Cannabis referendum could be ignored or low priority by incoming Government

We get to vote on the cannabis legislation that allows for recreational for those 20 or older bit with strict controls.

But will the next Government honour the result if a majority vote in favour? There’s no guarantee of that as it is not a binding referendum.

The cannabis reform bill got this far due to a governing agreement between Greens and Labour at the Green Party’s request. The Greens have not had a strong influence in Government (they operate outside Cabinet) and the Bill is quite conservative.

And it could still be ignored or put on the back burner. At best it could take a year or two to happen, depending on what priority the Government gives it in the next term.

If Greens don’t make the threshold, or just get in again with a small number of MPs, or are rejected by Labour in the next governing arrangement (NZ First may make a condition of support being that Greens are left out), then Greens may have little or no say.

NZ First + Labour may not honour the referendum result, but that would be a ridiculous stance for NZ First given their insistence on referendums to let the people decide.

If National lead the next Government they may ignore the will of the people, they have been very conservative on cannabis reform.

But a possibility that should not be ignored is if Act get a few seats and enable National to govern – they may insist on change.

Peter Dunne discusses these issues except the last point (Newsroom):  Cannabis questions dropped in too hard basket?

Given that the moves towards freeing up the recreational cannabis market were primarily Green Party initiatives that neither Labour nor especially New Zealand First were all that keen about, the proposal that has now emerged hangs together reasonably well. It is an improvement on the current de facto situation, and for that reason alone is worth supporting in the referendum.

However, possibly reflecting the awkwardness of its development, it is far from perfect, with a significant number of issues either apparently unresolved, or seemingly parked in a very deep too hard basket.

What happens if the referendum supports change?

The present Government has made it clear that while it will not regard the outcome as binding, it will undertake to introduce reform legislation at some unspecified time during the next Parliamentary term.

There is no guarantee within that commitment that any such legislation will mirror the referendum proposals or that the Labour Party will even support it beyond its introduction stage. If, for example, the Greens have less influence in the next government, what influence will that have on the shape of legislation? Conversely, if the next government is more reliant on New Zealand First, what assurance is there that a Bill will even make it to the introduction stage?

Should the National Party lead the next government, the prospects for any form of legislative change following on from a positive referendum vote seem pretty low, based on statements to date from its various spokespeople.

They reinforce my own experience working as Associate Health Minister responsible for drug policy, in the last National-led government where National was extraordinarily wary of any changes to drug laws.

How long it will take to pass such legislation?

Typically, a Bill of this type takes between six and nine months to pass through all its stages in the House, including the select committee process and the hearing of public submissions.

Even if such a Bill were to be introduced early in the life of the next government, it would most probably be the latter half of 2021 at the absolute earliest before it would be passed by Parliament. Again, typically, allowing time of say two to three months as a minimum for the development and implementation of the regulatory regime to follow, it would most likely be late next year at the earliest before recreational cannabis could be legally available.

So if the law change is supported will people wait until it actually becomes law? If not, how will the Police deal with it?

In the meantime, assuming a vote for change, there will be a strong public feeling that having voted for change it should be permissible to use cannabis recreationally immediately.

That would put the police in a very awkward position. Would they be quietly encouraged to go lightly on the current law, because it is about to change, which would be a very dangerous precedent, or would they be expected to keep enforcing a law that everyone knows is about to be overturned?

Either way, their position is invidious, and does not appear to have given been sufficient consideration. Certainly, to date, the Government has given no indication of its thinking on this point, which is not helpful.

Maybe they haven’t thought about it. The Greens should be making sure the Government does think ahead on this.

Presumably, the police would be expected to enforce these new restrictions vigorously, otherwise they are pointless. But enforcement of this type would lead to more people coming before the Courts for diversion, a fine, community service, or even possible imprisonment.

However, the current law on illegal use has been barely enforced by the police for years now, so it is an open question whether they would be any more diligent in enforcing any new, tighter law. And if they are not going to do so, what is the point of making the law tougher?

Current policing attitudes notwithstanding, one of the strongest criticisms over the years from cannabis reform advocates has been of what they have seen as the clogging of the Courts from cannabis prosecutions and the consequent labelling for life of many people with criminal records as drug offenders.

Yet under the new regime, this could potentially intensify, making the situation much less satisfactory than at present.

An unintended consequence could be more arrests and convictions.

All this could be rendered moot if the majority vote against change.

If a small majority vote for change it may give National or NZ First (or Labour without the Greens) to drag it out over years, or ignore it altogether.

The best way to make it difficult to ignore the referendum result is for a significant majority to vote in favour of the modest reform being proposed, but it could be difficult getting enough to see it this way.

Leave a comment


  1. Duker

     /  8th May 2020

    “Current policing attitudes notwithstanding, one of the strongest criticisms over the years from cannabis reform advocates has been of what they have seen as the clogging of the Courts from cannabis prosecutions and the consequent labeling for life of many people with criminal records as drug offenders.”
    Clogging of courts ?
    This is complete nonsense
    Last year 18 people were sent to jail soley over cannabis charges ( dont know how many of those were converted to home detention) (Police stats)
    Last year 220 people were convicted soley over possession but did not get jail. ( Police stats)
    As with any sentence previous convictions come into account along with whether they plead guilty. Courtroom frequent flyers get the harshest sentences , newbies the lightest.

    Wheres the clogging of courts over these tiny numbers . What the cannabis industry is doing is mixing those with a criminal lifestyle and offending who are charged with other offence as well as cannabis – so the court process would have happened any and any sentence would have happened any way because of the primary criminal not misuse of drugs offences.

    • You can’t go by just one year’s statistics – speaking of which, if you quote stats please provide a link.

    • Ok, if you are talking about clogging courts, being very selective (and inaccurate) doesn’t make a good case.

      2019 stats:
      Convicted on cannabis offences only: 786
      Convicted of cannabis offences and other offences: 2,018
      Total 2,804

      Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for cannabis offences only: 18
      Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for cannabis offences and other offences: 426
      Total 444

      Not included are people who were arrested and no charges ended up being laid, or charges were withdrawn, or got diversion, or got discharged without conviction.

      And it ignores how much worse it has been in past year. For example 2010:

      Convicted on cannabis offences only: 3,801
      Convicted of cannabis offences and other offences: 3,635
      Total 7,736

      Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for cannabis offences only: 199
      Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for cannabis offences and other offences: 754
      Total 953


      • NOEL

         /  8th May 2020

        Ok so what are the cannabis offences? Possession, supply or manufacture?
        “Penalties associated with cannabis range from a $500 fine for possession to a 14 year jail term for its supply or manufacture.”

      • Duker

         /  8th May 2020

        Pete your numbers are inflated by combining the high level charges
        table 6C
        Total numbers of people Convicted of cannabis possession or use ONLY
        2010 2085
        2019 298
        So Im right about the classic low level offences…those doing trafficking or supply shouldnt be included to juice up the numbers as these are genuine drug dealers

  2. Zedd

     /  8th May 2020

    With Covid being at the top of the agenda.. it looks like most other issues, besides the apparent collapsing economy are unlikely to be given much hearing, prior to the election; BUT if the vote is clearly ‘YES’ (say over 60%) then I think they would ignore it at their peril

    btw: most in the movement (for reform) are frankly over the petty bickering, about weekly/annual stats.
    The main question is: Has the WAR on Drugs really achieved anything ?
    >cannabis IS still available in most areas of the country/world & it is not going away.. anytime soon

    Prohibition has clearly failed to deliver ‘A Drug-free World’ & in fact some say that it has actually made it worse; many other countries that have already ‘decrim.’ Or Regulated, are finding use rates have dropped off, after the Novelty wore off :/
    >eg Holland, USA states, Canada etc.

    I suggest it would be better to divert all the funding from Prohibition to Health Care & Education 🙂

    • NOEL

       /  8th May 2020

      60 percent of those who vote or 60 percent of eligible voters??

    • Duker

       /  8th May 2020

      Its not the drugs themselves that are a problem for the justice system its that 85% of those charged over cannabis have other criminal charges AT THE SAME TIME.
      This is normally how the police come across them.
      Its a fantasy that crime will shift away from cannabis once personal use is legalised. It will become even more profitable in the unregulated market but nice middle class people will be able to buy their 14g from people wearing white coats in little boutique ‘dispensarys’
      There cant possibly be any unintended consequences

      Wait for these sorts of photos on billboards promoting the NO vote

      • Griff.

         /  8th May 2020

        Its a fantasy that crime will shift away from cannabis once personal use is legalised. It will become even more profitable in the unregulated market but nice middle class people will be able to buy their 14g from people wearing white coats in little boutique ‘dispensarys’
        I can see no reason why it would be more profitable when you remove the customer base with the most money.
        Cannabis would be the same as alcohol you buy it from your local government endorsed retailer not some illegal gang business.
        There are a few sly groogers around selling home brew cheaper but they can not compete with commercial supply of alcohol for quality,reliability or convenience.
        Few of the cannabis smokers I have ever known would choice to go to a gang house to buy some random pot . All would rather purchases known strains and branded products that taste and feel like the personal preference for getting high . Cannabis is a far more complex product than alcohol the strain changes the experience were as alcohol it makes absolutely no difference to effects besides taste if you drink vintage wine, cheap beer, top shelf sprites or lab quality pure alcohol.
        The cannabis smoking public as a rule would much rather buy named and well grown strains even at a premium than taking a punt with some random shite wrapped in tinfoil from your local low life scum.

        • Corky

           /  8th May 2020

          May I suggest you get to know the lower classes and how they operate. Also gang culture. Gangs will already be doing the numbers. Arson, taxing and intimation will be discussed as to their viability and the police’s reaction. While the P is king at the moment, that may change should legalised herb become a reality.

          • How do you know all this will happen ?

          • Corky

             /  8th May 2020

            I don’t. I’m making an informed guess based on how gangs and the underclass operate using my own personal experience. These things may, or may not come to pass.

            One thing I am firm on is legalised cannabis will stuff Maoridom up completely.

            • Dont be so sure that ‘legalisation’ will be just a change in the legal status. IF you read the details of the bill, it is about moving the focus from ZERO-tolerance to Regulated, limited Tolerance & keeping it specfically from youth (under 20). This is not just a suggestion, but the FOCUS

              Prohibition is not the only tool in the box & the sky will not fall. Maybe stop listening to the PANIC/FEAR merchants.. cannabis is already available in most cities/towns in Aotearoa/NZ, to anyone with $20 even kids; its called ‘the Black-market’

              Methinks you need to take the ‘Prohibition only’ lenses off ?
              >the world will still be here; look overseas: Canada, Colorado, Amsterdam etc.

          • Griff.

             /  8th May 2020

            Corky .you have no clue as usual.
            You have no idea what or who I am mate .

            Rewa styles bro !

            The first house I brought was besides the motor way in manurewa I lived there for seven years. Then I moved to mangere bridge for another seven.

            Cannabis has been easy to get since I was twelve in the seventy’s. In south side all ya need to do its cruse around the streets and ask the first teen ya see, Wheres the tinny house bro? and you will find it . I have brought it from gang pads, pie carts and ice cream shops among other outlets .

            Most of those who want to smoke already do making legal will have little effect on usage .

            Losers are losers smoking pot does not make you one .
            Cannibals is measurable less harmful than alcohol and p . I know total losers that smoke pot I also know some extremely successful people who do as well.

            Stone cold Dead is as bad as it gets .
            I know far more who have destroyed their lives with piss including losing a few friends to drink.

            Drinking alcohol does far more harm to Maori than smoking weed ever could. Alcohol directly drives a lot of the crime and violence that blight Maori society in fact society in general .

            Relative harm.
            I have more respect for you lot if you were more heavy on banning alcohol as you are for banning the weed .

            • Zedd

               /  8th May 2020

              well said Griff

              some folks still deny alcohol is a drug & think cannabis is the devils herb, with its roots in HELL !
              >Reefer MADNESS !!

            • Duker

               /  8th May 2020

              Where are the people saying the drug alcohol isn’t a problem……it’s a good example of the possible outcomes from the regulated…treatment…keep it away from kids approach that the cannabis lobby promtes.
              Me thinks you really don’t want to bring alcohol into the debate …yes the user profiles are eerily similar.
              20% never touch it , 20% have tried or occasionally, 20% are regular users and 20% are off their faces binge smoke… Best la vie

            • Corky

               /  8th May 2020

              You have forgotten again, Griff. Let me remind you. As a Libertarian, I would vote in favour of the making Cannabis legal. I have no right to tell others what, or what not, to put in their bodies. I have just stated what I believe will be the effects of decriminalisation on our community; especially the Maori community.


  3. Reply
  4. Duker

     /  8th May 2020

    The Battle of numbers continues and no I wasnt being selective its the minor charges we should concentrate on.
    2019 stats: (from your numbers)
    Convicted on cannabis offences only: 786
    Convicted of cannabis offences and other offences: 2,018
    Total 2,804

    Those are cannabis charges, but my numbers are the low level possession/use convictions were 298
    Which gives 488 or 60% convictions WERENT for possession/use but more serious charges, those would be
    Cultivation (a ‘deal-able quantity’ will be counted as supply)
    Trafficking or dealing

    Good to know PG that you like to include major supply and trafficking of cannabis as ‘just clogging up the courts’

    • Griff.

       /  8th May 2020

      Cultivation (a ‘deal-able quantity’ will be counted as supply)
      28 grams of cannabis is considered supply.
      In context when I grew my own, strictly for personal use or to give away to friends . I could grow half a kilo of dried heads in my wardrobe from four plants every six to eight weeks .

      • Duker

         /  8th May 2020

        Yeah right….it’s what they all say to the cops , half a kilo is only personal use and give away to friends……..pleeese
        The guy who had imported 20,000 seeds was waiting for legalisation so he could grow his own ……and give away to friends
        You aren’t an idiot G, so don’t expect others to be.

        • Griff.

           /  8th May 2020

          Yip you just knows it all .
          I know about cannabis culture in NZ because I have lived in it for years you don’t you just have your feelz based on nothing but your own ignorance .
          There will be people in your social circle who regularly smoke maybe even grow there own and you would never even know. It could be your doctor, your lawyer, your kids teacher, that nice old lady down the road… anyone .

        • Duker

           /  8th May 2020

          Don’t even know it..?????..
          they dont even have to hide it…the woman lawyer who said she smoked it by the sackful probably used it far more than the guy with house platering business.
          The people in my world, mostb I can’t even think of the ones who said they smoked and I had forgotten as it wasn’t important , it just isn’t.
          There’s a lot of heavy drinkers who hide it too..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: