7 May 2019

Cannabis legislation will be drafted 'well in advance' of 2020 election - Little

5:33 pm on 7 May 2019

The opposition wants to see draft legislation before it will get on board with the government's plan for a referendum on legalising cannabis, which the government maintains is "binding".

Andrew Little and Chloe Swarbrick after the announcement about the cannabis referendum.

Justice Minister Andrew Little and Drug Reform spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Justice Minister Andrew Little today announced the details of the government's promised referendum on legalising recreational use of cannabis, as decided by Cabinet.

He revealed voters during the next general election would answer a simple yes or no question about whether to accept legislation that would be drafted - but not yet passed - by the government. He said the result of the referendum would be binding based on agreement by all three governing parties.

The draft legislation would be available to read as early as the end of this year, said Mr Little.

"It will be well in advance of the next election, it has to be. We want people to be well informed, we want a good choice to be made, but actually we want a good debate."

Mr Little said all of the current governing parties had committed to passing the draft legislation should the referendum succeed, and while he recognised the sovereign rights of any government to pass the laws it chooses National - if it was in government following the election - should too.

Opposition wary of committing without seeing draft

National Party spokesperson on drug reform, Paula Bennett said the party was not prepared to commit to abiding by the result of the referendum until the party had seen the draft legislation.

"We're going to have to see the legislation and have a discussion about that as caucus. I can respect the referendum and the peoples' vote so we'll work our way through that," she said.

Paula Bennett

Paula Bennett Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mrs Bennett was asked whether she would participate, as National had refused to be part of the group that had been operating up until now.

The problem had been, she said, was the group was run by "Chloe [Swarbrick] and her mates".

"I just don't see how, with all respect, a junior member of Parliament that is not a part of government is the spokesperson on drug reform which could change the social fabric of this country.

"So if they're serious about a cross-party, put a Cabinet minister in there and I will happily sit with them and any other Member of Parliament."

National Party leader Simon Bridges also would not commit to passing legislation based on the result of the referendum.

Simon Bridges.

Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

"I can't say because I haven't even seen the draft law. I've got basic questions like what's the tax rate, will edible gummy bears be legal, will gangs be able to sell.

"I think the government would like to pitch this as some sort of paradise situation where people will be able to grow a couple of plants in their backyard but actually will it be a situation where corporates for profits are going to be able to peddle gummy bears and edibles to our children.

"We have no detail."

As Justice Minister, Mr Little will head the cross-party reference group which will hear from a range of experts before the legislation is drafted.

National is warning the referendum to be held at the 2020 election won't be binding, because legislation won't have gone through Parliament before the vote.

However, Mr Little disagreed.

"The great thing about being a minister is you receive advice, you don't always accept it.

"I don't accept that - this is binding, and this is as binding as a piece of legislation that goes through the house but is subject to repeal or amendment by a subsequent Parliament. This is binding."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressing the media after announcing that NZ and France will lead global efforts to try to end the use of social media to organise and promote terrorism.

Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ/Dan Cook

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the substantive principles of the draft cannabis legislation were very unlikely to change after experts have had their say.

"What of course we need to give the assurance to the public is that the core provisions ... will remain the same, and that's the same as what any government when they put a bill before the House and go through the select committee process, there will often be principled decisions that do not change through a select committee process.

"But technical amendments do", she said.

A cross-party reference group headed by the Justice Minister will consult with experts, with the aim of having the draft legislation in place by the end of the year.

The government needed to stick to the principle aspects announced today, said Ms Ardern.

"So that the public have some assurance that what they vote for will be what then does not proceed, or does proceed."

That would include the minimum age for the purchase and use of cannabis, which she described as a "significant issue".

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said as far as he was concerned, it would be binding.

He said the government had chosen to do it this way because it had a lot of work to do over the next 18 months, and trying to get legislation through would have been a distraction.

"We'd have been sitting here having raging arguments, probably all the way to the next election.

"Then they'd be able to say 'oh we're frustrated and we're not to blame even though we stood here wasting Parliament's time'.

"So we decided, let's get some fundamental principles out in front of real people and let them decide", he said.

Mr Peters said democracy was his party's priority, not whether people could smoke pot.

The options Cabinet considered

Mr Little has also released the document he said was the "actual" Cabinet paper considered by ministers yesterday, after the National Party over the weekend claimed to have a leaked Cabinet paper on the referendum.

National did not release the whole paper, and while its information detailed four options for the referendum as the actual document showed, the Cabinet document also included discussion of preference for a yes-or-no question based on a "clear proposition" for voters to see, rather than proposing multiple options.

The four options:

  • Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis (not attached to any specific policy or legislation)
  • Do you support legalising personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with the government's policy framework
  • Do you support legalising personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with draft legislation
  • Do you support legalising personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with the passed legislation (a yes vote would enact the legislation)
  • The Cabinet document also raised several points for consideration for the drafting of potential legislation or policy.

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while she considered the leak to be a "serious matter", she would not be launching a formal inquiry.

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