News of Zealand

New Zealand to Hold Recreational Cannabis Referendum at the 2020 Election

Justice Minister Andrew Little said they still need to figure out exactly what the big question will be, but that the referendum will be binding.

by Zoe Madden-Smith
18 December 2018, 12:08am

Legal recreational cannabis could be on the way for New Zealand. Image via Shutterstock

Last week, Kiwis who smoke marijuana to ease the suffering of chronic pain from terminal illnesses were granted a defence against charges while they wait for the medicinal cannabis industry to catch up and supply medicinal-grade product. But for those of us not in this category, who just want to get high legally, the wait could soon be over.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced there will be a referendum on recreational cannabis use at the 2020 election – and that it will be binding. Little told the media this morning that “there is a bit of detail still to work out”, like what question they will ask the public, but they have told the electoral commission “that's when it's going to be.” Labour and the Greens committed to a recreational cannabis referendum by 2020 as part of their confidence and supply agreement.

National Party leader Simon Bridges, however, is not on board. He said it was a “cynical” move to hold the referendum at the same time as the election, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if it was deliberately designed to sidetrack New Zealanders from the bigger picture. "Pretty cynical that you've got a Government that wants to distract from the core issues of a general election like who's best to govern... and core issues around the economy, tax, cost of living, health, education and law and order."

But #makeitlegal campaign manager Sandra Murray welcomes the timing of the referendum because it will “maximise turnout”. “We will be campaigning hard for a yes vote to any progressive question. We are excited to be having the debate. We are focusing on supporting local areas to have an informed discussion about how reform will benefit their community, as well as how potential problems will be avoided.”

However, Murray said it was disappointing there was no clarity on the big question yet. Their coalition wants a two-part question that firstly asks “whether people support adults being able to possess and grow cannabis for personal use, and secondly whether they support adults being able to buy cannabis from licensed premises,” she said. “This could be in the form of a modular bill, which allows one or both divisions to be passed depending on the outcome of the referendum.”