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Proposed Cannabis Regulations: Have They Been Done Before?

As the debate rages on in New Zealand in the lead up to the September referendum there is a lot of uncertainty of what will a legal cannabis environment look like here in Aotearoa. There is misinformation rearing its head on both sides of the debate and a lot of New Zealanders are not understanding what the finished regulations will look like if the bill passes and rightly so.

There has been a lot of thought and effort put into building the proposed legislation and in this process the policymakers have examined different models around the world to see what would work best here in New Zealand for our people. While the open slather regulations of California, Colorado, Canada, and Oregon are readily talked about, in the media and the first results in any internet search there is a lesser known regulatory framework that has the most similarity to New Zealand and it lies in a state on the east coast of America; Massachusetts.

The state of Massachusetts put to a public vote that passed; medicinal cannabis. They became the 18th state to do so. In the 2016 election voters in Massachusetts residents voted to make adult-use cannabis legal in the state. It then took two years until the first stores opened in November 2018. Like the New Zealand proposed regulations the Massachusetts regulations created an overarching agency to oversee and control the implementation of the regulations for companies to apply for licenses and regulate them if they are awarded one.

Comparison of Massachusetts regulations to proposed New Zealand regulations:

ControlMassachusettsNew Zealand Proposed
Agency to oversee regulationsYes – Cannabis Control Commission.Yes – a “Cannabis Regulatory Agency” will be established.
Home-grown plants allowedYes – up to 6 per person. Cannot be sold to another party.Yes – up to 2 per person or 4 per household. Cannot be sold to another party.
TaxYes – 10.75% additional to GSTYes – GST may also have levy added on. 
AdvertisingNot allowed – strict controls.Not allowed – strict controls 
Retail premisesYes – Restrictions on location, advertising, and signage.Yes – Restrictions on location, advertising, and signage.
SecurityYes – strict security requirements for all facilities where cannabis may be held (not including home grows).Yes – strict security requirements for all facilities where cannabis may be held (not including home grows).
Quality of productYes – all batches will have testing requirements to meet minimum quality standards.Yes – all batches will have testing requirements to meet minimum quality standards. 
Labelling requirementsYes – Requirements detailing potency, batch, license number of producer, includes warning statements and prohibits untruthful or misleading statements. Yes – Requirements detailing potency, batch, license number of producer, includes warning statements and prohibits untruthful or misleading statements.
Packaging Yes – Child resistant packaging required, prohibits packaging that is attractive to minors, resembles other commercial packaging and it must be opaque.Yes – Child resistant packaging required, prohibits packaging that is attractive to minors, resembles other commercial packaging and it must be opaque.
Consumption LoungesNoYes
THC LimitsNo Yes – 15%
Minimum age2120

When you walk by an adult-use cannabis store in Massachusetts, you will be very disappointed if you want to get a sneak peak of what is in the store. All windows must be covered, to see inside you must go through a sign in process which involves showing your state issued ID no matter what your age before you are allowed out of the waiting room and onto the shop floor. When you get inside all products are stored out of reach and no it does not look like a candy store.

The current argument from the “Yes” advocates is that medicinal cannabis is very expensive and adult-use cannabis will lower the pricing for patients. This argument in itself is flawed since licenses are yet to be awarded in New Zealand under the medicinal cannabis program and there is yet to be a healthy competition for products under the medicinal cannabis program. Consumers will only be able to access expensive imported products until the program is up and running and products have adequate quality and stability data. If adult-use cannabis passes in the September referendum, New Zealanders will still have to wait years until they will be able to access in-store products. It wont happen overnight and by this stage the medicinal cannabis program will be well underway with a more competitive environment and products in the medicinal cannabis program will either be the same price as those in adult-use stores or lower as they may add an additional tax levy onto adult-use cannabis to discourage use.

Under the proposed regulations the elephant in the room is the fact that there is a large focus on dried cannabis that is mainly used to be smoked. This in its essence goes against our “Smoke-free by 2025” goal set as a country and the proposed regulations do not address this fact. This goal focuses on the commercial sale of tobacco, in New Zealand persons are allowed to grow tobacco plants for personal consumption and even when the commercial sales are proposed to end this part of the regulation may continue.

The arguments from the “No” advocates centre around the harm that this plant can do to the community and people. Ex users on the “Say nope to dope” website say that they will be voting no as when they would go to buy cannabis they were offered other drugs and this caused the “gateway” effect, this however doesn’t take into consideration that The regulations will mean that people wanting to access safe, legal cannabis will enter a store, make a purchase and The evidence used in this argument comes from studies stating that around 2% of the population can experience psychosis however in cannabis users this can be up to 4%. The studies however do not go on to establish whether the increase in psychosis is caused by cannabis or whether it is an effect of the disease and consumers are unknowingly self-medicating.

It can be seen that the majority of adult-use users are using cannabis for its medicinal effects, it helps them to relax at the end of a log stressful day, it helps them fall asleep at night, it helps them to concentrate to name a few potential benefits. Some users don’t feel that in a medicinal only society that their reasons for using cannabis warrant a visit to the GP to get a prescription so they continue to use the illegal market when they would much prefer a legal, safe, and non-stigmatised avenue to accessing cannabis.

No matter your stance on adult-use cannabis society needs to learn more about the medicinal effects of cannabis so it can be de-stigmatised for both its medicinal and therapeutic effects and help to improve the quality of life for many New Zealanders who would benefit from its use.

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