The referendum on cannabis law reform will ask voters to endorse a draft law which would allow the recreational use of cannabis.

That law would make 20 the minimum age for using and buying recreational cannabis.

But the referendum will fall well short of the traditional definition of “binding” as it will then fall on the Parliament elected after the 2020 election to pass the legislation.

Another option discussed was to pass legislation this parliamentary term, which would then be “triggered” by a successful “yes” vote in the referendum. This was the preferred option of the Green Party, which fought for the referendum in its confidence and supply agreement with Labour. 

Greens drugs spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said the party’s preferred option was to see legislation passed before the referendum, however this did not survive negotiations. 

“We’ve made it abundantly clear throughout the negotiations that our preferred position was to see legislation passed through Parliament before the referendum so it was ‘self-executing’ with a majority yes vote. But we didn’t gain consensus on that step,” she said.

Swarbrick said that it was still important that the proposed law was developed and released before the referendum. 

“As it is, a yes vote will be informed by a clear regulatory regime set out in draft legislation that people will know and understand,” she said. 

“We will avoid any potential of a ‘Brexit’ situation because people will know exactly what the future holds, and how these changes will be implemented,” she said. 

Twenty to be legal age

The legislation will include a minimum age of 20 for using and purchasing recreational cannabis, regulations around commercial supply, as well as “limited” options for growing cannabis at home.

There will also be a public education programme.

Justice Minister Andrew Little weighed into the “binding” debate today saying that “the voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome”.

That would mean that a future Labour-New Zealand First-Green Government would have a political, though not a legal, obligation to pass the draft legislation after the referendum.

Little addressed the theoretical possibility his Government might not win re-election in 2020, saying he hoped National would respect the outcome of the referendum. 

“We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision,” he said. 

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