Is New Zealand About to Legalise Weed?

Cannabis being weighed

In just over a month’s time, our neighbours across the Tasman will be heading to polling stations to cast their votes in an election. Current PM Jacinda Ardern is the favourite to return as leader of the country — and probably the favourite leader of most countries, too.

At the same time, Kiwis will be asked to vote on whether or not they would like to legalise the use of cannabis. This is a huge and dramatic shift that will certainly have repercussions for Australia and we thought it would be useful to give you guys a rundown of what’s happening and what it all means.

What’s going on?

New Zealand is holding a ‘reeferendum’ on whether or not its citizens support a proposed piece of legislation called the ‘Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill’. This is a bill that will legalise the production, sale, possession, and use of cannabis.

Legalisation is different from decriminalisation in that it makes the act legal rather than just something you won’t be charged with a criminal offence for – a small but crucial distinction.

If the bill passes, it will grant citizens over the age of 20 the right to possess and consume up to 14 grams of cannabis per day. This might sound like a lot, but in other places like Canada where weed is legal, the quantity allowed for is twice that.

In addition, Kiwi’s will also be able to grow up to four cannabis plants per household, sell cannabis in licensed premises, and smoke it in their own Amsterdam-style coffee shops.

The referendum is however technically non-binding as a new government could be in power after the election who may not pass the bill.

How likely is it to pass?

Well, it’s hard to say right now. Latest polling shows the referendum sits on a knife edge, with both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ at 49.5%. Historically it looked as though the vote was going in favour but has slipped back in recent weeks. Support for cannabis law reform has been growing in NZ for years.

How will this affect us?

If the bill passes, support for something similar in Australia is more likely though perhaps not under the current administration.

In addition, Australia has a huge medical cannabis industry. Already there are over 32 organisations with licenses to produce medical cannabis around the country. In spite of this, patients frequently report difficulty in accessing the medicine and complain of high costs. Reform of the system will likely receive greater support if the bill comes into effect in NZ.

Also, each state and territory has slightly different laws already and the bill in NZ may further push states to liberalise their approach. Currently in the ACT you can possess up to 150 grams of cannabis and grow up to two plants while across the border in NSW, you would be facing serious penalties for such possession.

When do we find out?

Votes will be cast October 17th and the final result is expected to be announced on the 6th of November but the bill is unlikely to be passed until mid 2021.

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