Regulatory regime key to cannabis law reform

New Zealand has had a virtual illegal free-for-all for cannabis for decades. It has proven impossible to restrict use via policing and imprisonment. Being illegal it has also deterred people with drug problems from seeking help.

So the Government is looking at a different approach – removing the illegality in part, regulating it’s availability, and promoting a health care approach.

Newsroom:  Regulatory regime the key to cannabis reform

If Chris Wilkins has his way, New Zealanders will vote yes to legalising recreational cannabis in next year’s referendum – and the money raised from sales would go to local communities, sports and arts groups and drug treatment programmes.

Dr Wilkins is an associate professor at Massey University, heading the drug research unit. He’s been looking at the drug market, drug use and drug policy for 20 years.

“I think its pretty huge. Its a new wave of cannabis law reform and you can see it around the world. The United States, Canada, Uruguay and lots of other countries are having debates about how to better address the issue of cannabis use.”

What’s unique about New Zealand is that it will be decided by a national referendum. If the majority of voters say ‘no’ in the referendum that means the status quo and prohibition continues. ‘Yes’ means legalisation.

Wilkins says the current prohibition laws don’t work for many reasons, including a thriving black market, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the involvement of organised crime and the effect of arrest and conviction.

“We have this discrimination in terms of arrest and conviction, particularly for Maori but also questions about the lifetime impact of arrest and conviction for something that a lot of people think is fairly minor behaviours,” he says.

Because it’s a crime, it has stopped users from getting treatment and health services. Because it’s an unregulated market, there are also questions about the levels of pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers in cannabis.

Polls suggest there is popular support for cannabis law reform – a majority of people have used cannabis, and will see through the scaremongering on the ill effects of some occasional recreational use. As with any drug there are problem users, but they are a minority.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, people barely used or even knew about cannabis before the mid 1960s.

“The first significant smoking of the drug occurred among a few beats and jazz enthusiasts frequenting nightclubs and coffee lounges in Wellington and Auckland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, annual drug arrests did not reach 50 before 1964,” it says.

But things changed quickly after that and during the 1990s about 200,000 plants were seized each year, with the main areas of cultivation being in Northland, Bay of Plenty and Tasman.

By the 2000s surveys showed about half of those aged 15-45 had tried the drug, about a fifth had used it in the last year and about 15 percent were current users.

The Ministry of Health’s most recent 2017/2018 health survey shows that 11.9 percent of respondents had used cannabis that last year.

A significant but not a huge proportion of people are recent users. Will relaxing the laws increase the number of people using cannabis? Probably, in the short term at least.

Canada legalised cannabis on October 17 last year. Benedikt Fischer was in Vancouver with colleagues at the time.

“It was interesting how anti-climactic it was. We were sitting there and there was nothing discernibly different, no grandiose event, no smoke in the air because we had de-facto legalisation for a long time already.”

Dr Fischer, who worked with the Canadian government on the new legalisation framework, is now a professor at Auckland University’s faculty of medical and health sciences, specialising in addiction research.

He says there’ve been some early rollout hiccups in Canada such as a shortage of supply and users resorting to mail order in Ontario because cannabis shops haven’t yet opened.

The first survey since legalisation showing a rise in users is no surprise, he says.

The National Cannabis Survey says about 5.3 million or 18 percent of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported using cannabis in the last three months. This was higher than the 12-14 percent who reported using just one year earlier, before legalisation.

That doesn’t say what sort of use. It is likely that casual use increased, but problem cannabis users will already be getting what they want so are unlikely to be affected – except that if they can source their supplies legally that will reduce their contact with criminal pushers who seem intent on moving users onto more dangerous (and more profitable) drugs like P.

But Wilkins doesn’t support legalisation based on the Sale of Liquor model.

“The importance from now on is talking about the detail of what the regulatory regime is going to look like, because it isn’t just a binary choice between prohibition and an alcohol-style market. There are lots of different variations of a more controlled market, a more regulated market, a market that benefits communities and also takes care of vulnerable people.”

He proposes a not-for-profit public health model where cannabis would be sold by philanthropic societies and local communities, and drug treatment facilities would benefit.

“You’d have a community trust that has people elected from the communities – I’m thinking about the alcohol licensing trusts where people from the community are elected to these trusts and the trusts have obligations to return money back to the community for community purposes, like sports, arts, recreation centres.”

New Zealanders should look at Uruguay and Canada as legalisation models, rather than the United States, Wilkins says.

People are looking at what has happened in other countries, seeing what has worked and what hasn’t worked. They should also be looking at Portugal.

There is some strong opposition to relaxing drug laws – there is a small but determined conservative nanny state lobby.

We will no doubt keep debating the pros and cons of drug law reform, until we see what Parliament puts forwards for us to vote on. Then the real battle will begin.


Leave a comment


  1. NOEL

     /  15th May 2019

    Portugal……decriminalisation was the aim and addiction treatment available.
    Nah out of the narrative now.

    • Duker

       /  15th May 2019

      Portugal ?
      This is actual words from their ‘drug czar’
      ‘Most outsiders know Portugal has decriminalized drugs. But most fail to understand that drugs remain illegal.”
      If police find you with illicit drugs, you’ll be arrested and taken to a police station where the drugs will be weighed. If the amount is above the strictly enforced threshold limits — designed to be a 10-day supply for personal use, or 25 grams of cannabis, five grams of cannabis resin, two grams of cocaine, or one gram each of ecstasy or heroin — you can be charged as a trafficker. If convicted, jail terms range from one year to 14 years.

      ‘If the amount is below the limit, you’ll be sent the following day to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction — even if you’re a tourist. There, you will be interviewed by a psychologist or social worker before appearing before a three-person panel that will offer suggestions aimed at stopping your drug use.

      From there, you’re fast-tracked to whatever services you’re willing to accept. If you refuse help, you can be asked to do community service or even, eventually, facing a fine, perhaps even having possessions confiscated and sold to pay the fine’.

      But he warns agianst the ‘usual kiwi way’ ( my words)
      ““Decriminalization is not a silver bullet,” he said. “If you decriminalize and do nothing else, things will get worse.

      ‘ Portugal was essentially insolvent after the global meltdown. The US$115-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union came with strings. The government had to increase taxes and cut spending. Yet, the addictions treatment and recovery services survived almost unscathed.’

      Almost ? Cant imagine that happening her in NZ , even existing health conditions are unfounded by and large.
      So nah

      • exactly.. ‘Decrim.’ is a load of B-S. IF they are going to ‘reform the law’ then use a word, that actually means something 🙂

        • Duker

           /  15th May 2019

          It seems that any possession is regarded as needing treatment or else. No legalised production and sale.
          No wonder Chloe doesn’t talk about Portugal…
          First the Dutch and now the truth about Portugal. Legalisation never occurred in those places.
          NZs bill to decriminalise under way, looks most like the Dutch ‘look the other way’ approach to decriminalise.
          Next step up would be Portugal with defined levels for semi compulsory treatment.
          I wonder how many times those with possession would get compliance with treatment orders before it becomes part of the criminal sanctions?

  2. Duker

     /  15th May 2019

    Ah the big lie
    ” the money raised from sales would go to local communities, sports and arts groups and drug treatment programmes.”

    reminds me of the beauty contest winners who seemed to always ‘want to promote world peace’ while really promoting consumer goods and a unobtainable ideal of womens shape.

    Other lies
    ‘Because it’s a crime, it has stopped users from getting treatment and health services” laughable nonsense
    ‘unregulated market, there are also questions about the levels of pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers in cannabis.’
    of course it will be clearly labelled,-snigger- as taking a harmful drug like this means people are super concerned about other harmful products are included – Joke of the month

    • Griff.

       /  15th May 2019

      Have another drink Duker.

      It is one mans proposal not “lies” .
      We have liquor licensing trusts in NZ have done for years.
      They do put profits back into the community.
      The rest is the logic failure.
      Argument from personal incredulity and contains no provable content just your ranting.

      • Duker

         /  15th May 2019

        Just a few licensing trusts left , money they ‘give back’ comes from poker machines.
        Cannabis shops wont be run by community trusts but private and will mostly evade any taxes ( still will be mostly cash business), it was chronic evasion for pokies in bars till they indroduced online monitoring on every machine back to Internal Affairs

        In reality we know how pokies addiction is funded munificent , when the reality is the small bars pokie industry is captured largely by commercial interests – who fund small sports teams who drink at the bar funding them or controlled by people connected to professional sports teams or horse racing interest

        • Griff.

           /  15th May 2019

          Yes Duker you already know it all .
          Pity you can not join a single coherent together instead splash around illogical nonsense. Now you are ranting about pokies.
          How we got there in a discussion about legalizing cannabis fuck knows I certainly dont and neither are I interested .

          • Duker

             /  15th May 2019

            You claimed liquor licensing trusts gave back to community, I’m just pointing out your lies…they use poky money to give back to community, and how privately run bars dodged the taxes…as privately run cannabis shops would also do. …as is common in the hospitality restaurant area as well. No surprise that cannabis shops would be part of the same spectrum

  3. tautoko PG

    ‘Regulation’ is the word.. forget the ‘Decrim.’ B-S which still supports the Black-market supplychain.

    Prohibition also DOES often prevent those with Drug problems; addiction, mental health etc. coming forward, for fear of being labeled or even arrested.

    It IS time to have sensible debate, without all this ongoing FEAR-mongering from the opposition, which actually looks like they do support the ‘Cops V Gangs’ criminality regime & the Black-market continuing.. because Prohibition, sure has NOT prevented any of it :/

    • NOEL

       /  15th May 2019

      Bollocks Zeed.
      If you can have a regulated supply chain for those who want the choice of legal use of cannabis there is no reason their cannot be a regulated supply chain to help those addicted (a health issue) in a decriminalisation regime.

      Been to Vancouver recently and during discussions with the locals they say that the “black market” remains after regulation.

      What about no accurate impairment test for cannabis after legalisation? Scary.

      • pray tell.. what does ‘decriminalise’ actually mean ?
        Often just a pile of mixed messages to confuse the debate… eg :

        1) OK to use, but not grow or supply; black-market only

        2) no criminal conviction, BUT still on-the-spot fines

        3) no criminal conviction, BUT still arrest & put before court for ‘referral to treatment’ (Rehab.) regardless of whether you need it or your age etc.

        4) OK to use, but only in licensed social clubs etc.

        btw: I keep hearing all this ‘evidence’ that the ‘sky is falling’ in these other countries (Canada etc.) BUT I do not hear they are moving to re-illegalise.
        Also; just because they have these ‘teething problems’ does not mean that we (in Aotearoa/NZ) will have ALL the same issues too

        I spent a few days in Amsterdam (in my younger years) & often heard that their cannabis use dropped, after they ‘relaxed’ the law. Now reportedly lower than some other EU countries. They rely upon foreign tourists, to keep the ‘coffeeshops’ running.. not Dutch folks, who really dont care anymore

        You can shout all the Disinfo you like.;
        BUT hey.. what say you, at least be sensible, rather than just adding to the opposition’s FEAR-mongering rhetorical nonsense ??! :/

        ‘lively up yourselves… man’ 😀 😀

  4. btw; two of the biggest ‘anti-reform’ lobby groups are Cops & Gangs (2-sides, same coin..who both benefit massively from status quo).. Im guessing… :/

    • Duker

       /  15th May 2019

      Gangs will massively benefit from changes, as they have first mover status very important in commerce….oh and they have their own enforcement to ensure no else makes money in their patch without ‘taxing’

  5. nasska

     /  15th May 2019

    From PG’s original post:

    ….”“The first significant smoking of the drug occurred among a few beats and jazz enthusiasts frequenting nightclubs and coffee lounges in Wellington and Auckland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, annual drug arrests did not reach 50 before 1964,” it says.”….

    The Te Ara article has its facts right but there’s more to the story.

    The current law, at least in the case of marijuana, owes its existence to a scare about the effects of hashish on a group of Egyptians back in the 1920′s. As is the wont of governmental control freaks everywhere, when laws regarding use of opiates were altered or introduced the opportunity was taken to slip marijuana use in under the radar. The legislation was the NZ Dangerous Drugs Bill of 1927 passed to ratify the 1925 Geneva Convention on Traffic in Opium and Other Drugs.

    Worth noting is that the Geneva initiative did not require individual nations to make possession or use an imprisonable offence….this came about because it was tacked on to a bill regulating sale & use of opiates.

    ….”For more than thirty years the cannabis prohibitions remained unchanged
    and apparently unenforced: throughout that period there seem to have been no
    reported cannabis offences2o and use of the drug was virtually unknown.”…..

    In the 60′s as a response to US Government hysteria, (anecdotally linked to a desire by the authorities for a club to bash the Bohemians, forerunners of the hippies) control was toughened to include the growing of Indian Hemp, an activity not previously banned.

    Subsequent legislation, too long winded for a comment on this forum, cemented the criminalisation of marijuana with far more emotion & prejudice to the fore than thought or justification.

    The time is well overdue for a full overhaul of NZ drug laws using up to date information as opposed to the bleatings of those who pontificate on the evils of something they know jackshit about while gargling a single malt.


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