New Zealand Releases Details on Legalization Referendum

As New Zealanders overwhelming back marijuana legalization, the country’s minority government released details of its upcoming 2020 ballot question.

New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Andrew Little this month released details on the government’s plan to hold a national referendum on the legalized cultivation, distribution, and sale of recreational marijuana.

The referendum will be on the ballot with the national general election on November 21, 2020 in the form of a “Yes/No” question that will give voters a clear choice while the Ministry of Justice is still working out the exact wording.

“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,” said Little. “The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.”

According to the plan, only those 20 and older will be allowed to purchase marijuana. The referendum also allows home cultivation of marijuana and establishments to operate where it can be consumed legally. Interested establishments would need a license granted by a new regulatory regime to operate. Public consumption will not be allowed.

There will also be restrictions on advertising to prohibit the formation of large corporations and the use of harmful marketing tactics like those employed in the past by tobacco companies to increase market share.

“In line with a health-based approach, consumption will be limited to private spaces or to those that are licensed,” she said Chloe Swarbrick, a Green Party member of the New Zealand parliament in support of the bill. “We are also guaranteeing that there is going to be no advertising because the last thing we want to do is open the door to big corporates and invite another ‘Big Tobacco’ or ‘Big Alcohol’ and replace the black market with some big corporate control.”

While decriminalization would take away the severe penalties that go with possession and distribution, the coalition is also hopeful legalization will end the illegal market.

New Zealanders are overwhelmingly in favor of recreational legalization, as 60 percent were shown to be in support in a poll published August 2017.

New Zealand has already begun the process of easing the enforcement of marijuana possession. Last December, the government amended its Misuse of Drugs Act to specify that law enforcement should not prosecute the possession of cannabis when the substance is being used for therapeutic purposes or a prosecution is not in the public’s interest.

New Zealand Recreational Marijuana

Long Time Coming

The process of presenting voters with the opportunity to vote on marijuana has been in the works for some time.

The long-promised 2020 referendum is part of a deal between New Zealand’s Labour Party and the Green Party, who are in a formal alliance. The Green Party, especially eager for a marijuana legalization referendum, got backing for its objective from the Labour Party in exchange for its support of a Labour Party Prime Minister.

Canada and Uruguay have already legalized recreational marijuana and Mexico is in the process of doing so.

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