Cannabis legislation and referendum in 2019?

The Government are considering legislation and referendum on the personal use of cannabis in 2019 – they are committed to a referendum by 2020, but legislation followed by a referendum next year would be an excellent approach.

This sounds very sensible. The Government should be encouraged to take this approach.

The Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement guarantees a referendum by 2020:

19. Increase funding for alcohol and drug addiction services and ensure drug use is treated as a health issue, and have a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at, or by, the 2020 general election.

Now RNZ report: NZ may vote on cannabis legalisation in 2019

(Note – RNZ repeatedly referred to ‘marijuana but I have replaced that with ‘cannabis’)

The government is currently debating whether to hold the referendum in 2019 because it’s not sure holding it at the 2020 General Election would be a smart move politically.

The referendum on legalising cannabis was part of the confidence and supply deal struck between Labour and the Greens – although Winston Peters’ backs one too.

I don’t think there can be any guarantees about whether Winston Peters or NZ First would support this. Their stance on cannabis has been vague and variable over the past few years. NZ First back using referendums in general, but with notable exceptions – Peters was strongly opposed to the flag referendum.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the government’s contemplating holding it next year, rather than in 2020.

“There’s two competing issues, one is it would be convenient to have it then (2020) we’ve got a General Election so we’re already running a ballot there.

“On the other hand, there would be other colleagues who would say ‘well we don’t necessarily want a General Election run on this particular sort of issue, so let’s have it at a different time’ – that issue hasn’t been resolved and it will be a little while before it is, I suspect.”

Campaigning on cannabis could be a major distraction in a general election – but it could improve voter turnout.

Mr Little acknowledged the government had a lot of work to do before any vote.

“We need to make sure there is good public information out there, good events for people to express their views, so that would dictate a timing that would be no earlier that late 2019.”

He said the government still did not know what sort of legalised cannabis system it will propose putting in place.

“We simply haven’t got anywhere near that, I think it’s about getting the mechanics of the referendum sorted, then I think obviously some discussions around scope and maybe some options there.

“The critical question is going to be, what is the question to go to the electorate with, one that makes sense and gives a meaningful answer and gives a mandate if it is approved to proceed with further work – if it’s not approved of course it’s all over.”

Having fair and clear referendum questions is very important.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick said other aspects of how the referendum will be run are still being hammered out too.

“The first thing we have to consider is whether we put legislation before the House first which will then be triggered by whatever the threshold may be of that referendum turn out.

“We’re still working through that, so we’re working with other government parties and inside our own caucus to discern what the best course of action will be,” Ms Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick generally seems to have stepped up capably and done a very good job as a first term MP in a party in Government.

Having legislation before Parliament, with public submissions and a conscience vote, makes a lot of sense. Then let the public approve or disapprove of the legislation via the referendum.

The problem with having the referendum first is that the subsequent legislative process in Parliament could then either be restricted by the referendum question, or could move away from the intent of the electorate.

The legislation then referendum approach could establish a very good model for engaging the public in the democratic process.

Legislation on personal cannabis use next year, followed by an approve/disapprove referendum late in the year, sounds like an excellent option for both cannabis and drug reform (whether it happens or not), and also for democracy.

This doesn’t mean the personal use of cannabis would become legal, but it means that the public would properly get to make the decision.

8 Comments

  1. NOEL

     /  May 23, 2018

    “The government of New Zealand may, at any time, call for a referendum on any issue, but must pass enabling legislation first, otherwise the resulting referendums will be indicative, not binding on central government. This provision allows some parliamentary scrutiny of the issue and wording of the question. There is no constraint on whether an issue is to be decided by the New Zealand Parliament or by the public.”

  2. Zedd

     /  May 23, 2018

    hey good idea man..
    many in ‘the movement’ seem to think it should be held BEFORE the election. If they leave it until the election, it relies upon this current Govt. to be re-elected, to ensure any outcome is seriously considered to be implemented. Most recent polls show over 67% (two-thirds) want to see reform, beyond the current; eff. Zero-tolerance MODA 1975, as was made clear in the Law Commission report 2011 (ignored by the previous Govt.; beyond Sativex & synthetics). :/ :/ 🙂

  3. PartisanZ

     /  May 23, 2018

    “The legislation then referendum approach could establish a very good model for engaging the public in the democratic process … Legislation on personal cannabis use next year, followed by an approve/disapprove referendum late in the year, sounds like an excellent option for both cannabis and drug reform (whether it happens or not), and also for democracy.”

    It’s gotta be better than the “loaded question” style referendum that’s been used so often to date … although “whether it happens or not” should largely depend on the referendum outcome.

    “This doesn’t mean the personal use of cannabis would become legal, but it means that the public would properly get to make the decision.”

    Here’s the rub. If the referendum result approves of cannabis becoming legal, the public should really, by rights, get to make the decision …

    However, I don’t agree with this automatically being the case, as with Maori Seats or a return to FPP. There must remain a place for the deliberative approach … because populist so often equates with retrograde …

    Cannabis Law reform has hopefully reached the “no brainer” level of approval?

    Regarding medicinal cannabis, I could find almost nothing to disagree with in the Green’s Amendment Bill, and even that could go a lot further, for instance with the inclusion of ‘caregivers’ …

    Let’s get this Dunne! …….. Over and Dunne with.

    Over and out …

  4. my concern is the issue has several solutions, and only one has or 2 have overwhelming support. Medical and decrim, an actual adult market a surveyed by NZDF doesnt have a majority support, so perhaps have 2 or 3 questions.
    Do you support the rights of the sick to grow their own Cannabis medicine, or have a caregiver grow on behalf.?
    Do you support the removal of criminal penalties for the personal cultivation and consumption of cannabis.?
    Do you support a regulated, restricted adult use market, that takes into account the lessons learned with alcohol and tobacco?

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