Decriminalisation, liberalisation, legalisation - what do these mean?


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 offense. 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.
This is NOT what we are voting on at the referendum.

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 offenses 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.
This IS what we are voting on at the referendum.

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).

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

A system where there are few or no government regulations or restrictions.
This is NOT what we are voting on at the referendum.

Does legalisaing cannabis lead to more drug use?


Studies show that in countries and states that have legalised cannabis, reported use has not in general gone up as a result. Canada is especially helpful to study as its regulations are most similar to what NZ will introduce when the referendum bill passes. Older males do seem to use it a little more but use by young people seems to have declined.

Published research

 Early indications from this NCS study suggests use among Canadian youth has not increased. This accords with the Colorado experience—the first to legalize non-medical cannabis....

A third of 18- to 24-year-olds in 2019 reported consuming cannabis in the past three months, a level unchanged from before legalization ...

...cannabis use increased, particularly among persons aged 25 and older (13.1% to 15.5%)... Whereas use among 15- to 17-year-olds declined (19.8% to 10.4%).”

Statistics Canada

there remains no compelling evidence that legalization increases adolescent cannabis use. In the United States, legalization has been associated with increased use by adults, but not by youth. Preliminary observations indicate that the same is happening in Canada. During the 3 months following legalization in October 2018, cannabis use on 1 or more occasions increased in 1 group only: men aged 45–64 years”

 M.Leyton PhD in Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience


Does cannabis lead to other drugs?

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

Is cannabis associated with 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 and driving


It is illegal now to drive while impaired by cannabis, just as it is with alcohol, and this will continue after the referendum bill passes. We support roadside testing for impairment, and we recognise that people who will drive under the influence after a law change are already doing so now. Overseas evidence shows no increase in traffic fatalities as a result of legalisation of cannabis.

Published research

 the likelihood of reporting driving after cannabis use did not change with legalization
Statistics Canada

Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.”

Jayson D. Aydelotte MD et al in American Journal of Public Health


Because of ...an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving ......

Epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents.”

R.A.Sewell MD et al in American Journal of Addiction

Health & Safety in employment


Employment law allows action to be taken if people are impaired at work, and this will continue after the referendum bill is passed. Currently many workplaces rely on urine testing to check for traces of cannabis and other illegal drugs, although the major causes of workplace impairment (fatigue, alcohol intoxication) are not usually tested for. Urine testing does not test for cannabis impairment but only for historical use (up to a week or two prior).  We support employers moving to impairment testing, as opposed to substance testing, as a more effective workplace health and safety procedure.

Published expert opinion

Impairment testing is far more valuable as a workplace safety tool than drug testing because it has the ability to screen out impairment regardless of the cause, including fatigue, which is a far more common factor in workplace accidents than drug use, and including medications and illicit drugs that can cause impairment, like drowsiness, but that are not included in typical employment drug screens, like over-the-counter medicines and “designer” or “club” drugs.

David Lauriski in Predictive Safety

Additional information:

Mental health / well-being


Similar to alcohol, there is some correlation between heavy (daily) use of high potency cannabis by adolescents and mental health problems. Causality is not yet clear and it looks like the association may go both ways: some people use cannabis to self medicate while for other people cannabis use may exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

By regulating the cannabis market, the referendum bill seeks to make it harder for young people to get hold of cannabis (see above for how legalisation affects use rates by young people) and encourages a move away from high potency strains.

 Published research

There is now stronger evidence of a link between adolescent (but not adult) cannabis use and psychosis. The effect size continues to look small or nonexistent for sporadic use, but larger for vulnerable adolescents who use high-potency cannabis on a daily or near daily basis... It remains unclear whether the cannabis–psychosis association includes a causal component... The great majority of cannabis users do not develop psychotic disorders, and most people with psychoses were not frequent cannabis users
M.Leyton PhD in Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience


The results indicated that participants’ problematic cannabis use and impulsivity was not different whether they resided in states where cannabis is legal for medical and/or recreational use or prohibited.

Louise Destree et al in Drugs in Context


This research has found that early and frequent cannabis use is a component cause of psychosis, which interacts with other risk factors such as family history of psychosis, history of childhood abuse and expression of the COMT and AKT1 genes. These interactions make it difficult to determine the exact role of cannabis use in causing psychosis that may not have otherwise occurred.... Cannabis use by people with established psychotic disorder can exacerbate symptoms. Overall, the evidence suggests cannabis use will bring forward diagnosis of psychosis by an average of 2.7 years.....

That said, it is important to view this increased risk in context. The proportions of individuals with psychosis among the population and among cannabis users are low Curent estimates suggest that if frequent long-term cannabis use was known to cause psychosis, the rates of incidence would increase from seven in 1,000 in non-users to 14 in 1,000 cannabis users.
Dr Peter Gates in National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Sydney


Expungement (wiping convictions)

Wiping convictions (expungement) would certainly be the fair thing to do.

There isn’t anything in the bill for expungement of convictions at the moment but there is pressure for it to happen.

It may be that it is done later down the track as separate legislation, like they did with convictions for homosexuality.

You can apply to a court to have a conviction wiped, and it being decriminalised would be a good reason. Otherwise if the referendum passes it is something we will push for at Select Committee (the next stage after we win the referendum).

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
The Case for YES
Action on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Mental Health Inquiry)

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.

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

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/

How would 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 impact would law reform have on the illegal 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