Kia ora koutou

Today we launch our cannabis webpage. This evidence summary won’t tell you how to vote – instead, it aims to support you to make your decision in the upcoming referendum on legalising recreational cannabis.

The government has provided details of how the legal regulatory system for cannabis would work, in the form of a draft bill. The draft bill includes information on the age limit, daily purchase limits, which types of products would be available, and much more.

Those details help to paint a picture of what it would be like if it were legal to buy cannabis for recreational use in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, the bill does not tell us about the predicted short- and long-term impacts of the law change.

Our work focuses on summarising the evidence relating to the impacts of legalising cannabis, to help people understand what the implications of their yes or no vote might be.

So far, only two countries have legalised cannabis for recreational use, Canada and Uruguay, along with 11 states in the US. These overseas experiences provide clues for what might happen here in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, these law reforms occurred recently and as a result, the evidence of post-legalisation changes is mixed and constantly evolving. For example, whether rates of use among young people change after legalisation isn’t clear, with some studies reporting no change, others reporting small increases, and others small decreases. It might take years before the long-term impacts of the law change on rates of use among young people become apparent.

We also summarise the evidence relating to our current cannabis laws, to show what the impacts of maintaining the status quo might be. For example, the life-long collateral consequences of a drug conviction have detrimental social outcomes on individuals, whānau, and communities. Māori are disproportionately impacted by cannabis-related arrests and convictions and – despite recent changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 that affirm police discretion to take a health-oriented approach – this is unlikely to change while cannabis remains illegal.

The impacts of legalising cannabis are wide-ranging, including changes to social outcomes, public health outcomes and criminal justice. There may be some outcomes people haven’t yet considered, and we hope that having accessible information from trusted sources helps New Zealanders in their decision-making process.

Read all of the cannabis information on our website here and view the press release here.

Ngā mihi

Juliet and Tracey