By Emily Ledger
In October 2020, New Zealand held a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis alongside the general election. The bill was rejected by a narrow majority at the polls. Now, the Green Party is pushing for a cross-party decriminalisation bill that could skip the members’ ballot.
New Zealanders rejected cannabis legalisation at last year’s election by a narrow vote of 50.7% to 48.4%. While the result ruled out the recreational legalisation of the drug any time soon, many advocates argue that the close vote represents an appetite for a less significant form of cannabis reform.
One of these advocates is the Green Party MP, Chlöe Swarbrick, an outspoken supporter of cannabis reforms in New Zealand. According to Stuff.NZ, Swarbrick is looking to develop a cross-party bill to decriminalise cannabis, “allowing it to skip the members’ ballot and head straight to Parliament.”
This could be done by using a new parliamentary rule that allows 61 non-executive MPs to push a bill to be included directly on the order paper. In order to achieve this, the Green Party would need the votes of a significant number of Labour – and possibly, National – MPs, in addition to their own 10 members of parliament.
While this could be a big ask, the Labour party stance on cannabis – which offers its MPs a free vote on policy – could offer a narrow path to success. However, it remains unlikely that National MPs would support the further liberalisation of cannabis at this time.
Despite the defeat in the referendum, a recent poll has supported the theory that voters would be in support of lesser reforms. The poll, which was carried out by Labour’s pollster UMR for the Helen Clark Foundation, found that 69% of participants would “support full legalisation or decriminalisation”.
A total of 49% of these participants revealed that they would support the legalisation of recreational cannabis – a figure which is in line with the results of last year’s referendum.
A successful vote for cannabis legalisation at the referendum would have led to the development of regulatory bodies for a legal market in New Zealand. Licensed premises would have been permitted to sell cannabis products to adults and citizens would have been allowed by law to cultivate cannabis plants in their own homes.
In contrast, decriminalisation would simply remove criminal penalties for personal cannabis use and possession. People found to be in possession of cannabis would potentially receive a warning, a civil penalty (such as a fine) or in some cases, be directed to treatment services.