9 Oct 2022

NZ's approach to cannabis convictions 'fit for purpose' - Justice Minister

2:30 pm on 9 October 2022
Kiri Allan

Justice Minister Kiri Allan. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government is welcoming the United States' move towards decriminalising cannabis but says it has no plans to follow suit.

US President Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of cannabis possesssion, urging state governors to do the same.

The dramatic move has prompted the Green Party to renew calls for the New Zealand Government to decriminalise cannabis.

Its drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said the birthplace of the 'war on drugs' admitting failure should be a "wake up call".

Justice Minister Kiri Allan said while the news out of the United States was "positive", New Zealand's current system was fit for purpose.

"We have a slightly different context here. In 2019, we introduced the ability for the police to exercise discretion when it came to possession of cannabis offences.

"Subsequently, we've seen a radical reduction in terms of those that are convicted merely for cannabis possession."

Allan also said she was committed to respecting the outcome of the 2020 cannabis referendum, despite voting in favour of reform herself.

"That's something that we said we'd honour, whatever the outcome was, and indeed that's still our position."

Chloe Swarbrick

Green Party drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick has said the 2020 cannabis referendum's narrow result should not rule out all progress. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In a tweet, Health Minister Andrew Little said the government had respected the 2020 referendum on cannabis legalisation.

"The choice to decide by referendum was made in the coalition agreement between Labour & the Green Party in 2017. We have respected the referendum result.

"We don't have the sort of executive powers that POTUS [President of the United States] has. Under our system of government ministers do not interfere in judicial decision-making.

"Parliament passes laws which judges apply. Parliament has signalled its expectations for how Police exercise charging discretion."

Swarbrick said the "highly specific" referendum's narrow result - 50.7 percent in opposition - should not rule out all progress.

"Even the most ardent opposition to cannabis legalisation argued throughout the referendum that it shouldn't be a criminal offence."

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