This spring, Kiwis will be voting on whether they want to see safe and accessible, recreational cannabis, available legally, nationwide. But, in order to make the right decision, people need to know what they’re voting for.

To save you some time, we’ve read through the 120-something pages of the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill; this is what we found out:

If you want to smoke cannabis in NZ, you’ll have to be over 20 and have ID

It’s a given that young people want to try new things and if you tell them they can’t do something, you’ll only make them want to do it more. That includes experimenting with cannabis, especially when it’s deemed off-limits. By allowing recreational use, for those age 20+, the temptation to try cannabis early, is significantly reduced. Evidence from America confirms this effect, finding that states that have legalised recreational cannabis “were associated with a 8% decrease in the likelihood of teens trying marijuana, as well as a 9% reduction in the odds of frequent marijuana use.”

Not only do age limits reduce desire, they also allow for easier policing of use. Everyone knows that drug dealers don’t check ID cards and, should the referendum pass, harsh penalties will be enacted for those that distribute to minors. Much like the enforcement of ID restrictions on alcohol purchases, adding age verification requirements at legalised cannabis outlets will help reduce access by minors and help stomp out the illegal cannabis blackmarket.

How strong will New Zealand’s cannabis be?

Just like sugar in food and chlorine in drinking water, cannabis potency will be strictly regulated and official labs will test THC levels in all items available in NZ. THC limits will exist for all cannabis products, with flower initially capped at 15% THC and edibles limited to 5mg per package.

*Just for reference, that ‘spacecake’ you had in Amsterdam that one time, was most definitely an unmeasured amount of THC; which is what gives edibles such a bad name. Usually, 10mg is considered a ‘low’ dose for feeling an effect from cannabis edibles.

According to the newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Authority, THC levels in NZ ‘street’ cannabis is around 8%. Overseas, strains can reach as high as 30%; however, educated cannabis consumers will understand that these numbers are not entirely reflective of quality of experience. Unlike alcohol, the effect of cannabis isn’t universal, or based on body weight; other natural compounds in the plant also contribute to the user experience. Check out Cannabis 101, if you’d like to learn more about the ‘entourage effect’ of cannabinoids and THC.

Purchase limits will also be enforced in NZ and you’ll only be able to buy 14g of flower at a time. To give an idea of what that means, a cigarette sized joint weighs about a gram; so that’s 14 joints, or half a sandwich bag full of cannabis in one purchase – more than enough for even the most keen consumer! Limits will also be placed on edibles and concentrates.

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What kind of cannabis products will be available in New Zealand?

It’s hard to say exactly what kind of products will be available, before the referendum passes, but The Cannabis Regulatory Authority has signalled that edibles and concentrates will be considered high risk and not easily available at cannabis dispensaries. Similarly to how cigarettes and tobacco are sold at your local Night ’n Day, these items will be stored out of sight and won’t feature on the dispenser’s general ‘menu’. Don’t worry, all licensed dispensaries in New Zealand will have both flower and edible menus available, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

What will NZ cannabis packaging look like?

Don’t expect flashy or seductive branding. All products in NZ will be subject to strict packaging regulations, which will look very similar to current NZ tobacco packaging, or Canadian cannabis packaging. Brand labels will not be allowed and clear warnings must be visible on all cannabis product exteriors.

NZ dispensaries will not be able to display items outside their shop, or advertise, in any way. Although cannabis flower will be considered “Standard product” and will be eligible to be visible inside of dispensaries, ‘high risk’ items, like concentrates and edibles, will not be on display.

For added protection, most items will be sold in childproof containers and no items will be allowed to resemble lollies, candies or gummies.

Interesting Fact

Raw Cannabis flower will have no effect if consumed by a child, as it has to be burned, or heated, to be intoxicating. The Starship Foundation has found that in NZ “Paracetamol is the most common single agent involved in poisonous ingestions in young children”, so in some ways, cannabis flower is safer than a bottle of Paracetamol. 

Where can I buy cannabis in New Zealand and how much will it cost?

Like speakeasies disappeared when prohibition ended, Kiwis will be able to say goodbye to drug dealers , if new cannabis legislation passes. Similarly to alcohol, cannabis sales will be restricted only to licensed premises, approved by the New Zealand Cannabis Regulatory Authority. Licences will not be issued to any locations near schools or churches and will favor not-for-profit locations that can demonstrate a benefit to their local community.

THC concentration will be the main factor affecting price and products with higher THC will be taxed at a higher rate, depending on potency. For example, a 1g cannabis cigarette with 8% THC will cost less than one with 15%THC.

Where will the tax money go?

Current projections estimate almost $500 million in new, annual taxes, if cannabis legislation is passed in NZ. This money will be invested in education, addiction rehabilitation services and police resources. In addition, legalisation of cannabis in New Zealand will also save taxpayers nearly $200 million in policing each year, which will be put towards prevention and resolution of more serious crimes.

Where can I consume cannabis in New Zealand?

This part of the proposed law is common sense; you can’t smoke cannabis in public, or in the presence of anyone under the age of 20 and cannabis consumption is only legal in a private residence, or licensed consumption space.

Differently to Amsterdam’s infamous cafes, though, NZ’s consumption spaces won’t be able to sell you cannabis, but will act more like clubs, where you can enjoy your products with other, like-minded people.

Can I grow cannabis in New Zealand?

Short answer – Yes!

If the referendum passes, each individual will be able to grow 2 plants for personal use, with a cap of 4 plants per household. In addition, small amounts of cannabis may be legally shared with those over the age of 20.

The target potency quotas that apply to commercial retail cannabis will not apply to homegrown cannabis, however not all cannabis products will be permitted at home. Homemade cannabis-infused products will be legal but home extractions, resins and oils will be prohibited.

If the Cannabis Referendum gets passed in New Zealand, will crime go up?

Thousands of New Zealanders are convicted of cannabis related offences, each year, greatly affecting their ability to gain employment, travel and study. A case study by the American Reason Foundation found that, although legalisation doesn’t “eliminate illegal production, distribution and sale of marijuana, it tends to diminish it dramatically.” The study also found that:

In Washington State, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2013, the number of low-level court filings for marijuana fell by 98% between 2012 and 2013. The number of adults (over 21) convicted for misdemeanor possession fell from 297 in January, to 0 January 2013 — and has remained there, since. Meanwhile, the number of those under 21 convicted for possession fell by about 50%, between 2012 and 2013.

In Colorado, the number of cases brought against people for cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana fell by 85% in the first full year of legal sales (2014), compared to the average in the three years prior.

There is a perception that cannabis legalisation will move the illegal drug market to push harder substances, such as cocaine; which will, in turn, increase related crime. In fact, American statistics, captured by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that cocaine usage has remained level for states that have legalised cannabis.

Legalisation in New Zealand is expected to decrease serious drug use and crime, by better funding and freeing up police time, no longer taken up by cannabis convictions.

Will the referendum affect Medical Cannabis in New Zealand?

The New Zealand drug foundation has found clear evidence that cannabis can be “effective to a range of conditions” and it is currently legal for doctors in NZ to prescribe, but few are willing to, due to its current illegal status. Stigma and misunderstanding surrounding cannabis has limited the amount of people the plant has been able to help and, by making it legal, nationwide, cannabis will be more accessible to both mainstream practitioners and patients.

The current legal status of cannabis in New Zealand also makes it very expensive to purchase, because it has to be imported from Canada. Legalisation will help medical patients better afford cannabis, enabling both symptomatic and financial relief.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation is currently recommending a ‘Yes’ vote on the cannabis referendum, to improve patient access.

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