Cannabis referendum announcement

Yesterday Jacinda Ardern advised the Cabinet had made a decision on how they will do the cannabis referendum that has to be held before or alongside next year’s general election.

She said that Minister of Justice Andrew Little will make an announcement on it today.

There’s been a lot of conjecture, lobbying, shonky polling, leaking, misleading claims and noise over cannabis law reform.

No one in Government denies there are health issues with cannabis use, especially for young people. The whole aim of law reform is to switch from a law and punishment approach (which has been unsuccessful if not disastrous), to a health and treatment approach.

UPDATE: the announcement:

New Zealanders to make the decision in cannabis referendum

The Government has announced details of how New Zealanders will choose whether or not to legalise and regulate cannabis, said Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals. The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.

“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.

“That draft legislation will include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis,
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls,
  • Limited home-growing options,
  • A public education programme,
  • Stakeholder engagement.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.

“We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision.

“I have today released the actual paper considered by Cabinet,” said Andrew Little.

The Justice Minister also confirmed there will be no other government initiated referendums at the next election.

Initial reaction – Green quick off the mark.

Leave a comment


  1. Duker

     /  7th May 2019

    Theres a misapprehension about the current legal situation
    “law and punishment approach (which has been unsuccessful if not disastrous)”

    You could go and look at the always full heart wards of hospitals and say the ‘medical approach isnt working’ as they have to keep on operating on people.

    What is obviously wrong with that ‘isnt working’ analysis is that population is both growing and aging, so the wards will be full always

    Same goes for cannabis , every year another 75,000? people become say 18 years old ( some will be younger) and have the chance to experiment or not with drugs . So enough of this current laws havent worked nonsense- neither have laws against cars speeding ‘worked’ but as its unsafe to do so we dont remove them

    Why change things if the current legal situation is satisfactory – even Netherlands didnt change its law laws , just ‘allowed’ the cannabis coffee shops. The idea that all cannabis laws will disappear is fantasy and we will still have heaps of cannabis laws and regulations that need policing. Just moving goal posts around because we know we cant totally make cannabis unrestricted as its not a safe substance is nonsense. Leave as is the current recreational laws.
    Even something like CBD products are false pretense ( doesnt contain THC) as the therapeutic dose is 1000 to 2000mg in a tablet per day . Where they have products for sale they contain 5mg and rely on the placebo effect.

  2. duperez

     /  7th May 2019

    The only certainty is that whatever the Government comes up with will be the wrong thing.

    When the criticism comes pouring out there’ll be some who’ll say there wasn’t the need for such change, the status quo was preferable, ‘don’t do anything’ was a better answer. Some of those will undoubtedly be from the “they’re not doing anything, they’re meant to be transformative” school.

    Meanwhile the potheads on the sidelines will be exhorting the emotional and distraught to calm down by finding a quiet spot for a toke.

  3. adamsmith1922

     /  7th May 2019

    My immediate thoughts following Andrew Little’s apparently broad interpretation of binding on RNZ yesterday

  4. NOEL

     /  7th May 2019

    The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals.

    Every question option is on legalising recreational use of cannabis.

    To paraphrase one who comments here it’s not about health but about choice.

  5. Good onya Chloe & Mr Little 🙂

  6. david in aus

     /  7th May 2019

    There needs to be a comprehensive education program on the cost and benefits of this legislation. In contrast to the absence of informed debate on the medical use of cannabis.

    Cannabis use for medical purposes, such as pain, does not have medical professional support. It has clinically nil significant effects with known harms.
    It has been debate driven by people already using the drug for recreational purposes and there is little evidence of benefit. There need to be 23 people treated to benefit 1 patient. But for every six people treated, there is one harmed.

    Imagine legalization and subsequent increased use. Maori are devastated by cannabis use. There are significant amotivational effects. The use of cannabis is so ingrained many in that community see it as a norm, and the negative effects are explained away by vague notions of ‘colonization’.

    Be careful NZ. Those enacting cannabis liberalization laws should be held to account when sh*t hits the fans in the coming years.

    • Griff.

       /  7th May 2019

      Lets just ask some actual experts rather than take what a right wing person makes up to suit their bias as factual …EH

      The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (2017)

      Summary of Chapter Conclusions*

      There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:

      For the treatment of chronic pain in adults (cannabis) (4-1)
      As antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (oral cannabinoids) (4-3)
      For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids) (4-7a)

      There is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:

      Improving short-term sleep outcomes in individuals with sleep disturbance associated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis (cannabinoids, primarily nabiximols) (4-19)

      There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:

      Increasing appetite and decreasing weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS (cannabis and oral cannabinoids) (4-4a)
      Improving clinician-measured multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids) (4-7a)
      Improving symptoms of Tourette syndrome (THC capsules) (4-8)
      Improving anxiety symptoms, as assessed by a public speaking test, in individuals with social anxiety disorders (cannabidiol) (4-17)
      Improving symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (nabilone; a single, small fair-quality trial) (4-20)

      There is limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabinoids and:

      Better outcomes (i.e., mortality, disability) after a traumatic brain injury or intracranial hemorrhage (4-15)

      • david in aus

         /  7th May 2019

        Never heard of the National academies of whatever… from their website “The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private”

        British Pain Society: Their position statement

        Click to access BPS_Position_Statement_on_the_medicinal_use_of_cannabinoids_in_pain_management.pdf

        …….However, meta-analyses of clinical studies on cannabinoids for the management of
        pain conclude that there is no positive evidence to support routine use in pain management. These include neuropathic pain, chronic non-malignant pain and cancer pain.
        The British Pain Society acknowledges that the quality of some studies is not of a high standard and supports the need of well-designed robust clinical trials and registries to evaluate the safety, efficacy and harms of cannabinoid preparations in pain management. In the meantime, any use of cannabinoid preparations for pain management should be closely monitored for benefit and side effects; these findings should be evaluated within a national database and any concerns should be appropriately investigated.

        The British Pain Society shares the concerns raised in the position statement of the Faculty of Pain Medicine and reports from USA, Ireland and Australia.

        More than 150 Consultants in Pain Medicine signed a letter to the editor of The Times expressing their concern about the unregulated use of cannabinoid preparations for pain due to their uncertain effectiveness and the potential for misuse and adverse effects on cognition and mental health.

      • david in aus

         /  7th May 2019

        Faculty of Pain Medicine (Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists)

        Click to access pm10-2018.pdf

        “At the present time, the scientific evidence for the efficacy of cannabinoids in the
        management of people with chronic non-cancer pain is insufficient to justify endorsement of
        their clinical use.”

        “FPM is very concerned about the adverse event profile in cannabis users, especially in
        young people, including impaired respiratory function, psychotic symptoms and disorders
        and cognitive impairment.”

        Advocates seem to cite dodgy sources to support their cases. A bit like the anti-Vaxxers. Perhaps you cannot trust ”big-pharma” and those influenced by them.

        No National Medical Pain society anywhere in the world supports medical cannabis without more evidence of benefits that outweighs the downsides.

      • Griff.

         /  7th May 2019

        Never heard of the National academies of whatever…
        Advocates seem to cite dodgy sources to support their cases
        Sorry mate National Academy is about as authoritative as you are going to get at lest in the USA .
        Much more so than either of the two links you gave .

        National Academy of Medicine

        The National Academy of Medicine provides national and international advice on issues relating to health, medicine, health policy, and biomedical science. It aims to provide unbiased, evidence-based, and authoritative information and advice concerning health and science policy to policy-makers, professionals, leaders in every sector of society, and the public at large.

        Operating outside the framework of the U.S. federal government, it relies on a volunteer workforce of scientists and other experts, operating under a formal peer-review system. As a national academy, the organization annually elects new members with the help of its current members; the election is based on the members’ distinguished and continuing achievements in a relevant field as well as for their willingness to participate actively.

        The National Academies attempt to obtain authoritative, objective, and scientifically balanced answers to difficult questions of national importance.[3] The work is conducted by committees of volunteer scientists—leading national and international experts—who serve without compensation. Committees are composed in an attempt to assure the requisite expertise and to avoid bias or conflict of interest. Every report produced by committee undergoes extensive review and evaluation by a group of external experts who are anonymous to the committee, and whose names are revealed only once the study is published. Victor Dzau is President and Chairman of the Council. His six-year term began on July 1, 2014. The Leonard D. Schaeffer Executive Officer is J. Michael McGinnis.

        The majority of studies and other activities are requested and funded by the federal government. Private industry, foundations, and state and local governments also initiate studies, as does the academy itself. Reports are made available online for free by the publishing arm of the United States National Academies, the National Academies Press, in multiple formats.

        If you follow the link I gave you can read the entire peer reviewed report.
        Of course it also includes cites for the peer reviewed literature it quotes if you have a few weeks to fully research the question your self .

        • david in aus

           /  7th May 2019

          There is a discussion of that article in the Australasian position paper.

          Click to access pm10-2018.pdf

          The reality is nothing is going to persuade the advocates otherwise. They are going to grasp on to anything that supports their case. It is not evidence based but rather advocacy for their own beliefs. I am going to speculate that most of their beliefs come from personal experience. Like the Andrew Wakefield case with MMR vaccine and Autism, belief outweighs science for these people. They do not have the training or objectivity to evaluate the evidence.

          I can be persuaded with more evidence. Thus far, the harms are present and concerning with the evidence for benefits sparse.

          • david in aus

             /  7th May 2019

            The consensus among scientists is that the evidence for cannabis in chronic pain is poor and more evidence is required.

            Therefore, it follows that one cannot scientifically advocate for the general use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

        • david in aus

           /  7th May 2019

          Have looked at the member list of the National Academy of Medicine?
          How many are Pain specialists? I went through the list for you and couldn’t see one.

          • Griff.

             /  7th May 2019

            • david in aus

               /  7th May 2019

              My point exactly, committee members had no expertise in Pain.
              Their conclusions were based upon expert opinion, which is the lowest form of ‘evidence’. But none appear to be actually experts in that field.

              If you want expert opinions in Pain, I would reference the National Pain Societies affiliated to Specialty Colleges.

            • Griff.

               /  7th May 2019

              ye still dont get it do you son.

              They are not specialist in pain.
              They are experts in all facets of medicine.
              The report was not just about cannabis for pain relief .
              The report is a review of the research on the medical usage of cannabis.

              When you have a list of professors an directors from places like john Hopkins and Harvard you are talking about world leaders in the medical profession.
              They are not giving their “opinions” they are reviewing the peer reviewed literature and writing a Peer reviewed report for the National Academy of Medicine .

              here let me help.
              A reviewer

              Eric Biren Bass, M.D., M.P.H.
              Photo of Dr. Eric B. Bass, M.D., M.P.H.
              Director, Johns Hopkins Evidence-based Practice Center
              The mission of our Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) is to perform rigorous systematic reviews of important topics in clinical medicine and public health. The EPC is part of the Effective Health Care Program of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
              Dr. Bass is also the Director of the medical school’s course on Foundations of Public Health, and is a Co-Director of the medical school’s Scholarly Concentration in Public Health and Community Service.

              another reviewer
              Igor Grant
              M.D., F.R.C.P.(C)

              Igor Grant, M.D., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. He is Director of the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Program (HNRP), which includes the California NeuroAIDS Tissue Network (CNTN), the Translational Methamphetamine AIDS Research Center (TMARC), the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center (HNRC), the CNS HIV Anti-Retroviral Therapy Effects Research (CHARTER) and the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR). Dr. Grant is the founding Editor of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society and founding co-editor of the journal AIDS and Behavior.

              Marie C McCormick
              Harvard University | Harvard · Department of Society, Human Development, and Health
              Senior Associate Director, Infant Follow-Up Program
              Sumner and Esther Feldberg Professor of Maternal and Child Health, Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, and Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

              Dr. Hennessy conducts research in the field of pharmacoepidemiology, which is the study of the health effects of drugs and other medical products in populations.
              Dr. Hennessy is a past scientific chair and past president of the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology, and has served on FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee and on the board of directors of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. He is a co-editor of the books Pharmacoepidemiology, 5th edition and Textbook of Pharmacoepidemiology, 2nd edition.
              Additional Positions:
              Director, Center for Pharmacoepidemiology Research & Training
              Senior Scholar, Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
              Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics
              Fellow, Institute on Aging
              Co-Chair, Drug Use and Effects Committee, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
              Member, Pharmacy Council, University of Pennsylvania Health System
              Special Government Employee, US FDA
              Member, Health Services and Organizational Delivery Study Section, US NIH

            • duperez

               /  8th May 2019

              Love it!
              But to give you the 2019 New Zealand reality of knowledge and training and education and study and background and experience from someone on a bar leaner in Southland (say), “Yeah, but what the hell do they know?” 😊

  7. david in aus

     /  7th May 2019

    How about the effects of cannabis in the general population?

    “Among general populations, limited evidence suggests that cannabis is associated with an increased risk for adverse mental health effects”

    Nugent SM, Morasco BJ, O’Neil ME, Michele Freeman, M, Low, A, Kondo K, Elven C,
    Zakher B, Motu’apuaka M, Paynter R, Kansagara D. The Effects of Cannabis Among
    Adults With Chronic Pain and an Overview of General Harms: A Systematic Review.
    Ann Intern Med 2017;10.7326/M17-0155.

    Hmm, the opioid epidemic in the US should give people pause in improving access to these drugs. The US has experienced for the first time (since the Spanish Flu of 1918) sustained decreases in life expectancy, primarily due to opioid related deaths.

    • Griff.

       /  7th May 2019

      Guess why many chose to use cannabis to treat chronic pain.
      ‘here is a hint
      What the fuck do you think they use opiates for?

      Your problem is thinking in black and white… Cannabis is bad so no one should use it .
      When like all of the human condition it is a case of shades of grey.

      The cannabis debate is not about is cannabis harmless or is it damaging.
      It should be about the relative harms of both medication it can replace and the recreational drugs that are alternatives. The cost and harms of prohibition apposed to those of a legal regulated market . Last but not lest freedom: what right do you have to dictate what I chose to do to my own body providing I harm nobody else .

      • David in Aus

         /  7th May 2019

        The evidence for opiates in chronic non-cancerous pain is poor. Guidelines have moved away from opiates due to the addictive properties, increased harm, and deaths.

        Unfortunately, drugs are not always the answer. For acute (short-term) pain, opiates are great but not for long-term chronic pain. Many are better off to address social, psychological issues that exacerbate the suffering. Many on opiates long-terms have been turned into addicts and these ‘advocates’ want access to other drugs. Fabulous.

      • david in aus

         /  7th May 2019

        “Last but not lest freedom: what right do you have to dictate what I chose to do to my own body providing I harm nobody else ”

        Agree generally but drugs affect society. An addict is dependent on the State or consume greater health resources and more importantly affects family and friends around them.

        There was a reason that opium was restricted, after opium dens of the last century; Deaths and destructive effects on society.

        Do we have to relearn the lessons of history?

        No person is an Island.

        • Griff.

           /  8th May 2019

          Lets guess mate
          You drink.
          Your drug of choice is more than double as addictive as mine is
          Cannabis withdrawal is at worse symptoms similar to a mild cold .
          Alcohol withdraw is at worse a terminal case of death.
          LD 50 how much it takes to kill you
          Alcohol 30 standard drinks it is a poison that kills about one person a week in NZ .
          Cannabis Not possible to take enough to kill No known case of overdose ever recorded.

          # fuckin hypocrites.

          • david in aus

             /  8th May 2019

            No need to swear. But thanks for coming clean on your motivations, you want better access to your drug of dependency. That is the motivation for many advocates, “medicinal uses” is just a palatable excuse.

            I wouldn’t care if alcohol was banned personally but I know from history it is impractical to do so. Restricting alcohol’s use, however, does have Public Health benefits. I have no problem with that and restricting tobacco where practical.

            Those that really care if alcohol is banned are generally those with a problem.

            I see no point opening the spigots for more future addicts of cannabis. Cannabis maybe your drug of choice, I am sure P users, cocaine users have similar point-of-view for their drugs of choices. Those addicted to substance abuse are similar, including those abusing alcohol.

          • david in aus

             /  8th May 2019

            The adverse effects of the drug also are dependent on prevalence. Alcohol is top because it is so prevalent.

            Experience from Colorado since legalization as an example of the effects of increasing use:

            In this issue, Monte and colleagues reviewed health records from patients presenting to the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department from 2012 to 2016 and found a more than 3-fold increase in cannabis-associated ED visits over this period (3). They also examined the proportions of ED visits associated with inhalable versus edible cannabis in light of sales of both product types in Colorado between 2014 and 2016. Their analysis showed that, although 10.7% of ED visits were attributable to edible cannabis, only 0.32% of total cannabis sales (in kilograms of tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) were for edible products.


          • david in aus

             /  8th May 2019

            More evidence coming on the effects:

            Compared with smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana is associated with a nearly 5-fold increase in blood carboxyhemoglobin levels, a 3-fold increase in inhaled tar, and retention of one third more inhaled tar in the respiratory tract (2). From a cardiovascular perspective, evidence shows that marijuana is associated with increased sympathetic drive, risk for myocardial infarction and acute coronary syndrome, decreased time to angina, and increased mortality (3, 4)


          • Griff.

             /  8th May 2019


            Reefer madness eh,
            Every one who smokes pot is a drug addled junkie .
            I have never hidden the fact I smoke occasionally when appropriate and are supporting legal recreational use . Wanna call me an addict put some money up son. $1000 says I can pass a drug test this week . Feel lucky?

            “but I know from history it is impractical to do so”
            “I see no point opening the spigots for more future addicts of cannabis. ”
            Well done.
            Such a good argument for cannabis prohibition…. not .
            Cannabis prohibition really works to minimize harm. /s
            It only costs a billion a year and has no effect on availability, finances gangs,gives them a ready market for P along with stolen goods and marginalizes users creating even more social damage .

            Opps that is just like what happened with alcohol prohibition unintended consequence caused more harm than the drug did.

            Right wing denial of reality …. how totally surprising…Not.

          • Griff.

             /  8th May 2019

            University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department from 2012 to 2016 and found a more than 3-fold increase in cannabis-associated ED visits over this period

            Oooo scary shite man.
            OD on pot .
            Go to hospital .
            Nursy pats you on the head and tells you to sleep it off.
            Possible complications?
            12 hours later you will be fine with no know risks of any further issues.

            When it is legal it is more likely that someone would go to hospital.
            They had not placed any limits on the strength of edibles and a few did not know it takes a couple of hours for the effects to come on so took too much.
            As a result they have reduced the potency and made more effort to educate the issue has gone away.
            It is propaganda aimed at fuckwits based on the fears of the ignorant.
            The author Andrew A. Monte has been pushing such shite for years .
            Being a A&E doctor he would know the health risk for an OD is zero.

            Umm just a hint
            Your second one .
            it ain’t peer reviewed it is an opinion .
            Valueless in a debate of evidence and science I am afraid.
            As soon as you see the slang term for cannabis “Marijuana” you know it is not high quality research it ideology motivated crap.
            Note how the report I referenced only uses the correct term for cannabis.

            • david in aus

               /  8th May 2019

              To be fair, the data on societal effects on cannabis legalization is limited.
              Thus far, in the US, it hasn’t been dramatic changes; but my point is it is too early to say and the effects will be long-term.

              To comment on the use of recreational drugs. Too many people seem to partake in mind-altering drugs in Western Societies. That is a problem, at least from a health perspective. There are other arguments for it, in terms of tax revenue and law enforcement. But to deny health effects is head-in-the-sand.

              People should be voting in the referendum with their eyes-wide-open and beware of advocates.

            • @David, OK I’ll bite. I agree with your last comment “beware of advocates”. You are advocating against legalisation. Ispo facto, I am wary of anything you say.

              I’d prefer eliminating (or at least significantly reducing) the illegal black market and criminal networks associated with the drug trade. And I’d prefer moving the problem away from police and the criminal justice system and concentrating responses within health. Decriminlisation or legalisation achieve both outcomes.

              The Portugese model is worth looking at: Since it decriminalised all drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen dramatic drops in overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime. And the trends there have held steady even though there have been several changes in government.

  8. harryk

     /  8th May 2019

    Chloe Swarbrick. Just a hunch but I googled it. Oh dear. A racist too. One of those who support the breakup of the Indonesian nation state. Supporting a referendum based on race she denies the democratic rights of 36% or more of the population of West Papua. The actions of the armed wing murdering non ‘indigenous’ Papuans only follow the program of their political wing, to whit –

    ‘We the undersigned recognise the inalienable right of the indigenous people of West Papua to self-determination…’

    Swarbrick is a signatory to this divisive, exclusionist and racist declaration.


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