NZ Drug Foundation praises New York's cannabis legalisation model, predicts 'different outcome' in referendum now

The New Zealand Drug Foundation says if the cannabis referendum were held today there would be a different result.

A referendum to legalise and regulate the drug failed to pass in 2020.

But one place where the law has changed is in New York, which is now enacting a unique approach.

In the Big Apple, there's big business flowing through the streets of Manhattan. It's not on Wall Street, but you'll find it uptown, downtown, in the East Village and the West Village. 

Flower buds, pre-rolls, THC, CBD - whatever you like, it's in New York.

Roland runs 'Smacked', which is a licensed store in New York's Greenwich Village.

Right now the state is handing out licences to sell regulated weed. Those who have cannabis convictions, like Roland, get a preference when applying. 

"When you get locked up you can't really shake those sorts of things. It makes it hard to get a job," Roland said.

Licenses are seen as a way of redressing harm caused by America's war on drugs. A war that wreaked havoc across struggling black communities - especially in New York.

Decades later, the landscape changed with 40 percent of the tax from licensed stores to be reinvested into communities those harsh laws targeted. 

"You do want some type of justice," Roland said.

Roland's cannabis isn't grown in a hidden glasshouse either.

His weed comes from upstate New York Farmers and the whole process is overseen by the Office of Cannabis Management.

"I do think from a public health standpoint this is where society is going. You know harm reduction strategies are the future," Office of Cannabis Management's chief of staff Axel Bernabe said.

The future looks bright for New York's new venture but it isn't all plain sailing. 

Officials are working tirelessly to shut down unlicensed stores that are wanting to get in on the action.

While the introduction of new cannabis laws in New York hasn't been completely smooth, cannabis is giving a big boost to the local economy.

When Newshub asked NZ Drug Foundation's Sarah Helm if New York could provide a roadmap for NZ to do something similar, she said there are "certainly some elements from New York's model that I would think is pretty on the money in terms of international best practice".

The Drug Foundation believes New York could be setting a shining example for New Zealand. And despite legalisation failing at the last election, it says times have already changed.

"A number of those people who voted no would have voted yes for decriminalisation and some of those people who voted no now regret it. So I think we would have a different outcome," Helm said.

Cannabis isn't on the Government's radar right now though so it could be a long time before another outcome is reached. 

In the meantime, it's a chance to watch how other markets are evolving, like New York to fast becoming a cannabis kingdom.