Q&A

Q&A

Q&A

Decriminalisation, Legalisation, Legal regulation - what are they?
De facto decriminalisation
Drug use or possession for personal use remains illicit under the law, but in practice, the person using that drug or in possession of it will not be arrested or prosecuted. However, this model is reliant on police discretion and open to discriminatory practice (e.g. young Maori men may be arrested where young Pakeha men may not be).

Decriminalisation
Drug use and/or possession, production and cultivation for personal use are no longer dealt with through criminal sanctions, but drug supply and sale remain a criminal offence. Sanctions may be administrative (e.g. an instant fine) or may be abolished altogether. This model does not address the issues of the illicit market.

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 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).

Legalisation
Means the same thing as Legal Regulation but is often mistakenly thought to mean liberalisation.

Liberalisation
A system where there are few or no government regulations or restrictions.

What impact will law reform have on the wider market for recreational drugs?

"Legalisation may have some impact on other drug markets in New Zealand. For example, we recently found that illegal drug users think it is now easier to get methamphetamine than cannabis. Anecdotal reports also suggest people are offered methamphetamine by their dealers due to cannabis shortages in parts of the country. If cannabis is legalised, some of these users will exit the black market altogether, potentially reducing the customers base. It is still uncertain how illegal drug dealers will respond to legalisation though.

 "On the other hand, some suggest that legalisation of cannabis may encourage use of other drugs. However, it remains debatable to what extent new legal cannabis users would seek other drugs on the illegal drug markets."

Dr Marta Rychert, Research Officer, Shore & Whāriki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University

"It's hard to say how any reforms will impact on the market for other drugs as probably the majority of New Zealanders currently using illicit drugs will continue to do so in the same fashion as the availability of these will not necessarily change due to cannabis law reform, with the possible exception of synthetics. There will, however, likely be an increase in cannabis use, as a small proportion of New Zealanders have previously reported being dissuaded from using cannabis due to it being illegal.

"There could, however, also be a shift away from illicit drugs that people have replaced their previous cannabis use with, due to workplace drug testing, back towards cannabis. Therefore the consumption of drugs like methamphetamine and synthetics might reduce, as might alcohol."

Dr Geoff Noller, PhD, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

From: Science Media Centre NZ

Gateway Theory

The gateway theory falls victim to the mistaken assumption that correlation alone implies causation. Using the same logic, one could argue that drinking milk is a gateway to illicit drug use since most people who use illicit drugs also drank milk as young people. The correlation between marijuana use and the use of other drugs should not be equated with causation.

The evidence suggests a much simpler explanation. We know that some people are more willing to try drugs than others, and people who are willing to try drugs are more likely to have used multiple drugs in their lifetime than people who don’t use drugs at all.

Additionally, it has been known in the scientific community for nearly two decades that most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana – usually before they are of legal age.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance. Debunking the Gateway Myth (PDF). Accessed 03/06/19 http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf

What are the links between cannabis and violence?

"There is very little credible evidence for a link between cannabis and violence. Observed associations generally arise because of the drug use patterns of individuals with conduct disorder, who were already generally violent prior to ever using cannabis."

Associate Professor Joe Boden, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Cannabis at work or when 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 in the workplace 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.

What about drug driving - how do we safeguard drivers?

"Cannabis intoxication affects driving abilities – it has been estimated to increase crash risk approximately two times. Drug driving is a challenging policy issue and many countries that have legalised cannabis implemented policies to ensure safety on roads. These include tests of behavioural impairment, saliva and blood testing. Unlike alcohol, cannabis impairment is much harder to detect by standardised methods. For example, THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) can be detected in blood at very low concentrations long after any cannabis-related driving impairment has disappeared, particularly for frequent cannabis users. It seems that some combination of behavioural impairment and laboratory testing can be a feasible way forward to detect cannabis-impaired drivers.

 "In New Zealand, 1 in 3 past-year users of cannabis report driving while under the influence of cannabis. Just like with alcohol, a strong education campaign and enforcement is needed."

Dr Marta Rychert, Research Officer, Shore & Whāriki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University

"If rates of use increase, rates of drug driving will also increase. The Police will need to be provided the resources and training for better detection and interdiction of drug intoxicated drivers."

Associate Professor Joe Boden, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

"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."

Dr Geoff Noller, PhD, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

 
Grow your own cannabis

Regardless of whether we have decriminalisation or legal regulation the issue of supply must be addressed. Allowing people to growing cannabis at home is a sensible way to allow supply if a legal market is not provided.
Even under a regulated market, some people may still prefer to grow their own - whether it is because they want fresh juiced cannabis or they just like gardening.

Some people propose a number limit (e.g. 6 plants) or quantity limit (e.g. 1kg) for home grown cannabis. We don't think this makes sense.
There are many factors involved in successful home growing and a plant limit will result in huge variation in end quantities. depending on the skill of the home gardener. In addition, a quantity limit would need to account for the period following harvest where quantities are higher. This would make policing difficult.

In addition, if we take the situation of beer as a model, home-brewers do not have limitations on the volume produced but are restricted from commercial sale without a license. The home brew model has fostered a growth in micro-breweries which has provided economic benefits. Home brew aficionados are able to experiment at home and then go to market with a researched product. We propose the same would happen with cannabis products via a home-grown model.

Therefore, we support having no limit on the number of plants or quantity held; with strict enforcement to stop unlicenced sale. This is consistent with the way we manage home brewing and home-grown tobacco (substances which are considerably more harmful than cannabis).

Taxing cannabis

Like any legal product, cannabis sales would be taxed. We would like to see this tax be available for mental health and addiction services, and for drug education to encourage responsible use.However, despite supporting the introduction of a tax, we warn against creating an excessively high price point for cannabis through it. Especially in the early years, regulated cannabis will be competing with the existing illicit market. Care must be taken not to ensure the continuance of the illicit market by making legal cannabis too expensive.

Advertising and promotion of cannabis

We will need regulations around advertising and promotion. We suggest plain packaging, no sporting endorsements, limited advertising (e.g. no TV), no advertising targeted at youth, and allow only the advertisement of outlets not the advertising of brands.
This allows people to find where to go to buy cannabis if they want it, without promoting the use of it through brand advertising.
Advertising and promotion are an area the general public are concerned about.
There is an indication that the public oppose a large commercial control of the cannabis market. Strict controls on marketing may help this concern. However, the most effective way to minimise large commercial control is to ensure entry to the legal cannabis market is cheap and easy - allowing many small scale owner-operated businesses to establish niche brands.

Labeling and product information

All cannabis products should contain clear information to guide consumers. We recommend the following label information be available:
- Strength of product – Develop a labelling system to warn consumers of what to expect. Such a system should be nationwide not brand by brand.
- Proportion THC/CBD (within band ranges not exact amounts)
- Country of origin – to support a fledgling NZ industry
- Advisement of how the product was grown i.e. indoor/outdoor (for natural cannabis only)
- Advisement of plant type i.e. sativa/indica/other (for natural cannabis only)
There may be some variation in the criteria required for natural cannabis vs cannabis products.

Past convictions

Convictions for personal cannabis offenses, or cultivation, or supply of cannabis that occurred prior to the change in law should be expunged.

The legislation should unambiguously allow people with prior convictions for cannabis related offenses to get legitimate work in the cannabis industry. People with convictions for cultivation and supply are likely to have skills and experience that is of value to the fledgling cannabis industry, and they should be encouraged to enter that industry. This will be particularly important in depressed regions where communities currently rely on cannabis income to get by.

Expungement should be effective as of the date of adoption of the new legislation.

How will law reform affect incarceration rates?

"Over 2000 people are convicted of cannabis use or possession annually, but according to statistics from 2016/17 cannabis possession was the only offence in just 400 cases, and only three of these resulted in imprisonment.

"This would suggest that incarceration rates will not change dramatically (as there is not much incarceration due to cannabis use and possession offences alone anyway) but the length of incarceration and life impacts from conviction will be reduced. This is significant, as a cannabis conviction can have life-long implications for employment, travel opportunities and living arrangements, and these disproportionately affect Māori (with 42% of people imprisoned for cannabis offences being Māori)."

Dr Marta Rychert, Research Officer, Shore & Whāriki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University

"If meaningful reform of the cannabis laws does occur, there will be some reduction in incarceration rates, but these are unlikely to be huge as the numbers of those incarcerated solely for cannabis are not large, with cannabis convictions trending down from a high of over 4000 in 2008 to under 1500 in 2017. In terms of actual imprisonment for cannabis alone, these are relatively few. However, cannabis charges are often factors in other convictions, so there might be a change in some sentencing patterns. Also some sections of New Zealand society (youth, males, and Māori in particular) are represented disproportionately in these statistics and the costs associated with them. And even for small numbers the costs are significant.

"Additionally, other sentences associated with cannabis are also likely to decrease, as the criteria for offences such as personal use and possession of cannabis, use and possession paraphernalia and related offences will have to be revised."

Dr Geoff Noller, PhD, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

From: Science Media Centre NZ

Age limits

It is important to acknowledge the illict market will not just disappear when cannabis becomes legal, so any future legal cannabis market will be in competition with the illicit market.
This means that imposing an age limit risks encouraging the illicit market to target young people who are not able to access cannabis through the legal market. The result of an age limit is that our most vulnerable people - youth - are the ones that will be accessing cannabis through the unregulated, potentially harmful and uncontrolled market while adults are able to access cannabis through the safe, regulated market. That is not what we want to happen.

But it is common for people to have a strong belief that there must be an age limit. For politicians. it will be politically difficult to pass any legislation with no age limit, or even a low age limit such as 16yrs.
Therefore, as it is most likely an age limit will be in place. We suggest an approach is consistent with current restrictions on alcohol. This restricts supply of alcohol to people over 18 years, but does not impose criminal sanctions on under-aged drinkers.
At the very least, we want to avoid criminalising young people for cannabis use and do our best to discourage the illicit market supplying cannabis specifically to underage users.
In addition, drug education and support for schools dealing with alcohol and other drug use is necessary to discourage young people using cannabis.

Will law reform mean more youth will use cannabis?

“Overall, we did not find a significant change in the prevalence of adolescent marijuana use from shortly before to after the implementation of a recreational marijuana law in Colorado.”

“Among those reporting past 30-day marijuana use, there was a significant decline in frequent use”

Researchers from the University of Colorado, New York University, Johns Hopkins University and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Source: https://www.marijuanamoment.net/colorado-legalization-didnt-increase-teen-marijuana-use-another-study-finds/

According to the department, 21.2 percent of Colorado high school students surveyed in 2015 had used marijuana during the preceding 30 days, down from 22 percent in 2011, the year before voters statewide approved recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and older.

Colorado Dept of Public Health and Environment

Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/colorado-s-teen-marijuana-usage-dips-after-legalization/

In 2014, the first year of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington, adolescent cannabis use did not significantly change in either state, according to an important new federal survey released last week. (from SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

“Colorado was within the range of being No. 1 even prior to legalization,” Wolk told The Cannabist. “We’ve always had a high use rate among youth and adults …” (Larry Wolk, executive director of Colorado Dept of Public Health and Environment),

Source: https://www.thecannabist.co/2015/12/21/teen-pot-use-colorado-marijuana/45367/

Smoking in public places

There are lots of ways to use cannabis, but many people smoke it. Smoking is not healthy for your lungs. We recommend that the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 and subsequent regulations are amended to include cannabis use (smoking and vaping).
The existing legislation covers this issue adequately.

Transitioning to a legal market

We could follow the Canadian model by supporting and facilitating existing growers and suppliers to obtain licenses and enter the legal market. This may include ensuring entry to the legal market is cheap and easy to do.

A transition period and government assistance to become legal growers and suppliers will discourage the illicit market, retain existing skills and experience, ensure a quicker transition as there will be no ‘hold up’ of supply, and encourage existing suppliers and growers to support the new system.

How will we enforce a legal market

The powers to enforce licensing restrictions be consistent with alcohol regulation, and include an audit system for cannabis from cultivation to retail sale.
If illicit activity is identified through the system, licenses can be revoked. This discourages retailers or others purchasing stolen product or product from home-growers.
However - we caution that enforcement of cannabis should be proportional to the harm caused. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and should be treated as such.

What are the alternatives to the commercial market model?

"Cannabis social clubs are small co-ops where users can register and grow their cannabis for a small fee. This approach is in operation in Spain, Belgium and Uruguay. Uruguay is an interesting case study because cannabis can be accessed there via three ways. Consumers can choose to legally join a cannabis social club, grow their own cannabis at home or buy it from licensed pharmacies. I think New Zealand could learn from this approach. It is also worthwhile looking at our own models developed for other commodities. For example, in a number of New Zealand communities, alcohol is sold via so-called licensing trusts – these are community enterprises where profits from alcohol sale are redistributed back to local community, e.g. cultural, health and sports activities. A similar approach could be developed for cannabis."

Dr Marta Rychert, Research Officer, Shore & Whāriki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University

From: Science Media Centre NZ

What impact will law reform have on the cannabis market?

"In an ideal world, we’d expect that legalisation would encourage the transition of users from the illegal black market to legal cannabis products and contribute to a gradual reduction in the size of the black market. But the actual experience is much more complex.

 "Early evidence from Colorado - one of the first jurisdictions to legalise recreational cannabis, shows black market activity is likely to persist, at least in the early stages of legalisation. And this is despite the fact that prices are competitive with the black market: the average retail price of cannabis per gram has declined by 48% since the opening of legal retail outlets in 2014.

"A legal, regulated cannabis market can offer a number of advantages over the black market, including quality, consistency and safety of products. The impact of legalisation on the black market will depend on how well these aspects are controlled and how well they respond to cannabis user expectations.

"Legalisation will create a new legal sector. The size of a new legal market for cannabis will be largely dependent on the regulatory regime that is adopted. Evidence from alcohol suggests the bigger and more commercial the market, the more harms we are likely to see.

"Given the relative novelty of commercial cannabis regimes in the US, the evidence on the impacts of cannabis legalisation on levels of use is limited. For example, one study found an increase in adolescent use in Washington but no change in Colorado after legalisation. Longer term insights can be gleaned from studies on implementation of medicinal cannabis markets in the US. They found no impact on youth use but higher rates of use, daily or near daily use, and incidence of cannabis dependence in adults. These findings suggest that legalisation, particularly via a commercial model, should include the possibility of increasing adult cannabis use and related health costs."

Dr Marta Rychert, Research Officer, Shore & Whāriki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University

Obviously the illicit or black market for cannabis will be affected significantly, with a potential array of options for people to purchase and even grow their own cannabis. It remains to be seen what the commercial aspect of any new cannabis regime might look like because it's unlikely the model ultimately proposed by the government will be anything like the strongly commercial market that is emerging in the US. It is likely, however, that options for different forms of cannabis products will increase, with edibles and products available for vaping probably appearing, possibly along with numerous other products. In short, the market will become more nuanced and diversified. For this reason, the potential options for the cannabis market won't be limited just to consumers, but also will provide opportunities for business ranging from production to manufacturing, marketing and distribution, not only of cannabis products but also equipment, including vapes.

"It's very probable also that there will be an array of options for people with an interest in medicinal cannabis products, i.e. not just businesses but also patients. This is in part because the current legislation resulting from the amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act for medicinal cannabis is very limited and will not meet the needs of what is possibly a large population of patients who derive benefits from the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Therefore, unless it is revised, it's probable that those wanting to use cannabis therapeutically will access what they need via the commercial non-medical market."

 Dr Geoff Noller, PhD, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

"It depends on what form of legalisation and commercialisation we have. If it is tightly regulated, we are more likely to reduce cannabis-related harm, and are unlikely to increase rates of use. A loosely-regulated system (like we have for alcohol) is likely to increase cannabis-related harm and rates of use. The Cabinet paper released in May suggests it will be a tightly-regulated system."

Associate Professor Joe Boden, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

From: Science Media Centre NZ

Where can I get more information

We understand people have questions and concerns, and its hard to have a conversation through a webpage. If you would like a speaker at your community group or event email sandra@makeitlegal.nz for more information.

You can also try the following good quality sources of information:
The Global Commission on Drug Policy
Whakawātea te HuarahiA model drug law to 2020 and beyond