Last year was an absolute humdinger for cannabis, with legislative changes for hemp foods and medicinal cannabis, confirmation the cannabis referendum will be binding and held at the next election, and so much activity it was hard to keep up. It seems the stars are aligned and, although we must not become complacent, this is finally the moment when cannabis law reform can actually happen in New Zealand. Here are my predictions for what will play out this year.
Imported hemp food products will appear on grocery shelves. Domestic producers will face issues with seed supply, and processing capability. More than one large well known company will develop a hemp alternative to dairy. But unlike hemp farmers around the world, Kiwi hemp farmers will not be able to extract the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, a lucrative hemp by-product.
The scheme will be rolled out with regulations in place by December. Patients won’t see much change this year other than for CBD products. The first clinical trials will start, and the first patients will be able to access local products. Companies will come and go – we’ve already seen the first collapse with MediCann and we can expect more, including mergers, consolidations, and interest from overseas.
There is plenty of room: Colorado, with a population of little more than NZ has over 800 canna-businesses, from mom-and-pop operations and hipster craft producers, to large multi-state corporates, whereas other states have restricted licences to a handful. Our final regulations will determine who can be involved, with licence fees and structures used to facilitate either many smaller operators or restrict it to well-funded
The referendum on making cannabis legal will be held at the 2020 election. It’s a very tight timeframe: legislation really needs to be introduced by the middle of this year, so the question and format will essentially be decided in the next few months. We will vote on a definite model and the starting point will be Canada, adjusted for Aotearoa. Public input will be via the select committee process. There will be push back from the usual discredited and tired moral zealots, and the media will spread their nonsense while secretly hoping for an opposition that is rational and not so deranged.
One thing we can be certain of: the referendum will pass comfortably. That’s because the government is organising and running it, and will not propose a question that would fail. Politically it needs at least 65% support, and ideally even more. On current polling that would stack the odds against a fully commercial market and perhaps more in favour of non-profit Cannabis Social Clubs, run along the lines of liquor licensing trusts with profits returned to the community, and who re-sell cannabis products grown and made by licensed producers.
Internationally we can expect reform in more territories including the Asia-Pacific region, and I think we could even see legalisation in the USA, the home of drug prohibition, where Donald Trump will not oppose House bill HR420, which would allow federal regulation and interstate commerce. Cannabis reforms around the world – and open non-compliance with international drug treaties – will force the UN to review and revise its approach to drug control.
Over the next few months, actions taken and decisions made will have a huge impact. It’s a great time to be involved!
Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a medicinal cannabis producer; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; co-host of Marijuana Media on 95bFM; and court-recognised expert witness for cannabis.