New Zealand To Vote On Marijuana Legalization

By Kelly Burch 12/20/18

New Zealand could become the third country to legalize marijuana in 2020.

Citizens in New Zealand will vote on marijuana legalization in 2020

New Zealand will likely become the first country to hold a national referendum on legalizing recreational cannabis, after the government announced this week that a vote will take place during the 2020 general election. 

New Zealand’s justice minister, Andrew Little, said a referendum question would be on the ballot during 2020, although he added that there is “a bit of detail still to work through,” according to The New York Times. That includes exactly what the referendum question will cover. 

Marijuana proponents hope that the government will draft a law before the referendum that will lay out exactly how New Zealand would handle marijuana legalization. This would include details like whether sales would be legal or just personal use, and what age limits will be for cannabis use.  

Chlöe Swarbrick, a member of Parliament from the Green Party who is also a spokesperson for Drug Law Reform told Newshub that by drafting the law ahead of time, “You can remove all the moral panic and what-ifs from the debate, and there would be clarity and hopefully maturity and respectability in the public debate."

In November, the country eased restrictions on growing medical marijuana, and polling shows that 46% of New Zealanders are in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, while 41% are opposed

Despite the relatively close margins, legalization gained a political foothold when the ruling Labour party was forced to join with the Green Party to form a government. As part of the negotiations, Labour leaders agreed to allow a vote on legalization. 

Swarbrick said marijuana use is already widespread in New Zealand and that prohibition disproportionately affects minorities. Legalizing cannabis would allow policy to catch up with the current reality, she said. 

"What we have to realise is that our legislative and regulatory response to problems can either exacerbate or minimise harm," Swarbrick said. "We have to bring the problem out of the shadows and into the light.”

She argued that by legalizing cannabis, the country will be able to control the drug better and keep profits out of the hands of criminal enterprises. 

"There is no quality control of this stuff - people are not consuming with any guidelines or education. Drug dealers also aren't checking IDs. If somebody in this country wants to get access to it there is literally no stopping them,” she said. "We also have the situation whereby because it is so accessible in this country, it's helping to finance criminal underground activity and is held by the gangs.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.