New Zealanders could buy the equivalent of 42 joints each day under a draft law to legalise cannabis use.
Personal possession of 14 grams of cannabis, the sale of cannabis edibles, and growing up to four cannabis plants per household, are all included in the bill, which the public will be asked to vote “yes or no” at the 2020 general election.
Justice Minister Andrew Little on Tuesday announced the details of the cannabis bill, and a new government website to provide information on both the cannabis and End of Life Choice referendum being held in 2020.
Already the 14 gram threshold looks to be a political sticking point; National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett says she wants it lower.
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If passed, the cannabis bill would allow cannabis to be consumed, sold, and purchased for recreational use, by people 20 years or older.
“This is about setting up a regulatory regime that is as strict and tight as we can make it,” Little said.
Consumption would be restricted to personal homes and licensed premises, which will sell cannabis products of controlled potency.
Smoking on the beach will not be allowed, for instance, and would be punished by a $200 fine. Online sales and advertising cannabis products will also be illegal.
Home cultivation of two cannabis plants per person will be permitted. But no more than four plants can be grown in a household with two or more people 20-years or older.
Little said he had received advice that 14 grams was the amount a regular user would consume during a week, but did not personally know if this was a lot of cannabis.
“I am not a user. I did inhale though, once.”
The amount of cannabis consumed by regular users varies greatly, and can depend on how it is consumed. One University of Pennsylvania drug study found cannabis consumers rolled an average of three joints per gram — meaning 42 joints from 14 grams.
Little said two plants were enough for a cannabis consumer to sustain a “reasonably low-level habit”, but the number was capped at four plants per household to prevent “de-facto” commercial grow operations.
The Labour MP says the Government are prepared if the public votes yes next year.
“The reality is, we’re not going to have a squad knocking on every door, every night checking the growth of every plant,” he said.
“The police will police accordingly, but that said, the police have an approach now that is focused on harm minisation.”
A regulatory authority will be created to mange the licensing system and control the THC, or active ingredient, in cannabis products.
The detail around enforcing drug driving and the consumption of cannabis at the workplace still needed to be ironed out.
Also unknown was the amount of tax the Government could gather through cannabis sales. Commercially grown product will be taxed according to volume and potency, meaning higher-potency products will likely cost more.
Little said the first cross-party meeting on the bill would happen later this week.
The Green Party, which negotiated the referendum under its Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labour, was in support of the bill.
The party’s drug reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said the law was focussed on reducing access to cannabis among young people and increasing support for people have problematic consumption.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the draft law “ticks all the boxes” for public health control.
“The Government here is saying a week’s worth of supply per purchase is about right … in terms of striking a balance, I think that’s OK.”
Bell said the cannabis regulatory authority, which would be created by the law, would bring in experts and sort out the “nitty gritty” issues.
“We don’t know yet whether edibles will be approved by this authority. And I think whatever does get approved, you can have those potency controls.”
Bennett, National’s drug reform spokeswoman, said the bill left too many unanswered questions that should have been answered by now.
“Who can sell it? They say people with convictions may be able to? Does that mean gang members?”
She would argue to lower 14 gram threshold for personal use. In the Netherlands, possession is capped at five grams.
“I’m going to want THC levels to be as low as they can … They reckon anything above 16 per cent THC is at risk of actual mental illness and depression for some people.”
Bennett said the bill was in “no way” binding, and National’s caucus was yet to decide its position on the bill.
“The more I know, the more I’m likely to vote no. I worry so much about drug driving, I worry about more cannabis getting into the hands of young people.”
THE REFERENDUM QUESTIONS
The referendum will be “indicative”, meaning the Government would still have to support the proposed law through the parliamentary process after a successful vote.
This meant any new Government after the 2020 election could decide to ignore a “yes” vote.
Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?
* Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
* No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
END OF LIFE CHOICE
Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2017 coming into force?
* Yes, I support the End of Life Choice Act 2017 coming into force
* No, I do not support the End of Life Choice Act 2017 coming into force