New Zealand could become the first country in Asia Pacific to allow recreational marijuana use.
New Zealand voters in 2020 will get to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Justice Minister Andrew Little yesterday announced that a referendum will be held during the next national election that year on whether cannabis use for adults should be legal.
“The Cabinet decision is that it will be held at the 2020 general election, the agreement is that it will be binding,” Little told reporters, adding that there was still “a bit of detail still to work through.”
New Zealand would be the first country to have the cannabis issue decided by voters. A “yes” vote would make New Zealand the third country in the world to allow recreational use of marijuana and the first in Asia Pacific.
“We know when it will be, we have a commitment that it will be binding, and now it is just a question on filling in the detail from there,” said Little.
The cannabis referendum was promised as part of a confidence and supply agreement by the Labour Party to garner support from the Green Party. Along with New Zealand First (NZF), the parties are part of a three-way coalition government that was formed after neither won majority last year, leading to a hung parliament.
“We’ve long advocated for a binding referendum with legislation setting out a clear, evidence-based regulatory framework. That way, we avoid a Brexit-type situation figuring out what a ‘yes’ vote means after the fact, and cut grey moral panic from the debate,” Chloe Swarbrick, the Green Party’s spokesperson on drug reform, wrote on Twitter.
Over recent years public support for marijuana has grown in New Zealand. An August 2017 poll by Curia Market Research found that 60 percent of those questioned favored decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, while 37 percent opposed any reform.
“We’ve had countless opinion polls for decades now, confirming New Zealanders are positively well ahead of political action on the issue of cannabis law reform,” said Swarbrick.
“This binding referendum presents an opportunity to have the will of the people trigger meaningful legislative change,” she added.
If New Zealand legalizes recreational marijuana, it will be the third country in the world behind Uruguay and Canada to do so. In the United States, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow adult marijuana use.
Expanding Medical Marijuana Access
The announcement of New Zealand’s upcoming nationwide vote on marijuana arrives just a week after the country’s Parliament passed a law to ease restrictions on medical marijuana.
The new legislation allows terminally ill patients to immediately begin consuming cannabis without fear of prosecution.
“This will be particularly welcome as another option for people who live with chronic pain,” said Health Minister Dr. David Clark.
“People nearing the end of their lives should not have to worry about being arrested or imprisoned for trying to manage their pain,” he added.
The new law also allows medical marijuana products to be manufactured in New Zealand for domestic and overseas distribution.
Cannabis is already commonly used in New Zealand, according to the NZ Drug Foundation. Statistics provided on the foundation’s website reveal that by the age of 21, 80 percent of New Zealanders have tried marijuana at least once.