What are the preferred options for cannabis law reform in New Zealand?


Associate Professor Chris Wilkins.


The New Zealand Government recently announced it intends to conduct a national referendum on cannabis law reform by 2020. The Government is also currently in the process of developing a regulatory regime to improve access to medicinal cannabis. But what do Kiwis want?

The latest research bulletin from Massey University’s SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre outlines data relating to a range of policy options for cannabis law reform in New Zealand. The anonymous online survey, which was part of the New Zealand Drug Trends Survey, was promoted via a targeted Facebook campaign between November 2017 and February 2018. More than 6,300 people competed the survey, with respondents given a list of 10 policy options, including the option to retain the current approach.

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, who led the study, says 41 per cent of survey respondents who answered the question on cannabis policy indicated a preference for the regulation of medicinal cannabis using a doctor or pharmacy provision.

“This was by far the most popular option. Following that preference, 14 per cent supported prohibition with ministerial exemption – the current approach – and a further 14 per cent supported home production with no selling. One in ten respondents supported a profit-driven medicinal cannabis market with only light restrictions, similar to alcohol,” he says.

For recreational cannabis use, three quite different approaches received significant levels of support. “Twenty-seven percent supported home production with no selling, 21 per cent supported a profit driven market with light regulatory restrictions, like alcohol, and 19 per cent supported continuing with the current prohibition.”

Dr Wilkins says it is important that the public referendum presents the full range of reform options available, including the home production, not-for-profit and heavily regulated market options, rather than just a binary choice between prohibition and a commercial market.

“Our research shows that four quite different policy options for the regulation of recreational cannabis in New Zealand attract significant support. Interestingly, more than one third [36 per cent] of the survey respondents did not yet have a policy preference for the regulation of cannabis, suggesting that additional information and public debate on different policy options for cannabis law reform is needed,” he says.

“Some business leaders and members of the farming industry have welcomed the prospect of cannabis law reform as a significant new commercial opportunity. Some Māori groups have also called for a legal medicinal cannabis sector as a means to boost regional economic development and employment, including the Hikurangi Cannabis Group.

“However, concerns have been raised about the profit-driven legal cannabis regimes established in the United States, including declining cannabis prices, increasing use of high-potency extracts, accidental poisonings from cannabis edibles, use of unregulated pesticides, aggressive marketing of new cannabis products and cannabis industry influence on regulation,” Dr Wilkins says.

“Drug policy experts have pointed out a range of reform options available for cannabis, including not-for-profit regimes with a focus on returning sales income to the community. However, the full range of reform options are rarely presented to the public and this narrows both the public and political debate, and ultimately the types of regimes which are considered.”

This research bulletin was co-authored by Dr Wilkins, with Jitesh Prasad, Dr Marta Rychert, Dr Jose Romeo and Thomas Graydon-Guy from the SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre. The researchers would like to acknowledge the support of the Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) programme, with special thanks to Te Runanga O Ngai Te Rangi Iwi Trust.

View the Research Bulletin.

Visit the SHORE & Whāriki website.

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