New Zealanders Cast Their Votes On Cannabis Legalization

Did New Zealanders legalize?  We won’t know for weeks. 

While votes are still being counted across New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already declared victory by a landslide. But as for preliminary results on referendums, those wondering whether voters said “yes” to Ardern’s promise to legalize cannabis for adult use will have to wait until next month. Polls to-date suggest the final vote, regardless of the outcome, will be close. 

The road to this moment began in 2017, when Ardern took office. Her party, the Labour  Party, along with the Green Party, committed to legalizing cannabis by her term’s end. The government’s proposal on which New Zealanders have just cast their votes was unveiled this May, one month after the country’s medical cannabis program launched. If a majority of voters say yes to the adult use referendum, the government will still need to introduce a bill for Parliament to pass. 

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, the draft proposal, paints a clear picture of how the country’s industry would take shape. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, adults aged 20 and older could grow two plants and possess products equivalent to 14 grams of dried cannabis. This includes, according to the Bill, 14 cannabis seeds, 210 grams of cannabis edibles, 980 grams of liquids, or 3.5 grams of concentrates. Though, at first, only seeds, plants, and flower will be sold, while sales of other products, like edibles, would be phased in. (This is similar to Canada’s approach, where edible and vape sales became legal one year after the sales of flower.)The excise tax on products would be “based on weight and potency.” While potency-based taxes haven’t taken hold in the US, public health experts argue that it could help to discourage heavy use. The dominant approach in the US is a percentage-of-price tax, which means that if prices fall, so, too, does state tax revenue.

There would be a limit, set annually, on how much cannabis is produced for the market, and a single business licensee cannot produce more than 20 percent of that limit. The Bill notes that “part of the cap would be set aside for micro-cultivators.” Also, when it comes to business licensees, the Bill includes several “guiding principles,” which includes considering whether an applicant “represents or partners with communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis,” “generates social benefit and builds community partnerships,” and “promotes employment opportunities and career pathways.”

Also, consumption spaces will be allowed, either as part of retail shops or as standalone “bring your own” establishments. Smoking and vaping will not be allowed in indoor spaces, and these establishments will be required to sell food and forbidden from selling alcohol.

Ardern has yet to reveal her vote on the referendum, telling reporters earlier this week that she wants voters to “make their own call.” But, she reiterated that her priorities are that “young people do not end up damaging themselves as a result of access” and that people are not “unnecessarily criminalised.”

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