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Legalised personal cannabis use would be tightly regulated

Thursday, 5 December 2019

By Paul Manning

The Government’s approach to legalising personal cannabis use would provide many opportunities for new businesses, boost tax revenue, and deliver quality standards in a safer and more open environment. As the proposed legislation’s name suggests, it would also deliver control, disrupting a large underground scene which currently has none.

While some are claiming the sky has fallen in, it’s important to keep in mind that the Government’s just-released draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill has got a long way to go.

As part of a public education campaign, the draft bill has now been published for political parties and the public to review. Feedback will then be considered before a more detailed final draft bill is released. Then, only if a majority of New Zealanders support legalising personal cannabis use at next year’s referendum will the bill be introduced into Parliament. There it will go through a select committee process, where it will be open to public submissions and scrutiny, followed by more debate.

The draft bill confirms a minimum age of 20 to purchase and use; regulates the cultivation, manufacture and sale of cannabis; introduces rules around use, quantities, and potency; legalises edibles; restricts retailing to licenced physical stores; heavily restricts advertising and marketing of products; sets quality and safety standards; and requires public health messaging on packaging.

Licences will be required by operators at every step of the process. In fact, the bill lists 10 controlled activities that will require a licence from the all-powerful Cannabis Regulatory Authority which would be established to have total oversight.

Don’t believe talkback radio when people claim cannabis will run amok. Instead, Kiwis can be assured the Government is taking a prudent approach, including banning any consumption in public places. In a business sense, anyone wanting to obtain a licence to operate in the industry will need to go through a robust process and maintain standards.

While all stages of the supply chain would be tightly controlled, out of regulation comes opportunity. New Zealand would see many new businesses emerge, boosting employment prospects and economic growth.

As well as the establishment of growing, manufacturing, and product testing-related businesses, there would be opportunities for Kiwis to open licenced dispensaries and cannabis cafes, as well as develop boutique brands akin to what we’ve seen in the craft beer market.

Regulation would ensure adult cannabis consumers now had access to high quality, rigorously tested products in a format they wanted.

Further, the Government has announced that the pricing of cannabis products will ‘balance the need for harm reduction’ while at the same time, ‘drawing people away from the illicit cannabis market’. In short, that means products will be price competitive.

Adopting a health-based approach, rather than a criminal one, will also enable over 320,000 Kiwis to be freed from breaking the law every day. This is important to a lot of people, currently forced to live double lives for fear of being stigmatised.

The arrival of Government control would substantially weaken organised crime’s grip on the huge recreational cannabis black market that exists in New Zealand. It would deal a significant blow to our gangs and their ability to fund their existence.

In fact, I would argue that next year’s referendum is not so much about whether people support legalising personal cannabis use or not, but who they want to control it.

Helius Therapeutics remains solely focused on developing and delivering quality, efficacious cannabis-based medicines to ease the suffering of thousands of New Zealanders from next year. However, without a doubt, legalising personal cannabis use would change the future market dynamics.

Legalisation, for example, could enable the creation of a wider variety of over-the-counter cannabis-based wellness products. These could include non-prescription health supplements and cosmetics. Hence, we’re an interested observer.

All of this is of course totally dependent on the referendum passing at the 2020 General Election. Will it pass? Well who knows, but indicators show it could be close.

Last week we released our fourth independent survey tracking nationwide opinion. Horizon Research surveyed 1,199 adult New Zealanders in November, revealing support to legalise personal cannabis use has risen by 9% since August to 48%. That’s knife edge stuff.

Regardless, with the details of the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill now released, the public has an opportunity to see what a legalised environment would look like, and importantly, public debate and decisions will be better informed.

Paul Manning is the Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics – New Zealand’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company.

-- ENDS –

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