cannabis "is the most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand" and "various studies indicate around 10 to 12 percent of adults use cannabis at least once a year and nearly a third of those people are Māori".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed during her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday that Cabinet had made decisions about the 2020 cannabis referendum.

"This is not about formulating a Government position, but simply formulating a question for New Zealanders to have their say on this issue," she said.

The Prime Minister brushed off concerns about the leaked Cabinet paper, saying she did not believe it came from her Caucus, and that Cabinet papers are circulated beyond Cabinet Ministers in the drafting process.

"My message to Cabinet today was of course my expectation is that they maintain confidentiality, but all officers must equally maintain that confidentiality."