At the 2020 General Election, you will be asked to vote on whether the recreational use of cannabis should become legal, based on the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
If more than 50 percent of people vote 'Yes' in the referendum, recreational cannabis wouldn't become legal straight away. After the election, the incoming Government can introduce a Bill to Parliament that would legalise and control cannabis. This process would include the opportunity for the College to make a submission on how the law might work.
The referendum results will be known about two weeks after the election.
The College is taking a neutral stance, not making comment one way or the other. GPs are free to vote along their own conscience lines.
The referendum question is: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?
What isn’t covered?
The proposed Bill does not cover medicinal cannabis, hemp, driving while impaired, or workplace health and safety issues. These are covered by existing laws. Medicinal cannabis is already legal under the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme.
The Bill legalises restricted access to cannabis
The Bill would allow people to possess and consume cannabis in limited circumstances.
A person aged 20 or over would be able to:
- buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) per day only from licensed outlets
- enter licensed premises where cannabis is sold or consumed
- consume cannabis on private property or at licensed premises
- grow up to 2 plants, with a maximum of 4 plants per household
- share up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) with another person aged 20 or over.
The Bill's purpose is to reduce harm to people and communities
The Bill intends to reduce cannabis-related harm to individuals, families/whānau and communities by:
- providing access to legal cannabis that meets quality and potency requirements
- eliminating the illegal supply of cannabis
- raising awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use
- restricting young people's access to cannabis
- limiting the public visibility of cannabis
- requiring health warnings on packaging and at the time of purchase
- improving access to health and social services, and other kinds of support for families/whānau
- making sure the response to any breach of the law is fair.
The Bill controls the production and supply of cannabis
The Bill would regulate how cannabis is produced and supplied by:
- limiting the total amount of licensed cannabis for sale
- controlling the potency and contents of licensed cannabis and cannabis products
- applying an excise tax when a product is packaged and labelled for sale
- setting up a licensing system under which all cannabis-related businesses must hold a licence
- regulating location and trading hours for premises where cannabis is sold or consumed, in consultation with local communities
- banning people from importing cannabis and allowing only licensed businesses to import cannabis seeds
- separating businesses that are licensed to grow cannabis and produce cannabis products from businesses that are licensed to operate premises where cannabis can be sold and consumed.
What happens after the votes are counted?
If more than 50% of people vote 'Yes' in the referendum, recreational cannabis wouldn't become legal straight away. After the election, the incoming Government can introduce a Bill to Parliament that would legalise and control cannabis. This process would include the opportunity for the public to share their thoughts and ideas on how the law might work.
If more than 50% of people vote 'No' in the referendum, recreational cannabis would remain illegal, as is the current law.
Medicinal cannabis and hemp will not be affected by the outcome of the referendum. Medicinal use of cannabis will still be allowed if prescribed by a doctor, and hemp will still be legal.
More information about the referendum
This information came from the referendum’s website where there is also more information about the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
Further research and resources
The College is taking a neutral stance, not making comment one way or the other about the use of recreational cannabis. However, to help members make their own personal decision ahead of the referendum we have collated a range of views and research for your consideration. The sharing of these resources is not intended to influence, simply to inform.
Disclaimer: the below summaries are not conclusive. Please read the resource links for the full discussion.
- The NZ Drug Foundation supports the Legislation as currently proposed. To support their stance for voting “Yes” in the referendum they have developed key points, read them here. Examples include:
- Under 20 age limit: “Cannabis is for adults only.” The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill has very tough punishments for those who sell or supply cannabis to young people.
- Access for medicinal use: Evidence is clear that cannabis can be an effective medicine. Legal cannabis would mean easier access to a wider range of products and would make prices more affordable. Patients will be able to access the medicine that works for them without fear of prosecution.
- Potency levels: Government has suggested an initial maximum potency of 15 percent THC for cannabis flower and 5 mg THC per package for edibles.
- Research by Poulton and Colleagues found that approximately 80 percent of cannabis users in New Zealand did so with little or no harm, whereas only 5 to 10 percent of users were at heightened risk because they: (i) used cannabis on more days than not; (ii) had become cannabis dependent; or (iii) began using cannabis during mid-adolescence and persisted well into adulthood. Implications are discussed with respect to the 2020 referendum. Evidence is drawn from the Dunedin and Christchurch cohort studies. The researchers encourage voters to carefully reflect upon the pros and cons. Read the full paper.
- The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has published research discussing the multiple facets of the outcomes of referendum. The impact on health from cannabis is discussed. Examples of key points are below, but you can read more about it here.
- Cannabis use can be addictive, but most people don’t become addicted.
- Cannabis use can alter brain development.
- Smoking cannabis can cause lung damage.
- Cannabis use can increase the risk of psychotic symptoms or psychosis in some people.
- Oldfield and Colleagues investigated GP knowledge of the use of cannabis as a medicine and its regulation in New Zealand. They found that 79 percent of GPs expressed concerns about future prescribing, however, 84 percent indicated they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ likely to prescribe a PHARMAC-funded product with good evidence in specific conditions. Read the full study here.
- The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has only been in effect since 1 April 2020 and according to a leading cannabis company “we simply need more time to explore the potentially enormous improvements this complex plant and all its compounds can have on the health and well-being of our community.” Read the full article.
- Research by Theodore and Colleagues found that the association between cannabis and negative health and social outcomes remained significant, even when other factors were considered (e.g. family factors, alcohol use). The research highlights that “equity in response around who receives health-based responses versus who will have to pay a fine will also be important so that rangatahi Māori are not unfairly disadvantaged under new legislation.” Read the full study here.
- GP Jo Scott-Jones has put together a dispassionate presentation about the cannabis referendum and what happens in there is a 'yes' vote. See Dr Scott-Jones' presentation (opens to PDF)