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Drug Driving Discussion Document

Drug Driving Discussion Document

The Government initiated a discussion document on drugged driving. The deadline for submissions was Friday 28 June 2019. You can find the discussion document detail here.

The #makeitlegal submission is below:


28 June 2019


The Make It Legal Aotearoa New Zealand Trust is committed to supporting drug law reform research, campaigns and education for the benefit of individuals, whanau and communities. In particular we:

  • undertake and disseminate educational material and research on drug law reform policy and legislation and its impact on individuals, whanau and communities; and
  • support individuals, whanau, communities and organisations in activities that promote drug law reform, particularly the legalisaton of cannabis and
  • support just and rational drug laws that reduce harm and illicit activity; and maximises benefits to individuals, whanau and communities; and
  • provide other support and assistance consistent with our purpose.

The Make It Legal Aotearoa New Zealand Trust is currently campaigning under #makeitlegal, to raise support for cannabis law reform in the 2020 referendum on the legalisation of cannabis.


We commend the Government on its enhanced commitment to road safety, including attempting to grapple with the difficult question of how to regulate drugged driving.

We urge the Government to consider this question within a broader context of driver impairment, regardless of the cause of that impairment.

We consider that impairment testing as it is currently practised is outdated, subjective and inadequate. We recommend that resources go into collaboration with other jurisdictions to develop simple device-based reaction testing as a low-cost screening device for impairment.

Following an impairment screening device, further testing (including substance testing where appropriate) and interventions can be conducted based on the nature and source of the impairment.


Sandra Murray

Secretary – Make It Legal Aotearoa New Zealand Trust


Phone: 021 890 629




We wish to make an oral submission on this matter if we can do so by phone or video conference.



QUESTION 1: Do you think that roadside drug screening is a good option for deterring drug driving and detecting drug drivers? Are there other options not mentioned in this Discussion Document?

We agree that some kind of low cost and quick screening device for impairment is desirable, to act as a deterrent to impaired driving.

We do not support roadside drug screening. If the objective is to improve road safety, impairment needs to be the focus, regardless of the source of that impairment. The discussion document points out a number of substances that can cause impairment but which are unlikely to be tested for – synthetics, prescription drugs etc. There is also impairment that is not caused by a substance – lack of sleep, emotional stress etc.

We consider it entirely feasible to develop a simple app, loaded on a mobile device of some kind, that can test, for example, reaction time on a simple task. Failure to achieve a predetermined level can give rise to further testing to determine the cause of the impairment. This allows a quantifiable, objective test of impairment. It would mean a simple, low cost and rapid screening test that could be conducted in a similar way to roadside breath testing for alcohol.

Further interventions, following a failure on the initial screening test, could include:

  1. A more comprehensive (device-based) impairment test to determine the level of impairment. This could be linked to an individual’s base score over time, as the technology and levels of data capture improves.
  2. Blood testing for specified substances considered to present the highest levels of risk to other drivers.
  3. A discussion to see if other causes of impairment can be ascertained (eg.tiredness) and an appropriate response identified (eg prohibited to drive for a period)

 QUESTION 2: Do you support oral fluid screening for roadside drug testing of drivers? Are there other options not mentioned in this Discussion Document that could be considered?

As above

QUESTION 3: Is it reasonable to delay drivers by 3 to 5 minutes to administer a roadside drug screening test, in order to detect drug drivers and remove them from the road?

No. Such a delay would quickly lead to intolerable backlogs. A screening test needs to be able to be completed in around a minute. Our proposal in response to Question 1 would allow that.

QUESTION 4: Is a presence-based, zero-tolerance approach to drug driving, where presence of a drug is sufficient for an offence, appropriate for New Zealand?

No. Such an approach would punish people for behaviour that does not put others at risk. The issue is impairment and driver safety.  The “presence” of a drug i not the same as being impaired. Many
prescription drugs in low doses do not impair, but do in high doses. We already have a tolerated level of alcohol

QUESTION 5: Should there be legal limits for some drugs?

Yes. Any limits should be based on robust science that gives a reliable level for impairment, and reliable testing.

QUESTION 6: If roadside drug screening was introduced, which of the three approaches discussed above do you prefer?

  • Testing under the current ‘good cause to suspect’ criterion
  • Targeted testing following an incident or a driving offence
  • Random roadside drug screening, along the lines of the current breath alcohol testing model.

Are there other approaches that should be considered?

If a roadside screening test for impairment was developed, along the lines outlined in our answer to Question 1, we would support random testing. Otherwise, given the low correlation in substance testing between detection and impairment, we do not support drug screening.

QUESTION 7: If random drug screening was introduced, do you think it is a reasonable and proportionate response to the harm of drug driving? Are there circumstances in which it would be more or less reasonable?

Random testing using a method which is reasonably quick and which reliably tests that people are impaired, such as is the case with alcohol testing or with direct impairment testing as we have outlined in response to Question1, is proportionate to the harm of impaired driving. Otherwise we are not convinced it is.

 QUESTION 8: What criteria should be used to determine if a drug is included, or excluded, from drug screening?

If a secondary screening for substances is used, following an impairment screening as we have outlined in our answer to Question 1, we think that it should be based on robust evidence about which drugs are most likely to lead to accidents and which ones can be reliably tested for levels of impairment. We make the point that this may need to be based on some kind of matrix. A drug which causes moderate impairment but also leads to more risk taking may be a higher risk than a drug which causes higher impairment but leads to more cautious driving.

QUESTION 9: What regulatory process should be used to specify the drugs that are identified for screening?

An Order in Council is the appropriate regulatory process.

QUESTION 10: Should illicit and prescription drugs be treated differently?

No. If prescription drugs state that people should not drive under their influence, and there is robust evidence that they impair driving, then they should be treated the same as illegal drugs.

QUESTION 11: Should there be a medical defence for drivers who have taken prescription drugs in accordance with a prescription from a medical professional?

No. If a prescription drug causes driver impairment, we would expect that using it “in accordance with a prescription” means not driving.

QUESTION 12: If oral fluid testing was introduced in New Zealand, do you think there should be a requirement for a second drug screening test following a failed first test? Do you prefer another option for screening drivers?

Please see our response to Question1.

QUESTION 13: Do you think that drug driving offences should be confirmed with an evidentiary blood test? If not, what evidence should be required to establish an offence of drug driving?

Yes. Drug driving offences should be confirmed with an evidentiary blood test

QUESTION 14: Do you think an infringement offence (an instant fine and demerit points) or a criminal penalty (mandatory licence qualification, fines and possible imprisonment) is appropriate for the offence of drug driving?

We consider that an infringement notice for a first offence is appropriate, although higher levels of impairment as demonstrated on an impairment test, and also subsequent offences, might warrant criminal penalties.

QUESTION 15: Is there any other penalty or action in response to the offence of drug driving that you think should be considered?

Understanding the causes of offending and addressing those is usually preferable to simple punishment. We would encourage the Government to look creatively at this.

QUESTION 16: Do you think it is reasonable to penalise drivers who have used drugs, but may not be impaired?

No. The issue we need to address is road incidents caused by impaired driving. Punishing non-impaired drivers does nothing to address that.

QUESTION 17: Do you have anything else you would like to say about drug driving?

Cannabis law reform will have an impact on workplace drug testing and on the enforcement of traffic regulations. Concerns around this have been voiced by employers, unions and the NZ Police. It should be noted, however, that substance testing for impairment is an ineffective health and safety procedure. It rarely tests the number one drug of abuse in the workplace (alcohol) and does not test impairment from cannabis use but rather the presence of long-lived cannabis metabolites.

Cannabis law reform will require that we address these difficult issues, as the simple presence of cannabis metabolites will no longer be grounds for punitive action.

The issue of impairment is not just about cannabis use. Impairment can arise from sleep deprivation, relationship problems, pharmaceutical products and a range of other conditions that are difficult to individually test for.

For this reason:

  • We recommend that driving under the influence of cannabis is prohibited as per existing regulations on impairment.
  • We also recommend that the Government investigate impairment testing (as opposed to substance testing) as a more accurate measure of actual impairment in the workplace.

We also wish to highlight this comment, made publicly by researcher Dr Geoff Noller, PhD, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago; in relation to cannabis impairment while driving.

“This is a complicated question, with interpretations of data often ‘muddied’ by unclear data or analyses that conflate historic use of cannabis with actual impairment. Having noted this, a recent detailed US analysis by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), following the legalisation of cannabis in a number of US states suggests that when data are correctly analysed, there appears to be either no elevated crash risk associated with cannabis only, or even a reduced risk of crashes.”



Donate to #makeitlegal on Give-a-Little

Donate to #makeitlegal on Give-a-Little

#Makeitlegal is the campaign to get a strong YES vote in the upcoming New Zealand Cannabis Referendum – set to be held at the 2020 general elections. This referendum will be binding – meaning if we get more than 50% of voters voting yes, cannabis law reform will happen.

We need to get out to people all through NZ to have conversations about cannabis law reform and what the government is proposing with the referendum. We will need billboards, social media and information to hand out. Our Givealittle page will help us raise the funds we need to do that.

New Zealand is well overdue for a change to our drug laws and the time is now.

All over the world, countries are moving to change their drug laws so that cannabis is dealt with as a health issue, not a crime. Portugal, Canada, Colorado, and California are leading examples of why change is a good thing, with law reform leading to reduced drug use and drug related crime, better healthcare available to people who need it, and fewer people in prison for harmless drug incidents.

But it is expensive to run a referendum campaign, and we are not part of any political party or organisation i.e. we are not funded. And as referendum campaigners will need to follow all the same rules as a political campaign – including financial reporting and limits on what we can do.

So please donate – even $5 can go along way!

What happens to your donation?

Funds will be paid to a verified bank account of the Make It Legal NZ Trust and used for activities to promote the upcoming cannabis referendum and the #makeitlegal campaign e.g. publicity, campaigning, marketing, research and polling. If we raise sufficient funds we will be able to employ a campaign manager and other key people. Having dedicated, skilled campaigners will increase our chances of achieving law reform.

“I believe that drug policy needs to evolve a substance-based to a people-centred approach. Harm reduction, prevention, and evidence-based treatment have shown their effectiveness around the world. I have witnessed this from New Zealand to Belarus. Now is the time to address the policy barriers to better outcomes.”

Helen Clark – Commissioner at the Global Commission on Drug Policy

Drug Policy and Deprivation of Liberty

Drug Policy and Deprivation of Liberty

Drug Policy and Deprivation of Liberty

Drug Policy and Deprivation of Liberty

The new position paper by the Global Commission on Drug Policy shows how the deprivation of liberty for non-violent drug crimes is a wrong and ineffective response, notably because it does not take into account the social and psychological root causes of drug consumption, nor does it consider the economic and social marginalization of low-level actors in the trade. Furthermore, people who are incarcerated are vulnerable, exposed to risks, particularly health risks, for which they are not well-equipped and do not receive adequate care.

In this report, members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy analyze the last thirty years of over incarceration in closed settings, from prisons to migrant administrative detention and from mandatory treatment to private rehabilitation centers. The paper highlights the responsibility of the State towards people who are incarcerated, and demonstrates how their health and well-being are at risk.

Download the paper here

An environmental opportunity

An environmental opportunity

In our rush to convince people that legalised cannabis will be strictly managed, we run the risk of forcing our fledgling cannabis industry to adopt the least sustainable practices available. When regulations are being developed by the Health and Justice Ministries, how can we ensure that environmental issues are taken into account?
Canada legalised cannabis last year, introducing strict controls to make sure legally grown cannabis wouldn’t leak into the illicit market – which they were trying to eliminate. They also wanted to make sure children didn’t accidentally consume cannabis products.
This has resulted in many companies cultivating cannabis indoors – a high energy system growing under lights, with air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
Even when cannabis is grown outdoors, intensive cultivation of thirsty plants has the potential to harm rivers and lakes. It is estimated that a cannabis plant uses around 22 litres of water, compared to grape vines which use around 12 litres.
Once gown, Canadian cannabis products tend to be over packaged, with layers of plastic to ensure no-one accidentally consumes cannabis, and to provide space for all the information labeling.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health is developing regulations for medicinal cannabis this coming year. Working in waste, as I do, I can assure you that the health industry does not have a great track record for waste minimisation or environmental considerations. It concerns me that Ministry of Health officials may fail to even consider regulations to encourage this new industry to be sustainable.
And it could easily be a world leader in sustainability.
A new industry, with multiple well-funded companies setting up systems and processes from scratch, could readily ‘gear up’ as sustainable from day one. Instead of layers of wasteful packaging, the new industry could be regulated to introduce sustainable packaging that still ensures products are safe and well labelled
This new funding for developing sustainable packaging could be a shot in the arm for a packaging industry crying out for funding to help them move away from the plastic packaging consumers so dislike. And once established, sustainable packaging regulations could easily be rolled out across all products.
Regulation for cultivation could ensure products are not only high quality and secure, but also minimise environmental impacts. At the very least they could avoid forcing growers into the least sustainable practices, and at best direct them towards methods which cause the least harm.
Regulations should cover aspects such as:
• Sustainable packaging and waste minimisation
• Suitable site locations to minimise environmental harm, including requiring renewable energy use for indoor growing
• Water monitoring and management systems to reduce the need for irrigation
• Compostable waste management during cultivation and guidance on soil health
• Protocols on chemical application – ideally with a focus on organic cultivation
We have an opportunity. A new industry. Let’s not blow it by applying outdated production systems when we could be world leaders with the greenest cannabis products on earth.

By Sandra Murray, Environmental Consultant

Responsible Legal Regulation

Responsible Legal Regulation

What does responsible legal regulation mean?
Under a model with legal regulation, cannabis related activities (use, possession, cultivation, sale etc) are no longer criminal activities, but regulated through administrative laws, as is the case for other products such as alcohol and tobacco.

While offences still occur, these are not criminal offences, but related to failing to adhere to regulations. For example – a person may grow cannabis at home for personal use legally, but if they sell it, they may be fined for unlicensed sale. Or if a licensed supplier sells to a child, they may be prosecuted and fined for underage selling, and have their license revoked.

Legal regulation itself covers a range of scenarios from strict regulation (such as with the regulation of hazardous substances or medicines containing opiates) to responsible regulation (as proposed for cannabis) through to lax regulation (such as with alcohol) and then on to unrestricted access (such as with ice creams and soft drinks). This can be seen in the graph above, taken from Regulation: The responsible Control of Drugs by the Global Commissions on Drug Policy, showing the range of models from decriminalisation through to unrestricted access, and the level of harm each model is likely to result in.

Responsible legal regulation is what is proposed for cannabis.


The People of New Zealand Are Owed a Proper Choice

The People of New Zealand Are Owed a Proper Choice

This article first appeared on

OPINION: The tide is coming in for cannabis law reform. Last week Parliament significantly improved access to medical cannabis. A couple of days later the Government said it was directing the police, by law, not to prosecute personal possession charges where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or where there is no public interest in a prosecution.

These are huge steps forward. But both will be overshadowed by the referendum on general use that was the subject of a Government announcement on Tuesday. Andrew Little, who has been impressive as Minister of Justice, is leading the work on the referendum. He looks to be a good pairs of hands for the task. So what did he say?

The referendum will be held at the next general election in 2020. Any time frame has pros and cons but I think there are some real benefits to this. Having it at the election will help ensure a good turnout for both and, in principle, any increase in participation is a good thing for democracy. Some people may end up voting in the election for the first time because they want a say in the referendum, and that will make it more likely that they will vote in future.

A cannabis referendum will be held at 2020 election.

A potential disadvantage is that it risks cannabis becoming an election issue. No doubt the National Party sees an opportunity to grandstand as it did during the medical cannabis debate. Getting real information out there – evidence-based and grounded in reality – will be critical to allowing people a real say. Then again, maybe National won’t. Polls since 2000 have shown that most New Zealanders support a law change. National’s approach when the referendum was first announced last year was a measured one. Simon Bridges indicated that he didn’t agree with change but National would support the outcome. If that was his first instinct, it was a sound one. If National wants to win back mainstream New Zealand, it may find that overblown ‘reefer madness’ rhetoric is not the way to do that.

Binding referenda are unusual in this country. Having an assurance that their votes mean something, and that whatever Government we have after the election will be bound by the result, will make a real difference to people’s attitudes. A binding referendum is more than just a promise to do what the people say. Usually it works by having a bill in Parliament with a trigger clause. The bill automatically comes into effect if the referendum passes. Having the referendum in late 2020 allows time for such a bill to be developed.It was disappointing to learn that the wording of the referendum question is still undecided. What it looks like will be critical.

We already know that a majority of New Zealanders support allowing adults to possess cannabis for personal use. We also know that simply allowing personal use will not solve the many problems caused by cannabis prohibition. If we want to make it harder for kids to get cannabis, we need to have licensed outlets with age restrictions rather than tinny houses. If we want to reduce the influence of gangs, we need to have licensed outlets with legitimate money flows rather than tinny houses. If we want to break the connection between cannabis and other drugs, we need to have licensed outlets that do not sell other drugs, rather than tinny houses.

Putting up a referendum question on a fully legal market, as they have now in a number of US States and Canada, is risky. That is why the #MakeItLegal campaign has been pushing for two questions in the referendum. The questions would be based on a modular bill with Division A to do with personal possession, growing and use and Division B to do with sales. The questions would simply be:

1. Do you support adults being allowed to grow and possess cannabis for personal use? (as per Division A of the bill)

2. Do you support adults being able to buy cannabis and cannabis products from licensed premises? (as per Division B of the bill)

That is the only real way to test not just whether New Zealanders want change, but what kind of change they want. After so much delay, the people of New Zealand are owed a proper choice.

Former Green Party MP Nandor Tanczos is a permaculturalist and social ecologist. He is a councillor at Whakatāne District Council and works as an educator and community organiser. He has been involved in cannabis law reform since 1990 and is a member of the #MakeItLegal coalition.

Binding Referendum on Legalising Cannabis for Personal Use to Be Held at 2020 Election

Binding Referendum on Legalising Cannabis for Personal Use to Be Held at 2020 Election

This article first appeared on

The referendum is part of Labour’s confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party, but wording of the question is yet to be confirmed.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Electoral Commission will now get on and start planning for it.

“Having made the decision now, the Electoral Commission has put together a budget bid for the budget process next year. So … we’ll now process that budget bid. It obviously will attract budget confidentiality, so we’ll know about that next May.”

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said on Twitter the party was proud the referendum would go ahead.

“We’ve long advocated for a binding referendum with legislation setting out a clear, evidence-based regulatory framework. That way, we avoid a Brexit-type situation figuring out what a ‘yes’ vote means after the fact, and cut grey moral panic from the debate.”

The Cannabis Referendum Coalition welcomed the timing, saying it would maximise turnout.

However, it was disappointed that there wasn’t clarity on the referendum question.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick in Select Committee
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said the party was proud the referendum would go ahead. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

“Our Coalition reiterates our preference for a two-part question that asks firstly 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. 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,” spokesperson Sandra Murray said.

“Having said that, 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. We already have a network of regional groups to support this.”

National Party leader Simon Bridges questioned the government’s motivation for holding the referendum at the same time as a general election.

“I’m pretty cynical that you’ve got a government here that wants to distract from the core issues of a general election like who’s best to govern, their actual record in government over the last three years, and core issues around the economy, tax, cost of living, health, education, law and order.”

And he said the government had already effectively decriminalised cannabis through the medicinal cannabis bill.

“Now you’re allowed loose leaf out on the streets and the truth is they’ve said to police, you don’t need to prosecute this so right now, if someone’s smoking cannabis outside a school what are the consequences? What’s the message?”

Mr Bridges said he had never smoked cannabis.

Three Referendums?

Legal cannabis could be one of potentially three referenda – decisions have yet to be made about euthanasia and changes to electoral laws.

Whether or not there would be a euthanasia referendum was up to the ACT leader, David Seymour, as he continued work on his member’s bill, and the select committee considering it, said Mr Little.

“David has certainly told me that he fully expects that there would be a referendum clause in that bill when it gets reported back or goes through the House again.”

Discussions were ongoing about a question on possible changes to electoral law – specifically to lower the party vote threshold to four percent, and remove the so-called ‘coat-tailing’ provision.

Flying the Flag for Cannabis Law Reform

Flying the Flag for Cannabis Law Reform

This article first appeared on

Last month, the bland conference level of the James Cook hotel in Wellington was host to something different to the corporate away-days that are its usual fare: a cannabis conference. Or, more specifically, a conference about New Zealand’s coming cannabis referendum.

The event was a bid by the Cannabis Referendum Coalition (CRC) – a new group of old campaigners – to move beyond the loose and sometimes fractious history of cannabis advocacy and present a coherent, even respectable, face.

It largely succeeded. Three MPs spoke, as well as economist Eric Crampton, Hikurangi Enterprises CEO Manu Caddie and criminologist Dr Fiona Hutton. Helen Clark sent a video message that concluded with a firm recitation of the coalition’s “Make It Legal” slogan. On the conference floor, Ministry of Justice officials mingled with long-time stoners.

A portrait of Hemp Store owner and NORML NZ President Chris Fowlie in fromt of a range of pipes and vaporisers.
NORML NZ president Chris Fowlie Photo: Russell Brown.

“There are a lot of new people in the room,” observed Chris Fowlie, president of Norml NZ, the CRC’s largest member, in his opening remarks.

Among them were Suzanne, who works in the wine industry, and Tipene, who works at NorthTec. She’s been to California to see what’s going on with legalisation. He’s been to prison for conspiracy to supply. They compared notes later in the day.

A referendum on legalising cannabis will take place either next year or in 2020. The crucial details – the timing of the referendum, the nature of the process and the question voters will be asked – will be announced by the responsible minister, Andrew Little, before Christmas. But already, the government’s decision to do something no nation has before – put the question of whether to reform drug laws directly to its voters – is changing the face of cannabis advocacy.

It seems that not everyone in the outside world got the memo about the activists going straight. In a discussion with a Parliamentary staffer, RNZ was asked about the baked treats at the conference morning tea that apparently got everyone high. There were, it is true, baked treats, brought in to save on catering costs, but they did not get anyone high. Perhaps it was the fact that they looked a bit like giant doobies. Or perhaps it was the name.

“They were hemp seed bliss balls!” says CRC coordinator Sandra Murray. “When I told people that we had the hemp seed things there, I very clearly said, it’s not psychoactive, it’s just hemp seed.”

Murray would hardly be the sort to slip anyone weed. She has never used cannabis. Her coalition colleague Phil Saxby is a former president of Norml, but says he has “never been a smoker of any kind – I won’t say I’ve never had a smoke, but I’ve never been a smoker.”

They’re not the only key people involved in the campaign for a yes vote in the cannabis referendum who don’t use it themselves.

“I’m not a homosexual, but I supported homosexual law reform,” says Murray. “I’m not a prostitute but I supported prostitution law reform. I’ve seen my friends treated as criminals and it affects their whole life. And I’ve also seen my Māori friends so much more likely to end up in that system than my non-Māori friends. It’s unjust and pointless.”

What Murray and Saxby both bring is campaign experience. He was a central figure in the Electoral Reform Coalition, which won the shift to MMP, and she has been instrumental in dozens of campaigns, on issues ranging from civil and human rights to rape awareness and product stewardship. The CRC’s “network campaign” structure, which aims to offer an umbrella for multiple groups, is her doing.

“Where we’re focusing our efforts now is to set up regional on-the-ground groups, to get as many people involved as possible and to get activities happening up and down the country, not just on social media,” says Murray. “We’re also intending to set up sector groups – people from particular communities, such as the deaf community. How can we support activists within those communities to talk to their own people? We want the campaign to be fun, and something that everyone feels they can take part in.”

Torontonians gather at a local concert venue to watch the "bud drop" at the stroke of midnight, in celebration of the legalization of recreational cannabis.
New Zealand’s cannabis reform campaigners may learn from experiences abroad. Here people gather in Toronto, Canada to watch the ‘bud drop’ at midnight, in celebration of recreational cannabis becoming legal. Photo: AFP

There is an established playbook for cannabis reform campaigns, one written largely in the 10 US states that have legalised and regulated cannabis in the past few years. But there’s a big difference in New Zealand. Those campaigns wrote their own questions for the ballot, honing them through round after round of polling and focus groups, designing the proposition most likely to find favour with voters. Here, that will be up to the government.

Yet, the CRC may still learn lessons from what’s happened abroad. Alison Holcomb, the criminal justice director of American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state, who helped design the successful initiative there seven years ago, says that “voters responded strongly to messages that reassured them about tight control of this novel policy experiment. Messages about freedom and individual rights fell flat. I continue to believe that acknowledging basic human nervousness about change is always important.”

Tamar Todd, legal director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who jointly authored California’s Proposition 64, says voters in her state wanted reassurance in detail. That’s what they got: the full text of Proposition 64 ran to more than 100,000 words of legal and technical definitions and proposed amendments to laws and regulations, together making up the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

When he was named earlier this year as the minister responsible for the referendum, Andrew Little was dubious about the need for a detailed proposition for voters, let alone a ready-to-go law, but it now appears that is where the government is going. And Little is taking the preparation seriously: seven Ministry of Justice officials have been deputised to consult with stakeholders and develop a process. (By comparison, the regulations accompanying the government’s troubled medicinal cannabis law have had the services of one and half Ministry of Health staff.)

Ironically, the CRC and its veteran activists look in some ways like a conservative party in the referendum debate. Over the day of the conference, it became clear that there was a strong mood on the floor for a non-profit-at-retail model, something like Spain’s cannabis social clubs, rather than a commercial one. And the final conference resolutions called for a two-part question: the first part asking whether possession and use should be legalised, and the second on allowing regulated sale.

“The risk is that if a single question goes too far we may lose everything and not get any reform,” says Fowlie. “But if it’s only one question on legalising use, the risk is that it doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t solve the issues that people are expecting to be solved. We’re advocating a two-part question but our understanding is that it complicates things in terms of having legislation that can be ready to be triggered. But that’s a resourcing issue – throw more people at it and that can happen. It’s not impossible as such.”

Ross Bell, Executive Director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation
New Zealand Drug Foundation’s Ross Bell Photo: RNZ Insight/Teresa Cowie

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell is more confident. “I get where they’re coming from, but I actually think we should back ourselves,” says Bell. “Opinion polling shows that it might be finely-balanced and that’s before we’ve even started a campaign. We should back ourselves that it’s the right thing to do and it’s up to us to persuade the public. If the referendum fails, then it’s because we haven’t done a good job, not because the bill was poorly-written. And I’m confident that we would get a comprehensive regulatory model across the line once it was well explained to the public.”

Exactly how the reformers will get to make their case has yet to be determined, but Little has hinted that he likes the idea of some kind of deliberative democracy, like the “People’s Jury” that heard arguments ahead of Ireland’s historic vote to amend its prohibitive abortion law. That’s not a quick process. The government is due to announce a referendum date before Christmas. In theory, that date could be some time next year, in conjunction with local body elections. In reality, hardly anyone really thinks that’s possible. It’ll be 2020.

But if the legalise cannabis advocates now have their ducks in a row, who and what will constitute a “no” campaign? Murray suggests that gangs who fear the loss of black-market cannabis income could weigh in against legalisation. Right now, however, the obvious opposition consists of one man, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie, known for opposing euthanasia, abortion and smacking law reform.

McCoskrie has been churning out press statements that seem to draw heavily from US religious conservative groups. In an opinion piece published by the New Zealand Herald last week – almost identical to one published two weeks before by Stuff – he focused on the risk of ‘Big Marijuana’, high potency cannabis, and the appeal of the drug to children.

“In Colorado I saw all sorts of THC-infused products, including coffee, ice-cream, baked goods, lollypops, fizzy drinks, tea, hot cocoa, breath mints and spray, pills, gummy bears, chewing gum, marinara sauce and even suppositories. Big Marijuana deliberately targets these products at the young. The earlier they can get someone addicted, the better for business,” he wrote.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie
Bob McCoskrie is currently the obvious opposition to reform. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Ironically, the reformers aren’t at all keen on Big Cannabis either. Neither proponents or opponents of change see an excess of capitalism as desirable.

Bell doubts McCoskrie has a broad enough appeal to really hold back change, and that the serious opposition has yet to emerge. “The so-called ‘No’ voices are going to come from legitimate groups who are genuinely really worried about what this could all mean,” he says.

He expects opposition to come from older Māori, school principals, and road safety experts. “They all have genuine concerns, but they’re all concerns that we can engage in constructive adult conversations and find a way through.”

“We” might yet prove to be a tricky word. The CRC is emphasising unity of purpose, but there could be future strains between the secular campaigners and the wilder souls. No one in the room took obvious offence when Manu Caddie declared in the conference’s first panel discussion that the importance of winning over “the most conservative voices” meant a different kind of advocacy, one not about “big smokeups outside Parliament any more”. But longtime campaigner Dakta Green, who was at the conference, launched the Wellington Cannabis Club yesterday. The last weed club he opened – the Daktory in Auckland – wound up in him going to prison.

But CRC and Norml’s Chris Fowlie remains upbeat – unity, he says, will sometimes mean agreeing to disagree. “That’s part of our pragmatism. But the main thing from our point of view is that we’re ready to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote no matter what it is.”

#makeitlegal Cannabis Referendum Conference 2018

#makeitlegal Cannabis Referendum Conference 2018


Cannabis Referendum Conference 2018
Friday November 9, Wellington
James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor

Featuring MPs Chlöe Swarbrick, Greg O’Connor and Ginny Anderson; Rebecca Reider, Dr Eric Crampton, Manu Caddie, Dr Fiona Hutton, Nandor Tanczos and the Cannabis Coalition team with more speakers and full timetable to be announced.

Registration fee includes lunch & tea/coffee breaks. Registrations here:

Presented by the Cannabis Referendum Coalition with support from NORML NZ, The Hemp Foundation, Socialist Aotearoa, People Against Prisons, Auckland Patients Group.

The Cannabis Referendum Coalition invites serious advocates and campaigners to join us in Wellington for our inaugural conference – to learn and plan with common purpose so we can win the upcoming referendum on legalising cannabis.

Limited Concession prices available at the discretion of CRC. Please apply via email with your reasoning and application for a concession ticket code.

We can change the law – help #MakeItLegal

About Us

About Us

The #makeitlegal Campaign is a network of individuals and organisations campaigning for a strong YES vote in the upcoming cannabis referendum at the 2020 general election. Our purpose is to get a high percentage of voters to:
a) turn out and vote; and
b) vote YES to progressive law reform, whatever the question
We intend to operate as a networked campaign. This means our partners may run their own campaigns, and hold their own key messages while still working co-operatively with other law reform groups.
Within a networked campaign, partners have opportunities to support each other’s campaign activities – mobilising cross supporter action with greater reach and engagement than an individual group could achieve alone.
The #makeitlegal campaign will enable supporting organisations that are not traditionally cannabis law reform groups to show their support for law reform without having to run a campaign themselves.
We will work to educate the public on key points around cannabis law reform – such as the issue of whether people should be able to grow their own and what a regulated legal market might mean.
Our core organizers will train and activate remote leaders who, in turn, will guide teams of supporters – building their capacity. Our local teams will fundraise, educate, organise gigs and events, and carry out on-the-ground campaigning during the run up to the referendum – being a visible presence in communities to provide information to voters to help inform their voting decision.
Supporters include:
Supporting organisations are welcome to join the coalition to indicate their support for cannabis law reform – commitment is as much or as little as your organisation wants to put into it. For more information on becoming a coalition partner please contact