Proposed cannabis legislation strikes 'really good balance' - NORML

A cannabis lobby group has welcomed most of the Government's proposed legal regime for the psychoactive drug, hoping the "balanced" legislation will fire up smokers come election time.

A referendum is due to be held alongside September's general election, in which voters will decide whether to legalise cannabis. The Government on Friday unveiled the final details of how legalisation would look, including an age limit of 20, and limits on potency and amounts people could possess. 

The hope is that by providing a legal market and letting users grow their own, the black market will be wiped out - ensuring smokers have access to safe products and raising a bit of tax revenue in the process. 

"Overall it's a really good balance between controlling the availability of cannabis and allowing the market to compete with the illicit market, and also making sure that those who enter the industry are of good character and mindset," Chris Fowlie of pro-cannabis group NORML told Newshub.

"It allows adults to grow their own. It allows them to buy cannabis and seeds, and even live plants from licenced outlets... It seems like they've really learned from alcohol and tobacco controls, in terms of avoiding a big, powerful industry to develop. 

"Overall, I'm very happy with how they're approaching this." 

One issue he has with the proposed regime is the age limit of 20 - two years higher than alcohol - but understands the reasoning behind it.

"I'd like to see it consistent with alcohol at 18, and I think it does send a strange message to young people to say 'you're totally fine to drink toxic alcohol that causes all this social harm, but if you want cannabis - that's demonstrably safer - you have to wait until you're 20'. 

"We do think that's a bit odd, but I do see why people have gone for it. Ultimately this is a referendum - it has to pass, and that seems to be where New Zealand is comfortable with, so fair enough. 

"It's 20 or even 21 in most places around the world where it's legal."

Some users might have an issue with the potency limit - 15 percent THC, the substance in cannabis which delivers the high. 

"If it doesn't suit us it's not like we've been law-abiding citizens for all these years," long-time cannabis campaigner Dakta Green told Newshub on Friday.

Fowlie said 15 percent was "pretty close" to what most users would be familiar with.

"I think when people see photos of the ideal best cannabis in the world... and it's testing close to 30, that's not the reality of what people actually ever getting. So 15 percent, it's kind of arbitrary because there's definitely an argument to be made that if it's stronger, you have less."

Experienced tokers, he said, would know exactly how many puffs they need to get the effect they're after. 

"There are other arguments as well for having those caps, like mental health... but the same could be said for alcohol. It's swings and roundabouts I guess."

In the end, he encourages users not to "kick up a fuss" and get to the polls. 

"I think it's going to come down to the wire - it's going to be a very close vote and we're going to need every vote that we can. It's up to us to get out there and convince New Zealanders that this is better than what we currently have... do we want more of the same, something that has clearly failed and causes all this unnecessary harm, or is it time to move on? 

"We've been talking about this for a long time and you know, one thing that might have come out of COVID is perhaps people have reset their priorities a little bit, and perhaps all this angst over whether cannabis is legal or not isn't such a big deal and it's time to just vote yes and give it a go." 

An economic think tank earlier this week predicted $490 million in tax revenue a year from the legal cannabis market, but only if it's good enough to eliminate the black market.