Will New Zealand Take The Leap To Legalize Recreational Cannabis?

In partnership with The Fresh Toast

Cannabis dispensaries may now be commonplace on the streets of states like Colorado or Washington, but not so in the Antipodean countries of Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand’s upcoming referendum may change that, at least for the land of the Kiwi bird.

The Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill will take place on October 17 to discuss the introduction of legal recreational cannabis to persons 20 years of age and older. The first products to go on market would be dried and fresh cannabis, plants and seeds.

Sure, the step is great for those looking to smoke-up stress-free, but there’s a clear aim: safety.

In the Bill’s summary, it says that it’s main purpose is to reduce cannabis-related harm to individuals, families/whānau* and communities.

RELATED: New Zealand Legalizes Medical Marijuana, Makes It Widely Available

FreshLeaf Analytics is an Australian-based cannabis data analytics company that also observes New Zealand’s market. It said that, should it succeed, the move would bring about, “…genuine social improvements targeted at the most disadvantaged members of society and those most harmed by the criminalisation of cannabis and other drugs.”

Here’s how efforts towards safety would be implemented:

  • Adults would only be able to possess 14g of flower in public
  • Levels of THC would be limited
  • Advertising of cannabis would be banned
  • Packaging would require discouragement of use
  • Consumption can only occur in licensed venues or homes
  • Up to four plants are allowed per home

FreshLeaf comments that THC levels would be set close to levels found in the blackmarket: “And this would disincentive the mindless pursuit of higher THC concentrations seen in other markets.”

Addiction specialist Dr. Mark Hardy, Medical Director of Australia’s CA Clinics, remarked that, “With these limitations, we can expect that stigmatisation and criminalisation of cannabis use will be vastly reduced. This means we might even expect more people suffering from misuse to be able to step forward and get the help that they need.”

city with high rise buildings under blue sky during daytime
Photo by Sanjeev Bothra via Unsplash

In addition, the New Zealand government will also be slapping a cap on total national production, thereby defining the amount of purchasable cannabis in the country. Licensed companies will have to apply to produce a percentage of that amount, with some dedicated to micro cultivators. That application approval will be assessed on whether the applicant represents communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis, develops social benefits and provides employment opportunities.

And here’s a little stroke of genius: The maximum percentage that these production companies can apply for is 20%. This means no cannabis company in New Zealand can earn more than 20% of the market value.

RELATED: Will Australia Follow US Lead In Selling CBD?

FreshLeaf said, “Mandating a maximum 20% market share is genius as far as politics goes because it prevents market power concentration. It also somewhat limits economies of scale, reducing the extent to which people can be replaced by machines. This kind of smart and pragmatic policy design is what we’ve come to expect from a small but nimble country able to adapt quickly to emerging circumstances.”

But the big question: Is all of this actually going to pull through?

There is no telling what will happen, but Cassandra Hunt, Managing Director at FreshLeaf, said, “It’s important to point out that a ‘Yes’ vote doesn’t necessarily mean legalisation will happen. The Cannabis Legalisation & Control Bill will still need to pass through parliament.”

There’s also the question of how its approval might affect the medical cannabis sector. Dr Hardy said, “It’s fair to say that the majority of patients accessing medicinal cannabis services are likely to continue to do so given the motivations for treatment and the presence of medical supervision. These motivations are, for example, chronic pain, epilepsy, anxiety disorders and others covered by their guidelines.”

It also means that the country’s brothers and sisters in Australia may benefit from the example. Hunt said, “Many in Australia will be watching the New Zealand referendum closely, believing that should the ‘Yes’ vote succeed, it will cast greater attention on the conversation about legalising recreational-use cannabis in Australia.’”

Given the sudden urgent need to replenish depleted Australian government coffers, we wonder if COVID-19 might even hasten that conversation in the context of a new revenue stream.

For updates on the referendum, you can head over to FreshLeaf.

In the meantime, New Zealand and its neighbors await with bated breath for 17 October.

*whānau*: Extended family or community of related families who live together in the same area in the Maori social structure. Maori are the native Polynesian community in mainland New Zealand.

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