2020 New Zealand cannabis referendum

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The New Zealand cannabis referendum will be a binding referendum, held at the 2020 New Zealand general election on the question of whether to legalise the personal use of cannabis.[1][2] The latest possible date for the election and the referendum is 21 November 2020.[3] New Zealand currently provides legal access to cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals to select patients with severe chronic diseases via prescriptions.


After the 2017 general election, the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and the Green Party included an obligation for the government to undertake a referendum on cannabis law reform. This agreement was to "Increase funding for alcohol and drug addiction services and ensure drug use is treated as a health issue" and "have a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at, or by, the 2020 general election".[4] This agreement followed on from statements made by the Green Party in December 2016, that if it formed a government in the 2017 election it would legalise cannabis. "Under its proposal, people would be able to legally grow and possess marijuana for personal use". The party would also "urgently amend the law so sick people using medicinal marijuana were not penalised".[5][6][7]

Current laws[edit]

Possession of any amount of cannabis is currently illegal in New Zealand. Cannabis use is currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the maximum sentence for possession of cannabis is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a $500 fine; although there is a presumption against imprisonment.[8]

The presumption of supply threshold for cannabis is 28 grams or 100 joints, meaning above the threshold, it is presumed any cannabis possessed is for supply and not for personal use.

Cultivation of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment, while dealing of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of 8 years imprisonment.[9]

The only exception to these laws is the prescription of medicinal cannabis. Approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals can be prescribed by a specialist doctor, but requires patients to meet strict criteria. As of April 2016, only Sativex is approved for use in New Zealand; it is not subsidised, so patients must pay the full retail cost.[10]

On 11 December 2018, the Government passed the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act, which provides a legal defence for terminally ill patients to possess and consume medicinal cannabis.[11][12]

Opinion polls and surveys[edit]

Many polling organisations ask New Zealanders questions related to cannabis legislation. Support for law reform around cannabis has been increasing in New Zealand in recent years.[13][14][15] These numbers tend to trend higher around support for medicinal use.[14] When voting age New Zealanders were asked in July 2017 if they supported "Growing and/or using cannabis for medical reasons if you have a terminal illness", 59% responded that it should be legal, 22% supported decriminalisation, while 15% responded it should be illegal. However when they were asked their thoughts on "Possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use", 37% responded that it should be decriminalised, 31% responded that it should be illegal, and 28% responded that it should be fully legal.[14]

Opinion polls leading up to the referendum are listed in the table below. Percentages may not add to 100 percent due to rounding. Margin of error varies from poll to poll.

Individual polls[edit]

Date Polling organisation Sample size For Against Undecided Lead
10–26 Oct 2018 Horizon Research 995 60 24 16 36
15–19 Oct 2018 1 News Colmar Brunton 1,006 46 41 12 5
2–17 Jul 2018 Curia Market Research 943 49 47 3 2

The referendum question[edit]

There is currently no proposed text of the actual question or questions that that will be asked in the referendum. In July 2018, Justice Minister agreed that deciding on the question to put to the public is obviously going to be very important, but said “I haven’t really given it any depth of thought at all.”[16]

The Cannabis Referendum Coalition favours a two-part question: "...that asks firstly whether people support adults being able to possess and grow cannabis for personal use, and secondly whether they support adults being able to buy cannabis from licensed premises..."[17]

A number of commentators have stressed the wide degree of outcomes possible under the simple "legalise" label,[18][19][20] and several have suggested that detailed legislation should be in place to before the referendum to document what "legalise" would mean – and that this would be triggered, or not, by the results of the referendum.


Yes vote[edit]

  • Cannabis Referendum Coalition[21]

No vote[edit]


  1. ^ "New Zealand to hold cannabis referendum". BBC News. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  2. ^ "We could see legalised marijuana and free university under New Zealand's new PM". Abc.net.au. 21 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  3. ^ See Next New Zealand general election#election date for an explanation.
  4. ^ New Zealand Labour Party & Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand CONFIDENCE & SUPPLY AGREEMENT 52nd Parliament. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Legal cannabis in NZ? Green Party offers green light to pot smokers". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Drug Law Reform Policy". Greens.org.nz. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  7. ^ Phipps, Claire; Roy, Eleanor Ainge (23 September 2017). "NZ First's Winston Peters kingmaker in New Zealand hung parliament – as it happened". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  8. ^ Section 7(2)(b) Misuse of Drugs Act 1975
  9. ^ "Possession and use of controlled drugs". Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 No 116 (as at 08 September 2011), Public Act. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office/Te Tari Tohutohu Pāremata. 8 September 2011. Section 7(2). Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  10. ^ "New Zealand Consumer Medical Information – Sativex, Oral spray" (PDF). New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  11. ^ Bennett, Lucy (11 December 2018). "Medicinal cannabis bill passes third reading". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  12. ^ Bateman, Sophie (11 December 2018). "Parliament passes medicinal cannabis Bill, promises regulated market and legal defence". Newshub. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  13. ^ Newshub (20 August 2017). "Support for cannabis reform getting higher". Newshub. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Jones, Nicholas (19 August 2017). "National voters, wider public back cannabis law reform: poll". NZ Herald. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Support for cannabis law reform remains high in 2017". NZ Drug Foundation. 19 August 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  16. ^ Brown, Russell (July 2018). "The big ask: Ensuring the best legalisation referendum question". Matters of Substance. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Binding referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use to be held at 2020 election". Radio New Zealand. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  18. ^ Cheng, Derek (26 January 2019). "Tightly regulated framework likely for 2020 vote on cannabis". The NZ Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  19. ^ "Legal cannabis referendum: How should the question be asked?". 29 October 2018. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  20. ^ Sellman, Doug (4 February 2019). "Question an important 'bit of detail'". ODT. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  21. ^ "Cannabis Referendum Coalition".
  22. ^ "SayNopeToDope.nz Website Will Oppose Legalisation - Say nope to dope Say nope to dope". saynopetodope.org.nz.