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Government releases draft Bill on the legalisation of recreational cannabis ahead of the 2020 referendum

Home Insights Government releases draft Bill on the legalisation of recreational cannabis ahead of the 2020 referendum

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Contributed by: Craig Shrive, Felicity Ellis and Tom Swayne

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Published on: December 04, 2019


Yesterday, the Government released its work-in-progress draft of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill for public consideration. The Bill proposes to legalise the recreational use of cannabis, subject to extensive controls on its production, supply and use. On its release, Justice Minister Hon Andrew Little stated that the primary objective of the legislation is to "reduce overall cannabis use and limit the ability of young people to access cannabis".

A final draft of the Bill is expected to be released in early 2020 and will take into account feedback received on the current draft. Following this, the Bill will be put to a public referendum at the 2020 general election, in accordance with Labour's confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party. The wording of the cannabis referendum question has been confirmed as a straight Yes/No question:

"Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?"

The outcome of the referendum is 'indicative' only, meaning that if the public votes in favour of the Bill, it will not be binding on the successive government. The Bill would still have to go through the full legislative process under the new Parliament before it becomes law. If the public votes against the Bill, the status quo would continue - recreational cannabis would remain illegal, but medicinal cannabis could continue to be prescribed by a health practitioner. It is unlikely that any Parliament would seek to progress the Bill following a "no" indicative referendum.

The draft Bill would impose a number of restrictions and controls in relation to the manufacture, retail, purchase, and consumption of recreational cannabis, including:

  • a minimum purchase and use age of 20;
  • a possession limit of 14 grams of dried cannabis in public places;
  • restricting consumption to private homes and licensed "consumption" premises;
  • powers for the regulator to control potency by determining maximum limits on THC and other substances;
  • a licensing regime to cover each part of the production and supply chain;
  • a Cannabis Regulatory Authority (name to be determined) to oversee regulation and manage the licensing system;
  • limits on the growth of cannabis for personal use and sharing up to two plants per person and a maximum of four plants per household;
  • bans on marketing and advertising, and requirements on retailers to communicate public health messaging;
  • pricing requirements to balance the need for harm reduction, but still be competitive with the illicit cannabis market (to draw people away); and
  • appropriate taxation to ensure the proceeds of cannabis sales contribute to the economy.

Separately, the Government has completed its consultation on the details of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, and is expecting to introduce regulations by 18 December 2019 so that the scheme could be operational in the first quarter of 2020. These regulations address the domestic cultivation, quality standards, and prescription and use requirements for medicinal cannabis only. This regime will remain separate to the legislative requirements for production of cannabis for recreational use (if implemented). This is made clear in the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill which proposes to expressly exclude from the definition of "cannabis" products that are regulated under the medicinal and hemp schemes. This means that the controls proposed above (including in relation to age limits, possession and potency), would not apply to cannabis produced for prescribed medicinal use.

The Government has launched a website dedicated to inform the public on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, and the End of Life Choice Act, in advance of the referenda, which can be viewed here. A full copy of the draft Bill can be viewed here.


This article is intended only to provide a summary of the subject covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in this publication without first obtaining specific professional advice. If you require any advice or further information on the subject matter of this newsletter, please contact the partner/solicitor in the firm who normally advises you, or alternatively contact one of the partners listed below.

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