News, Politics, Travel

New Zealanders Vote on a Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill

October 29, 2020 11:02 am ET
New Zealanders Vote on a Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill

We talk often about the extension of cannabis legalization in modern times, and about what a great time in history this is for cannabis. And while that’s true, it’s also complicated. In the United States, as most of us are well aware, cannabis legalization is rapidly proceeding on a state by state basis rather than at the national level—we have yet to see any real strides in this country toward federal legalization. The same is true elsewhere. While many countries have gone so far as to decriminalize cannabis, or have loosened their policies of enforcement on cannabis illegality, those that have actually legalized are few and far between. Cannabis is fully legal throughout the countries of Canada, Uruguay, South Africa, and Georgia. Every other nation that offers legal cannabis does so for medical purposes only, or in some regions but not in others. 

But now a new country may have the opportunity to join that elite list. New Zealanders have just finished voting on a cannabis referendum that, if passed, would make them only the fifth nation in the world to legalize the substance.

The Contents of New Zealand’s Bill

Known as the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, the measure required only a simple yes or no response from voters—but it contained a detailed plan for how the country would approach the issue of legalization. Wisely, New Zealand lawmakers anticipated that it would not be enough to simply declare cannabis legal and remove their hands from the situation.

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The bill details how much cannabis consumers will be legally able to buy—up to 14 grams per day through licensed outlets. New Zealanders will also gain the right to grow up to two plants per person, if they so desire, with a cap of four plants per household. For those looking to enter the cannabis industry, business regulations will prohibit advertising and will place strict regulations on the way edibles are packaged to ensure that they aren’t marketed toward children in any way. The age cutoff for legal cannabis use and possession will be set at 20 years.

Will the Bill Pass?

Though voting on this measure has already taken place, the results of the vote won’t be fully ready to be released to the public until November sixth. So as of right now, we don’t know what the citizens of New Zealand have decided. Experts say that it could go either way. Lara Greaves, a lecturer focusing on New Zealand Politics at the University of Auckland, is pessimistic. “I think the problem is that we would be going from criminalization(…) to full-on recreational use,” Greaves says. “Probably what needed to happen to get the public on board was to have a phase of decriminalization.”

Decriminalization is a tool that has served well as a stepping stone to legalization in other places throughout the world, including many of the United States. Greaves believes that if young New Zealanders show up in big numbers, the bill might stand a chance at passing. A survey of New Zealanders conducted in early October showed that 49.5% were opposed to cannabis legalization, while 49.5% were in favor. At that point, one percent of the country’s population was undecided, and it is likely that one percent that will sway the final results in one direction or the other.

So what does the future hold for New Zealand? At the moment, it’s still unclear. But keep watching the news, because in the next few weeks we may learn that New Zealand has become just the fifth country to pass cannabis legalization nationwide!

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