• Written by Marta Rychert, Senior Researcher in Drug Policy, Massey University
Reforming cannabis laws is a complex challenge, but New Zealand's history of drug reform holds important lessons

In less than three months, New Zealanders will vote in the world’s first national referendum on a comprehensive proposal to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.

Unlike cannabis ballots in several US states in which the public only voted on the general proposition of whether cannabis should be legalised or not, New Zealanders have access to the detailed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. It outlines how the government proposes to establish a “controlled and tightly regulated” legal cannabis market.

The approach is not like the Brexit referendum, which had no detailed plan of action for a yes vote. Neither is it like New Zealand’s much maligned 2016 flag referendum, in which people knew exactly what they were voting for. In this case, New Zealanders are voting on a proposed law reform, but even following a yes vote, the cannabis regime will have to go through select committees and public consultation. And a legal cannabis market will require monitoring and enforcement.

Our research on an earlier law reform, aiming to regulate the manufacture of “low risk” psychoactive products, shows New Zealand has a history of ambitious ideas that ultimately suffer from poor execution.

Even the best law does not guarantee compliance

The cannabis legislation bill sets out how the government would control and regulate a legal cannabis market, including the following measures:

  • licensing of cannabis industry operators

  • limits on the maximum potency of different cannabis products

  • a ban on advertising

  • sales via licensed specialised premises only (no online sales)

  • a minimum buyer’s age of 20 or older

  • the government’s ability to control both the price (via excise taxes on the psychoactive ingredient THC and weight) and limit on the total amount in the market (via annual production caps).

The bill envisions a commercial industry that will manufacture and sell cannabis. But there are provisions for not-for-profit and community-oriented operators.

Some key issues remain unresolved (price, tax rate, role of local governments), but these could be addressed through further legislation and public consultation following the referendum.

But executing the plan for a tightly regulated legal cannabis regime is another story.

First, the referendum is not binding. Even if New Zealanders vote yes, the incoming government can decide not to proceed or make significant changes.

Second, how the law looks on paper is rarely how it is in practice. Some laws, by design, are difficult to enforce. For example, the ban on all advertising sounds good, but it is not clear how covert promotion, celebrity endorsements and other sophisticated social media promotion techniques (product reviews, blog posts) would be controlled.

Read more: Why NZ's cannabis bill needs to stop industry from influencing policy

Similarly, it sounds reasonable to limit the maximum daily purchase to 14 grams, but it is hard to imagine effective enforcement without a real-time tracking system of purchases by individual customers. The same questions arise when considering the stated maximum limit of growing two plants at home or the ban on “dangerous” production methods to produce extracts at home.

It is reasonable to assume some New Zealanders will be growing more than the legal cannabis plant limit (as they already do) and will be able to purchase more than 14 grams a day (if they wish to). We can also be certain the cannabis industry will develop creative ways of online promotion (as alcohol and tobacco industries have done) and will actively lobby behind the scenes against public health measures and regulatory restrictions.

Read more: Potential cost to patient safety as NZ debates access to medicinal cannabis

Preparing for challenges

The success of a legal cannabis regime under the proposed law will depend on who oversees the implementation and regulation plans. This task will primarily be up to a new cannabis regulatory authority, but it remains unclear whether this will sit within the portfolio of health, justice or business (with their respective cultures and values).

The new authority will have a lot on its plate. Licensing producers and retailers, developing production standards, regulating labelling, approving products, administering cannabis taxes, revising maximum potency limits, and developing local licensed premises policies for all 67 local councils are just some of the tasks. The sheer volume of work required before a legal cannabis market can operate creates risks.

Read more: Teen use of cannabis has dropped in New Zealand, but legalisation could make access easier

New Zealand has recent history of poorly implementing drug policy reform. Agencies were overwhelmed by the immense regulatory workload when New Zealand attempted to establish a regulated legal market for “low risk” psychoactive products under the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2013.

There were significant gaps in the law, including regulating opening hours, lack of excise tax and poor engagement with key stakeholders. As one key official interviewed in our research on that reform said: the law “got lost in translation”. As a result, political and community support for the reforms evaporated and the regime remains unused.

We need to learn from that experience.

This is not to say a vote against cannabis legalisation will result in better outcomes. But it is important to have realistic expectations, accept the complexity of implemention, know the risks (including lobbying from the commercial industry) and develop plans to best mitigate those.

In the cannabis referendum, New Zealanders will be voting on a new idea and a draft plan on how to get there. There is no guarantee the lofty vision will match reality.

Authors: Marta Rychert, Senior Researcher in Drug Policy, Massey University

Read more https://theconversation.com/reforming-cannabis-laws-is-a-complex-challenge-but-new-zealands-history-of-drug-reform-holds-important-lessons-141113

The US has bought most of the world's remdesivir. Here's what it means for the rest of us

Dimitri Karastelev/Unsplash, CC BYTo beat the coronavirus pandemic, countries need to collaborate. We need the best possible science to develop vaccines and drugs, and to test, track and contain the v...

Barbara Mintzes, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney - avatar Barbara Mintzes, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney

Why some people don't want to take a COVID-19 test

Last week, outgoing chief medical officer Brendan Murphy announced all returned travellers would be tested for COVID-19 before and after quarantine.Some were surprised testing was not already required...

Jane Williams, Researcher at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM), University of Sydney - avatar Jane Williams, Researcher at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM), University of Sydney

How To Make The Most Of Your Morning When You Have Small Children

It’s unclear how they got themselves organised when, for all we know, they can barely even tie their own shoes or drink from a glass without spilling it but, all the children in the world have man...

News Company - avatar News Company

Beginner’s Guide to Changing an Apple Watch Band

An Apple watch says a lot not only about the taste of the wearer but also his style. It shows you are on the head of the most recent things in innovation, and it flaunts your design sense. Custo...

Daisy Bell - avatar Daisy Bell

Victoria's coronavirus contact tracers are already under the pump. What happens next?

ShutterstockThe emergence of significant community transmission of COVID-19 in Melbourne over the past week is greatly concerning to the whole of Australia.Earlier this week, Victoria’s chief he...

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

what's the new coronavirus saliva test, and how does it work?

A cornerstone of containing the COVID-19 pandemic is widespread testing to identify cases and prevent new outbreaks emerging. This strategy is known as “test, trace and isolate”.The standa...

Deborah Williamson, Professor of Microbiology, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity - avatar Deborah Williamson, Professor of Microbiology, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

We looked at the health star rating of 20,000 foods and this is what we found

ShutterstockAs you read this, health officials are busy finalising the government’s review of the health star rating system on packaged foods.One of the issues the review is looking at is whethe...

Alexandra Jones, Research Fellow (Food Policy and Law), George Institute for Global Health - avatar Alexandra Jones, Research Fellow (Food Policy and Law), George Institute for Global Health

how Australia's past pandemics shape our COVID-19 response

Tensions over border closures are in the news again, now states are gradually lifting travel restrictions to allexcept Victorians.Prime Minister Scott Morrison says singling out Victorians is an overr...

Susan Moloney, Associate Professor, Paediatrics, Griffith University - avatar Susan Moloney, Associate Professor, Paediatrics, Griffith University

Rinnai Infinity Hot Water Systems

Most people wait until they experience the dreaded cold shower before taking action to replace their hot water system. The signs and symptoms of a failing system can be subtle but should not be ign...

Samantha Ball - avatar Samantha Ball



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion