The people of New Zealand will decide whether recreational cannabis use should be legalized via a “simple yes/no question” on the general election ballot next year.
When they vote for their next government, New Zealanders will also check a box to either support or oppose a regulated adult-use marijuana industry. Justice Minister Andrew Little declared that the vote will be binding, but it will be up to the next administration to enact it after gaining power.
“The voters’ choice will be binding, because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome,” he said.
The draft legislation includes a minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis, while there will be regulations around commercial supply. Home growing will be limited and the legislation would create a public education programme similar to the one seen in Canada, which joined Uruguay in legalizing recreational cannabis last year.
Little said the current coalition government is committed to a health-based approach to cannabis, which is designed to minimize harm and strip control from organized criminal gangs.
He also confirmed that there will be no other government-initiated referendums at the next election, meaning New Zealanders will only vote for their next government and for or against cannabis to be legalized. That should put marijuana at the centre of the election campaign.
The public appears to be in favour of a regulated cannabis industry, with polls suggesting 60% will vote yes. It could make New Zealand the world’s first country to legalize recreational marijuana use via a public vote. The country’s parliament had already legalized medicinal marijuana last year.
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick, whose party is one of three government partners, has campaigned vociferously for cannabis legalization and she released a video on Twitter to celebrate the news. She reassured New Zealanders that consumption would be limited to confined spaces, and she said there would be no advertising.
She is wary of “big tobacco” and “big alcohol” and she said there would be no corporate control of the market. She added that New Zealand will avoid any “Brexit situation” – in which Brits voted to leave the European Union without knowing how that process would actually unfold – because the draft legislation will be clear and everyone will know how these changes would be implemented.