Cannabis referendum: Justice Minister says prohibition has failed as new report reveals scale of use in New Zealand

Just days out from votes from the cannabis referendum being counted, Justice Minister Andrew Little has dropped a bombshell by claiming weed prohibition has failed in New Zealand.

It comes as yet another cannabis report the Government didn't want you to see is revealed by Newshub, following the release of a pair of eye-opening Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL) reports last month.

After going to the Ombudsman, more of the research behind the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill Kiwis are voting on in the referendum has been released.

It shows despite its illegal status, 200,000 Kiwis are still indulging in cannabis every week - and concludes prohibition has not been effective.

The Justice Minister went further, telling Newshub prohibition had failed.

"Up to 80 percent of New Zealanders are saying in surveys that they have at some time in their lives tried cannabis," Little said. "Prohibition is not prohibiting cannabis. It's in our communities so it is time to decide on whether to control it."

If more than 50 percent of New Zealanders vote yes to legalising cannabis, we would be able to grow it ourselves or buy it in stores.

Andrew Little.
Andrew Little. Photo credit: The AM Show

Kiwis were shocked when Newshub revealed there could be as many as 419 legal stores scattered across the country, although the Justice Minister says that number, suggested by economists in a report for the Government, is too high.

"I have to tell you that I don't expect for one moment there will be anything like 419 stores in New Zealand," he said.

But there are many more tinny houses already selling illegally in New Zealand. The report estimates as many as 684 of them - an increase of 250 in just one year.

Those tinny houses are currently supplying Kiwis with an estimated 74 tonnes of cannabis a year - the same weight as 12 very stoned, adult African elephants.

The Government and experts say that consumption and number of users could spike if legalisation gets the green light.

"The cannabis legalisation camp never seem to want to admit that cannabis use was going to go up," health expert and Massey University Professor Chris Wilkins said.

"But it seemed to me pretty common sense that once you legalised you had retail outlets and you had normalisation that you were going to get some increase in cannabis use."

The report also shows the price of cannabis has remained unchanged for decades - a tinny will still cost you $20, and an ounce $350.

But it could get cheaper.

"The price of legal cannabis in most jurisdictions has plunged by about 50 percent or more," Prof Wilkins said.

In this impact assessment, the Government admits the supply and demand for cannabis is unlikely to change significantly unless there is a change in approach.

Chris Wilkins.
Chris Wilkins. Photo credit: The AM Show

But it also outlines "there would almost certainly be unintended and unanticipated consequences of legalising cannabis for personal use", and says "there is insufficient data to understand the medium- to long-term impacts" of legalisation.

The Justice Minister is not worried.

"Really the question is, can we expect to do better if we both legalise and control cannabis in our communities? At the moment it's there, and it's out of control."

More than 1.5 million early votes had already been cast. So for those who have already voted in the cannabis referendum, they've done so without all the information - because the Government didn't want to release this report.