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.

“Sane, safe proposals for legislation of cannabis”

From the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council:


Medicinal cannabis industry welcomes sane, safe proposals for legislation of cannabis

The head of the New Zealand medicinal cannabis industry association is welcoming the release of the cannabis legalisation and control bill that will be voted on at the referendum as part of the general election this year.

Sally King of the NZ Medical Cannabis Council and says that while members will have their individual views, she believes the bill is designed to increase controls around access to cannabis by taking it out of the hands of criminals and young people.

“The Government has clearly looked at overseas examples of what works and come up with what looks like the best options globally to reduce access to young people and protect communities from harm.”

One of the biggest  lessons from Canada was that the medicinal and adult-use systems need to be kept quite separate.   The NZ Medicinal Cannabis Scheme became operational last month.

“The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme in New Zealand has been established with rules requiring pharmaceutical grade products only available through pharmacies and at this stage only through prescriptions. It is essential that medicinal cannabis production doesn’t get mixed up with non-medicinal or we will lose the trust and confidence of prescribers and patients.”

Ms King said allowing a small amount to be homegrown and the restrictions on legal age, public consumption and selling without a license would mean the plant is no longer controlled by gangs and criminals because people will be able to grow their own.

“The current laws are not working.  The level of Police resources tied up in prosecuting people in possession of a small amount for personal use is just ridiculous; and in 2017 half of prosecutions for minor drug offences were Māori.”

Ms King said while the Canadian experience was far from perfect and there were a number of lessons to be learnt, it was also clear that the sky hadn’t fallen in, thousands of jobs had been created, motor vehicle accidents and youth access hadn’t increased.

In both the United States and Canada, legalisation has been associated with minor increases in adult use of cannabis, but youth use has remained stable or decreased (following pre-legalisation trends). In fact, from 2018–2019, since legalisation Canada has seen the biggest drop in youth use (those aged 15–17) in history, going from 19.8% to 10.4%. It is often older age groups, those aged 45–64, who report the highest increases in use following legalisation, possibly reflecting therapeutic use in older populations.

While Canada is only 18 months into legalisation after a century of prohibition, other lessons NZ has clearly noted from the Canadian experience and avoided in the proposed bill  include the problems caused by a complex regulatory process, and long delays in licensing with not enough stores accessible, problems with quality and allowing corporate domination of the  industry instead of ensuring the opportunities are available to small producers and suppliers.

Final Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill to be voted on at referendum

A ‘complete and final’ version of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill will be voted on in a referendum as a part of this year’s election currently scheduled for September.

The wording of the cannabis referendum question has also been confirmed as a straight Yes/No question:

Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?

  • Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
  • No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

I’m pleased about this, we will know exactly what we’re voting for or against.


Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill released

Publication of the exposure draft Bill on referendums.govt.nz follows the release of an interim version of the Bill in December last year and is part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring the voting public have ample opportunity to be informed ahead of this year’s referendums.

“It is important that all eligible voters have the opportunity to be informed about the upcoming referendums. The Government is committed to providing impartial, unbiased information on the referendums and its process,” Andrew Little said.

The exposure draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill has been updated and includes details about:

  • how the cannabis market would work and the phased introduction of cannabis starting with fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis plants and seeds
  • how the regulation of consumption premises would work
  • the approvals process for cannabis products and which products would be prohibited
  • the licensing requirements
  • how the Bill proposes to reduce young people’s exposure to cannabis; and
  • infringements and penalties

No further updates of the Bill will be made before the referendum.


From the Referendums website: Summary of the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

The Bill’s purpose is to reduce cannabis-related harm to individuals, families/whānau and communities

The Bill would do this by:

  • providing access to legal cannabis that meets quality and potency requirements
  • eliminating the illegal supply of cannabis
  • raising awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use
  • restricting young people’s access to cannabis
  • limiting the public visibility of cannabis
  • requiring health warnings on packaging and at the time of purchase
  • improving access to health and social services, and other kinds of support for families/whānau
  • making sure the response to any breach of the law is fair, encourages compliance and reduces overall harm.

People aged 20 or over could buy cannabis

A person aged 20 or over would be able to:

  • buy cannabis, but only from businesses with a licence to sell cannabis
  • enter licensed premises where cannabis is sold or consumed
  • consume cannabis at a home or at licensed premises
  • purchase up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) per day
  • share up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) with another person aged 20 or over.

People aged 20 or over could grow, possess and consume cannabis

A person aged 20 or over would be able to grow 2 cannabis plants. The maximum number of plants per household is 4. Plants would need to be grown at home and out of sight, or not be accessible from public areas.

A person aged 20 or over would be able to possess up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in public.

The Bill would establish that 14 grams of dried cannabis is equal to:

  • 70 grams of fresh cannabis
  • 14 cannabis seeds
  • 210 grams of cannabis edibles
  • 980 grams of liquids
  • 3.5 grams of concentrates.

The Bill would prohibit people younger than 20 from growing, possessing and consuming cannabis

A person under age 20 found in possession of cannabis would receive a health-based response such as an education session, social or health service, or they would pay a small fee or fine. This would not lead to a conviction.

Rules for premises where cannabis is sold or consumed

Age limit

A person must be aged 20 or over to enter, or work at, premises where cannabis is sold or consumed.

Restrictions on the appearance of premises

There would be restrictions on the appearance of premises. These would include rules against promoting the fact that cannabis is available for purchase inside.

Host responsibilities

People operating retail and consumption premises would need to:

  • ensure their employees have responsible host training (this would be compulsory)
  • display information about the legal requirements they must meet, including minimising harm and meeting their obligations towards people who may be impaired by cannabis consumption
  • comply with restrictions on the display of higher risk products.

What products could be bought and sold?

Licensed cannabis products would become legal in stages, starting with dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, cannabis plants, and cannabis seeds.

The Authority would have the power to authorise the introduction of other licensed products for sale, including concentrates and cannabis edibles, through regulations.

Some products would be banned

A number of licensed products would be prohibited, including:

  • beverages that include cannabis
  • products containing substances known to be harmful or to have harmful interactions with cannabis (such as alcohol and tobacco)
  • products designed to increase the psychoactive or addictive effects of cannabis
  • packaged dried or fresh cannabis containing roots or stems
  • products that involve ways of consuming cannabis that are higher risk, including injectables, suppositories, and products for the eyes, ears or nose.

People would be prohibited from feeding cannabis or cannabis products to animals.

Cannabis edibles would have to meet specific requirements

Cannabis edibles are cannabis products that are consumed in the same manner as food. They would be required to be solid at room temperature.

More specific requirements for cannabis edibles would include:

  • they must be restricted to baked products that do not require refrigeration or heating
  • they must be produced in separate premises to those used for conventional food production
  • they would be banned if they are found to appeal to children and young people.

What would be illegal?

Some things would be illegal, including:

  • consuming cannabis in public
  • possessing more than 14 grams of cannabis (or its equivalent) in public
  • growing more cannabis plants at home than the individual or household limit
  • growing cannabis in public
  • exposing people under age 20 to cannabis smoke or vape
  • supplying cannabis to people under age 20
  • selling cannabis without a licence
  • importing or exporting cannabis
  • supplying cannabis by mail order or courier
  • breaching the conditions of a licence.

More details:

Cannabis legalisation polls and trends

Two recent polls suggested majorities opposing cannabis legislation, but one poll has a more supporting change, especially “When New Zealanders Have More Information”.

And data from Canada where cannabis is already legal suggests fewer young people are now using cannabis.

1 News (14 February): New Zealanders likely to vote against cannabis legalisation – 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll

Those polled were asked, ‘At this stage, do you think you will vote for cannabis to be legalised, or for cannabis to remain illegal?’

Remain illegal – 51%
Legalise cannabis – 39%
Will not vote – 1%
Don’t know / refused – 9%

The groups of people who were more likely than average to intend to vote against legalising cannabis were Asian New Zealanders, National Party supports and people aged 55 and over.

Those who were more likely to intend to vote for legalisation were Green Party supporters, women aged 18 to 34, Māori, people with annual household incomes between $30,001 to $70,000 and Labour Party supporters.

Between February 8 to 12, 1004 eligible voters were polled by landline (402) and mobile phone (602). The maximum sampling error is approximately ±3.1%-points at the 95% confidence level.

November/December 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll saw 49 per cent against legalisation and 43 per cent for, with the June 2019 poll seeing 52 per cent of people against and 39 per cent for legalisation.

In the October 2018 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll, the results were slightly more in favour of legalisation than against, with nearly half wanting the drug to be legal. Forty-six per cent of Kiwis were in favour of legalisation and 41 per cent were against.

In the July 2017 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll, 47 per cent were in favour of cannabis legalisation and 41 per cent were opposed.

Newshub (18 February): New poll shows support for both recreational cannabis and euthanasia dropping

The latest Newshub Reid-Research poll asked the referendum question the public will be asked in the referendum this election: do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?

  • 39.4 percent said ‘yes’
  • 47.7 percent said ‘no ‘
  • 11.6 percent said ‘don’t know’

The Bill would make recreational cannabis legal for over 20s, with restrictions.

Since the last time Newshub polled on this in June, despite additional details released in December, more people have moved from the ‘yes’ camp to the ‘don’t knows’.

Very few voters will know what Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill actually proposes.

(Note that the euthanasia part of the headline is a bit misleading, the result was 61.9% in favour, 23.7% against).

NZ Drug Foundation (21 February): Poll Shows Support For Cannabis Legalisation When New Zealanders Have More Information

Survey results released today by the Helen Clark Foundation and the New Zealand Drug Foundation show that support for cannabis legalisation grows when people know more about the proposed legislation.

When respondents were asked how they would vote in September’s referendum based on what they already know:

  • 46% said they would vote for the legalisation of cannabis
  • 44% said they would vote against it
  • 10% undecided

When people were then told more about the limits and restrictions on cannabis use and sale in the proposed legislation:

  • support for legalisation increased to 50%
  • opposition decreased to 42%
  • 8% undecided

Fieldwork for the survey was conducted between 22 January and 3 February 2020. The maximum sampling error for a sample size of 1000 at the 95% confidence level is ± 3.1%.

That looks promising for those wanting change, but there is likely to be a battle of information and misinformation.

“These results suggest New Zealanders are likely to support a sensible approach to cannabis harm reduction when they have accurate information about what is being proposed,” said Holly Walker, Deputy Director of the Helen Clark Foundation.

“The details matter. Armed with the facts, voters see that putting in place rules and enforcing these is better than the status quo.”

New Zealand Drug Foundation saw similar results in research commissioned in November last year. “When initially asked how they would vote, participants were evenly split, with around 14 percent undecided. Once the participants were given more information on the legislation, we saw stronger support for a yes vote,” said Ross Bell, Executive Director, NZ Drug Foundation.

Over the last two months the proportion of undecided voters has dropped, following the release of the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill in December.

The draft legislation includes an age limit of 20, redistribution of tax into harm reduction, health and education programmes, a ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis products, strict controls on the potency of cannabis, and other restrictions.

“When people learn about these proposed restrictions, they are more likely to support a law change,” said Ms Walker.

NZ Herald: Legalising cannabis: Supporters, opponents take swipes at each other as polls show knife-edge decision

The foundation said it showed more support for legalisation when voters were more informed, but Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said it was loaded to ask the same question either side of highlighting the proposed legal framework.

McCoskrie attributed the decline of the ‘yes’ vote to the strength of the ‘no’ campaign so far, including a 24-page pamphlet that had been delivered nationwide.

But Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the downward trend in ‘yes’ support was because of “well-funded and relentless opposition scaremongering”.

He has asked supporters to donate funds to the ‘yes’ campaign, which was putting together a strategy that included billboards, TV advertising and social media.

McCoskrie responded by saying he was giving the public the “facts”, adding that he had little faith in the Prime Minister’s expert advisory panel, headed by her Chief Science Advisor Professor Juliet Gerrard.

The panel is putting together publicly-available information about the impacts of cannabis use, what changes have occurred overseas, and how applicable that might be in New Zealand.

So McCoskrie doesn’t like people being informed when being polled, but is keen to ‘inform’ people against the legislation.

Meanwhile (NZH):

New data from the Youth Insights Survey, published yesterday in the New Zealand Medical Journal, found that between 2012 and 2018, the proportion of Year 10 students who had tried the drug fell by more than a quarter.

“This was predicted, since cannabis trends in this age group are strongly associated with tobacco trends, and it was already known that smoking in Year 10 students had continued to decline since 2012,” said the study’s Otago University authors.

However, the authors note that other research shows cannabis use is increasing among New Zealand adults generally.

Past year use increased from 9 per cent in 2012/13 to 15 per cent in 2018/19 overall – and from 19 per cent to 29 per cent among 15 to 24 year olds, the age group with the highest cannabis usage.

The authors said there were likely two key reasons for the conflicting trends.

“Firstly, the average age at which young people are initiating risk behaviours, including cannabis use, has increased in recent years,” they wrote.

“Secondly, normalisation of cannabis use has been counteracted by decreasing prevalence and frequency of smoking and drinking in this age group.

“The evidence suggests that adolescents’ willingness to try cannabis has increased, but their opportunities for doing so have decreased due to less face to face time with friends and fewer drinking and smoking occasions.”

But statistics from Canada shows the opposite has happened there, with youth use of cannabis dropping significantly since legalisation and regulation.

And:

 

I think most voters can manage a couple of referendum votes as well as party and candidate votes

That sounds like nonsense to me. I’m fairly sure most voters will be able to manage a couple of referendum votes on top of a couple of general election votes (one party vote, one electorate vote).

It will still be far simpler than local body elections where there are multiple STV votes (here it was city mayor, city council, regional council and DHB board) where ranking of a large number of candidates is required.

The two referendums – one on cannabis, the other on the End of Life Choice bill – may attract more people to vote.

More negative commentary on the referendums:  Labour and the referendums of dread

Both of these referendums are a potential problem for the Government and not insignificant ones. The first and most obvious reason is that cannabis and euthanasia could crowd out whatever issues the Government is running on: be it the Zero Carbon Bill, trade deals, a strong economy, low unemployment.

This could, of course, be a problem for both the Government and the Opposition. At key points in the lead-up to and during the campaign, either party’s momentum could be stalled if the wrong drug or euthanasia issue crops up.

But the political downsides are potentially much worse for the Government. First, and most obviously, the National party has a leader who genuinely and simply opposes both of these things. And secondly, as this column flagged a couple of weeks ago, National is going to sharpen its focus on cost of living issues, which it sees as of key importance for voters. National can effectively paint any focus away from those things as a distracted Government concerned with peripheral issues.

The euthanasia bill is probably not so much of a problem – it wasn’t the Government’s idea and it was supported by MPs across the political divide. Cannabis is a different story. Counting the Nats, NZ First voters at the last election – nominally conservative voters, plus probably not an insubstantial conservative working class Labour vote, this could be a lose-lose issue for Labour. Lots of Labour voters, and the Prime Minister has said this of her own experience growing up in small rural towns, know the damage drugs can do.

While Ardern may see merits in legalisation for health reasons, she is very far from being some sort of pro-drug flag-waving leftie. Essentially the Prime Minister wants to be a citizen like everyone else in this issue, in all the difficulties it poses. The problem is that in the heat of a campaign, that could be politically difficult.

Yet as the election moves on, the issues could prove hard to avoid and there is probably no ‘right’ side of the argument for Labour. It could potentially lose votes either way.

It could potentially do nothing like this as well.

The fact is we are having two referendums alongside next year’s general election.

I’m fairly sure Labour and National will figure out campaign strategies the run alongside the referendum issue debates.

And I think that most voters will manage a couple of yes/no votes (if they choose to vote on the referendum questions) as well as choosing a party and an electorate candidate (if they bother to vote on these).

It won’t be complicated. Sure the extra votes could deter a few people from voting. But I think it is more likely to encourage more people to vote – those who are passionate about either of the referendum questions, and those who can’t usually be bothered voting for parties and politicians.

 

Swarbrick and Bennett debate legalisation of personal use of cannabis

On NZ Q&A last night Chlöe Swarbrick and Paula Bennett debated the legalisation of cannabis for personal use. This will be put to the public next year in a referendum.

Bennett seems to have changed her mind. In May she refused to debate Swarbrick – Cannabis referendum: Paula Bennett on why she won’t debate Chlöe Swarbrick

Last night:

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick argues it’s time to reduce the harm caused by a drug market controlled by criminals. National MP Paula Bennett says there isn’t enough evidence to support legalisation.

The Spinoff:  A play-by-play of Paula Bennett and Chlöe Swarbrick’s cannabis referendum debate on Q&A

…they’ve come head-to-head on the cannabis referendum, with heated exchanges on social media about the issue, and Paula’s reluctance/refusal (choose applicable given your generosity) to debate Swarbrick, the Green Party spokesperson for the issue.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I came into this expecting, and kind of wanting, an utter shitfight. Two politicians, on relatively opposing sides of an issue, on the television?

What I got was instead… an informed, low heat, debate about an issue that two politicians are informed about, are passionate about, and happen to be on opposite sides of. Which is really nice, and comforting to watch.

Sounds promising. I will watch the debate and read the Talking points at The Spinoff, who quote the final statements:

Chlöe Swarbrick:

“The point that I want to leave people with is that right now we have the worst possible situation. We are empowering the criminal underground and we know for a fact that 400,000 New Zealanders are using cannabis on an annual basis and 10% of New Zealanders will have tried cannabis by the time they’re 21. The majority of people will have been exposed to it while they’re at high school.

“We have the opportunity to have some kind of control over what is currently chaos and the best way to do that is to legally regulate cannabis and to ensure that we’re providing those wrap-around supports and that potential for the disruption in the supply chain with that duty of care imposed on those who are purchasing.”

Paula Bennett:

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our teens are all of a sudden going to stop consuming cannabis because we legalise it. They’ll still get it from the black market because they won’t be able to get it legally because they’ll be underage, and the harms and the dangers will still be there with them. There are real issues around impairment, drug driving, what it’ll mean.

“What I saw in Canada was that the 25 stores that were in one province were not enough, they were estimating going to 1000 within eight years because actually people have a right to have access to it. I’m not sure if I want that in New Zealand, I think we should wait, get more evidence from places like Canada and then debate it and decide as a country.”

Addressing the Hosking anti-cannabis reform activism

Mike Hosking haas caused a stir in the cannabis debate with Mike’s Minute: Cannabis reform goes up in smoke

Russell Brown responds: Experts want an end to legal sanctions on cannabis use and possession

In a Mike’s Minute commentary this week, Mike Hosking told his listeners and readers that the government’s Wellbeing Budget “subscribed $1.9 billion to mental health, and yet the next move is to decriminalise a substance directly linked to psychosis.

“How mad is that?” he demanded. “How many health professionals do you need to hear from to make up your mind about the madness?”

The answer to these questions can best be found in He Ara Oranga: the Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, which, as the NZ Herald observedon its release in December, is the most comprehensive report of its kind in a generation.

The expert panel that delivered the report did not rail against decriminalisation of drugs. It did the opposite. Its list of recommendations called for the replacement of criminal sanctions for use and possession of drugs with civil and health responses.

There has been a lot of disinformation and ignorance in this debate.

And some more informed and reasoned discussion.

What has been proposed in the Cabinet paper foreshadowing the referendum question is closer to Canada than Colorado and more conservative than either. The Ministry of Justice team working on the details is seeking to learn from what has worked best in other jurisdictions, not only in banning advertising and imposing age restrictions and product safety rules, but in the best ways to take the market away from organised crime.

It may also regulate potency, which is another key area for reducing harm. Under prohibition, since the 1970s, THC levels in cannabis have risen sharply – and the ratio of THC to CBD, the cannabinoid with anti-psychotic properties, has fallen far out of balance. A good deal of the harm attributed to cannabis is related to that trend. It’s a trend the black market will never reverse – supply will be dominated by what medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton calls “rocket fuel” weed. It is, however, a trend that regulation – and canny tax treatment of higher-CBD strains – could change.

Drug policy is already changing in New Zealand. In response to the recommendations of the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry, a new amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act will direct police discretion towards health-based, rather than criminal, responses. Next year, New Zealanders will get to choose whether to do more, and seek to exercise some control of the way cannabis is sold.

That decision should be informed by an attention to evidence, rather whatever we fancy “common sense” to be. And it would be better made without commentators purporting to speak for medical professionals but saying the polar opposite of what those professionals actually believe.

 

Two polls suggest a movement against cannabis law reform

While there are more options than legalisation of cannabis, nd we don’t know what we will be voting on in next year’s referendum, that’s the question asked by two polls.

Newshub/Reid Research: Should we legalise Cannabis?

  • No – 48%
  • Yes – 41.7%
  • Don’t know – 10.4%

1 News/Colmar Brunton: At this stage, do you think you will vote for cannabis to be legalised, or for cannabis to remain illegal?

  • Remain illegal – 52%
  • Legalise – 39%
  • Unsure/refused – 9%

These results are based on largely uninformed opinions. We don’t know what we will be voting on. One thing is certain – there won’t be total legalisation. Current proposals being considered by Parliament are for limiting legal use to 20 years of age and over, and very limited means of obtaining cannabis for use.

There is a lot of deciding still to happen in Parliament, and a lot of lobbying and campaigning. Some of the campaigning so far has been inaccurate and comes close to scaremongering misinformation.

When we know what we will be voting on we can make our choices.

Until the pollsters know what the vote will be on all they can do is give us a rough idea of possible outcomes.

 

 

Dunne calls ‘sophistry and bollocks’ on party posturing on cannabis referendum

Peter Dunne has blasted the Government and the Opposition, calling their posturing on the proposed cannabis referendum sophistry and bollocks.

sohistry: The use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

bollocks: Nonsense; rubbish (used to express contempt or disagreement, or as an exclamation of annoyance)

So quite strong language from Dunne.

Newsroom:  Sophistry and bollocks on the referendum

Next year’s referendum on recreational cannabis will be the first Government-initiated referendum not to have an immediate definitive outcome. Despite being styled as a binding referendum, it will, in reality, be no more than an indicative vote whether or not people wish to change the legal status of cannabis used for recreational purposes along the lines to be set put in a proposed Bill to accompany the referendum.

But this Bill will not even be put before Parliament, let alone passed, until after the referendum has been held, so voters are being asked to take a great deal on trust.

The Justice Minister has given a commitment that the current three Government parties will treat the outcome of the referendum as binding, and that the Bill will come before the next Parliament. But he has given no assurances that the Bill will be the same as that to be released before the referendum, or that it will not be substantially strengthened or weakened by the select committee process to follow, or even when during the term it might be introduced and passed.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot say what his party’s position will be until they see the proposed legislation. The Minister tries to justify his position by saying that no Parliament can bind its successor Parliaments.

This is, to put it politely, pure sophistic bollocks.

sophistic bollocks: deceitful nonsense

Every piece of legislation passed and regulation promulgated by every New Zealand Parliament since our first Parliament met in May 1854 has to some extent or another bound successor Parliaments. Indeed, if those successor Parliaments have not liked laws passed by their predecessors, they have either repealed or amended them.

That is the stuff of politics and political discourse is all about, and governments have always reserved the right to upend the legislation of an earlier government if they have not liked it, and to replace it with something more akin to their own way of thinking.

From the referendum on compulsory peacetime conscription in 1949, through to the 1967 and 1990 referenda on extending the Parliamentary term to four years, and those referred to earlier, governments of the day have used the process judiciously to allow the voters to determine controversial issues that either the politicians cannot decide upon, or, in the case of electoral law changes, should not decide upon.

And the prime example of the dangers of having a binding referendum with little defined, and then trusting politicians to follow the will of the majority, is Brexit. It is not just a mess on leaving the EU, it’s making a mess of the whole political system in the UK.

The notion of a government-initiated referendum that might or might not be binding, or implemented quite as people expect, has been completely foreign to all of those earlier examples. Yet that is precisely what New Zealand now faces with this Government’s, all things to all people, recreational cannabis referendum.

But it is actually worse than that, which could produce more uncertainty than it seeks to resolve.

On the assumption the referendum passes, the country faces a period of uncertainty while the legislation is considered and wends its way through the Parliamentary process, over at least most of 2021, and possibly the early part of 2022, assuming the Government decides to proceed with it as a priority, and that is by no means a given.

I can’t remember how many times I have heard the current Labour led Government say a promise or policy is ‘not a priority’, which is doublespeak for ‘get stuffed, we’re not doing it now’.

Trust politicians?

All this uncertainty creates a potentially extraordinarily confusing situation, which could have been avoided had the specific law been in place before the referendum, to be triggered by a positive vote.

Everyone would have known not only where things would stand once the law changed, but it will also occur immediately, removing instantly the uncertainty likely to accrue from the inevitable post referendum delay and confusion the government’s current approach will surely cause. However, without that, the current disgruntlement about the inconsistent way the current law on cannabis operates, is likely to give way to a new disgruntlement about its replacement.

The way this issue has turned out is another example of how this unwieldly administration seems at sixes and sevens when it comes to major policy development.

Nothing ever seems to be able to be implemented quite the way it was promoted two years ago when the Government took office. The compromises necessary to keep Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens may well be examples of MMP government in practice but they are increasingly looking like weak excuses for missed opportunities.

Is cannabis law reform therefore about to join welfare, tax reform, electoral reform and a raft of other things this Government says it would “love” to do properly, but, when the crunch comes, just cannot ever quite manage to bring together in a cohesive and comprehensive way?

The only think making the deceitful nonsense from the Government look so bad is the matching deceitful nonsense from the opposition.

 

 

 

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.