Cannabis in New Zealand
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in New Zealand. In the population of more than 4 million, 13.4% of those between the ages of 16–64 use cannabis. This ranks as the ninth highest cannabis consumption level in the world. The use of cannabis in New Zealand is governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, which makes unauthorised possession of any amount of cannabis illegal. However, there are some political efforts seeking to remove penalties on its use for those over 18 years of age.
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in New Zealand and the third most widely used recreational drug after alcohol and nicotine. The usage by those aged between 16–64 is 13.4%, the ninth highest level of consumption in the world, and 15.1% of those who smoked cannabis used it ten times or more per month. According to a UN study usage by 15–45 year olds in 2003 was about 20% and this dropped to 17.9% in 2010.
A 25-year longitudinal study of "1000 Christchurch born young people between the ages of 15 – 25" concluded that "regular or heavy cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of using other illicit drugs, abusing or becoming dependent upon other illicit drugs, and using a wider variety of other illicit drugs". The lead author of the study, Professor David Fergusson, stated:
- "Our research shows the regular use of cannabis increases the risks that young people will try other illicit drugs. What’s not clear are the underlying processes that lead to this association. Understanding these processes is critical to how we view cannabis."
- "If the association arises because using cannabis increases contact with illegal drug markets, this is a ground for the decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis. If, however, the association arises because using cannabis encourages young people to experiment with other illicit drugs the results could be seen as supporting the prohibition of cannabis use."
Cannabis use is controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Possession of any amount of cannabis is illegal and can result in a fine of up to $500 for possession to a 14-year jail term for its supply or manufacture. Section 7(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 contains a rebuttable presumption against imprisonment in respect of possession offences in respect of Class C controlled drugs including cannabis. This presumption does not apply for offences of supplying or possession for supply. Anyone caught in possession of at least 28 grams of cannabis or 100 cannabis joints is presumed to be a supplier, unless the defendant can prove they are not. However, in R v Hansen , a majority of the Supreme Court held that this presumption was inconsistent with section 25(c) of the Bill of Rights Act, which affirms the right of those charged with an offence to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. They also held that it was not a justified limitation under section 5 of that Act. Cannabis is a Class C drug, of which the penalty for dealing can result in a maximum prison sentence of 8 years under the Act. There have been many public campaigns to decriminalise Cannabis but so far none have succeeded. It is generally accepted that the usage rate is high and possession in small quantities may not often be prosecuted. In some cases first offences may result in a formal warning and confiscation by police.
The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party has stood candidates since the 1996 general election. They won 1.66% of the party vote in that election, the largest proportion in its history. The party has never won an electorate seat, without which they must receive at least 5% of the party vote to be represented in parliament.
In 2006, Green Party MP Metiria Turei's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was drawn from the member's ballot. The purpose of the bill was to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act so that cannabis could be used for medicinal purposes, and to permit the cultivation and possession of a small amount of Cannabis by registered medical users or a designated agent. The bill received a conscience vote at its first reading in July 2009, and was defeated 84–34. All MPs in the ruling National Party voted against the bill, as did the sole members from United Future and Jim Anderton's Progressive Party; while all members from the Green Party and ACT voted in favour of the bill (other than ACT MP Roger Douglas, who did not vote). The vote was split from MPs in the opposition Labour Party and the Māori Party.
At least four people have died while policing cannabis in New Zealand. Detective Travis Hughes and Christopher Scott were killed when their Cessna 172 crashed in Central Otago while on cannabis reconnaissance. Detective Tony Harrod died falling from a helicopter sling recovering plants in Taranaki.
During the 2009 Napier shootings, Jan Molenaar fired on three police officers executing a cannabis search warrant, killing Senior Constable Len Snee. People who knew Molenaar described a long-standing, tense relationship between him and the police surrounding the legality of his cannabis involvement, saying, 'Molenaar believed his home was being watched and told friends he was determined to "go out in blaze of glory" if police came to arrest him', and, 'police knew who Molenaar was and knew what he would do in a situation'.
A notable case involving cannabis growing equipment was the prosecution of the owner and general manager of the Switched on Gardener stores following a series of arrests and raids in 2010.
Cannabis-based medicines such as Sativex are legally available in New Zealand with a prescription from a specialist doctor, but is currently not subsidized and requires patients to meet strict criteria. Only around 30 prescriptions have been given out over the last 4 years. The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) supports having evidence based peer reviewed studies of medical cannabis. In 2010 the New Zealand Law Commission made a recommendation to allow for its medical use. The NZMA, which made submissions on the issues paper, supports the stance put forward by the Law Commission.
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