The case for voting YES in cannabis referendum


At the General Election of 19 September 2020, there will be a referendum on whether New Zealand should legalize cannabis.

There are numerous reasons why I am voting yes in the 2020 referendum on the legalization of cannabis. In the article following I lay out those reasons and explore some of the side issues around cannabis in New Zealand:

  • Low level cannabis offences take up police time, resources and tax payer money unnecessarily
  • The justice system is unnecessarily clogged with the resultant prosecutions from those offences
  • Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced a probable regime that would be implemented should the referendum return a YES vote, which focuses on reducing harm
  • Recognition of need to address cannabis addiction as medical issue and not a criminal one

The regime that Mr Little has proposed, the regulatory regime would have the following provisions:

  • A minimum age of 20 for purchasing and using cannabis products
  • A ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis
  • Requires harm minimisation messaging to be on products
  • No public use, but confined to homes and regulated premises
  • Restricts cannabis sales to physical stores
  • Regulations on the potency of cannabis products
  • A person over the age of 20 will be able to grow two cannabis plants on their property
  • Individuals will be able to carry up to 14 grams of dried cannabis in public places

Mr Little says that it will be an education and health based regime for those with addictions, assuming that they are willing to enter a treatment centre.

More critically we need to acknowledge as I have mentioned in the past that the “War on Drugs” has been an abject failure. It has driven the cannabis market underground and in doing so it has enabled growers, synthetic cannabis importers and others wanting commercial gain from growing it to thrive in a market that has no regulation and attracts the worst in society.

One of the more damaging aspects of cannabis in New Zealand and around the world has been the rise of synthetic cannabis or “synnies”. These are much stronger and more debilitating than regular cannabis, and can render users zombie like where they appear to be completely detuned from what is happening around them. Many of the users are some of the most vulnerable elements of society with no family, support networks or means of finding work, their drug use can lead to – in the case of women – being forced into prostitution to earn money.

On the whole I like the regime that Mr Little is proposing to implement if the referendum returns a YES vote. I do have concerns though about cannabis being grown on private properties, due to some of the secondary activities and behaviours that tend to be associated with drug manufacture. Specifically I am thinking of the tendency to have firearms, the construction of structures that will impede lawful surveillance and law enforcement; also the coming and going of people with connections to the criminal underworld, prostitution and gang activity.

So whilst I will be voting YES, I acknowledge that there is more work to be done yet on these reforms and I look forward to seeing what the final plan will look like.