New Zealand’s approach to cannabis looks set to change this year, as the country has scheduled a referendum on recreational cannabis use for mid September. In this referendum, New Zealanders will be asked if they support the proposed Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, for which a first draft was released in December last year.
This draft bill lays out that while the referendum on adult recreational use promises a range of manufacturing, cultivation and retail opportunities, the same law would essentially ban the online advertising and sale of recreational cannabis. It also highlights that a regulatory body, the Cannabis Regulatory Authority, would manage the regulation and supply chain within the country.
If New Zealanders vote in favour of the legalisation bill, and the government decides to enact a law legalising adult cannabis use, this would allow citizens over the age of 20 to grow a limit of two plants for personal use and buy up to 14 grams of cannabis per day. Even when legalised though, cannabis could only be consumed in licensed facilities and private residences.
While we’ll have to wait to see the results of this referendum, let’s take a look at the current approach towards cannabis legislation in the country to get an insight on how this referendum might pan out.
Cannabis in New Zealand
The current laws in place surrounding the recreational use of cannabis in New Zealand are relatively strict, as cannabis remains classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 as an illegal drug, with penalties for use varying from fines to time in prison. However, it seems these fines have done little to deter New Zealanders from consuming recreational cannabis, with The Guardian reporting that ‘by the age of 25, 80% of New Zealanders will have tried cannabis at least once’.
However, despite the relatively high prevalence of cannabis use in the country by all ethnic populations, there is a highly concerning disparity in the country surrounding who gets prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses. New Zealand’s indigenous people, Māori, make up a disproportionate amount of the country’s drug related convictions – as reported by Helen Clark for The Guardian: ‘Māori make up around 15% of the population. Yet Māori aged 17 to 25 make up 37% of all convictions for drug possession.’ It is hoped that with drug reform, with the potential for legalising cannabis in this upcoming referendum, the number of prisoners in the country can be reduced, while also helping to reduce the proportion of Māori in prison so that it’s more reflective of the proportion of Māori in New Zealand’s general population.
While the status of recreational cannabis is currently under debate in the country then, New Zealand’s government has already committed to putting a medicinal cannabis scheme in place which is intended to make access to medical cannabis for a wider range of conditions possible. This scheme is set to come into effect on the 1st of April this year. This scheme is hoped to increase access by creating a licensing regime which will allow the cultivation of cannabis, as well as the manufacture and supply of medical cannabis in the country under a license, if the products in question meet quality standards. This proposed scheme allows for the manufacture and supply of cannabis for medical use only, and does not deal with medical products made using synthetic cannabinoids.
Until the 1st of April though, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Medicines Act 1981 will still apply in the country. As described on the Ministry of Health’s website: ‘Medicinal cannabis products, excluding cannabidiol (CBD) products, are Class B1 controlled drugs and Ministerial approval is required before most can be prescribed, supplied or administered, in accordance with regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977.’
With this new scheme being put in place in April, and the referendum scheduled for later this year, it seems New Zealand could be making medical cannabis far more easily accessible for its citizens in the very near future. Now we just have to wait to see what the citizens of the country have to say on the matter.
For more in depth information on medical cannabis, UK policy and the conditions medical cannabis can treat, we recommend accessing our in depth modules available on our website. Here, you can find up to date information on cannabis based medicinal products and how best to prescribe them. You can also explore our news section and evidence base for the latest information on this ever-changing area of research.
We urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.