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The Government has finally announced that New Zealanders will vote on legislation to legalise recreational cannabis at the 2020 election. Justice Minister Andrew Little has confirmed in a press release that the referendum on recreational cannabis use will be at the 2020 election and will be binding – meaning that if voters approve the measure, the government will be obliged to follow the public’s will.

Officials are now authorized to draft the legislation with stakeholders’ input. While we have yet had the exact draft legislation, the Cabinet paper released in early May 2019 sets out the broad parameters of what a “yes” vote could change. Details of cannabis referendum will include a minimum age of 20 to purchase and consume cannabis for recreational use, regulations of the potency of cannabis products and commercial supply controls, limited home-growing options, a public education programme and stakeholder engagement.

Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot. Little claimed that “There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum as Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation”. A newly revealed poll conducted by Horizon Research has found that 60 per-cent of Kiwis would vote in support of legalising the plant for personal use if asked in a referendum, 24% would vote ‘no’, and 16% had no opinion.

New Zealand has previously demonstrated interests in pursuing a public health-orientated approach to drug policy. In line with a health-based approach, the referendum is considered a breakthrough with the primary purpose of addressing the wellbeing of New Zealanders and harm reduction. It aims to minimise harms associated with cannabis, such as health-related harms, social harms and harms to youth, as well as attempting to lower the overall use of cannabis over time through education and addiction services. Tax revenue raised through the regulation of cannabis should be used to fund relevant health services.

Would Aotearoa New Zealand be following the steps of Canada and Uruguay and opting to legalize and regulate cannabis? Be sure to check back soon for more updates.

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