Medicinal cannabis wins and polls point to cannabis referendum’s recipe for success


Improvements to New Zealand’s new medicinal cannabis scheme – together with recent polling – suggest how we can win the cannabis referendum, writes Chris Fowlie.

There has been much criticism of the medicinal cannabis scheme, and some of it justified. Patients can’t grow their own. So far, products have been more expensive than they could be. The dealings of middle class businessmen has been distasteful to many people, and even worse if regular folk aren’t given a chance to participate. And so on.

That’s a shame, because there is actually a lot to like about the scheme.

When the medicinal cannabis regulations take effect on 1 April 2020, any doctor will be able to prescribe THC and CBD products to any patient for any condition.

The products must meet a Quality Standard, be tested and true to label. This will give doctors the confidence they need to make more prescriptions. But there will be no more requirements for expensive and slow specialist sign offs, and no more politicians running interference.

This is a huge improvement on the current situation and will make a real difference to thousands of patients. Patients will have options and choices. There can be cannabis vaping products, edibles, tinctures, balms, lotions, tablets, softgels, suppositories, trans-dermal patches, dried flowers and a whole lot more.

Local commercial production will be allowed for the first time, and licences are cheaper and simpler than first proposed.

The Ministry of Health has listened to the concerns of those who took part in several consultation rounds and meetings, and adopted many important changes that will make the scheme much more viable for local producers to get affordable products to patients.

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While public funding remains an issue to be resolved, product costs and development time will be greatly reduced by not requiring expensive multi-year clinical trials.

Crucially, local growers and small players also get a hand up:

  • The fees are much cheaper than first proposed;
  • There is a new pre-vetting process to give initial applications a faster sign off;
  • Local (currently illicit) genetics can be made legal through an easy and affordable declaration process;
  • A new Nursery Licence lets breeders become seed merchants to other growers;
  • Those with cannabis convictions won’t be automatically excluded; and
  • Overseas corporates won’t get unfair advantages.

These changes came from successful lobbying from myself and the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council team, promoting thought-leadership (including blogging here), offering constructive solutions to those given an often thankless task, and backing this up by effectively working political channels.

Overall this is great news, and we should be hearing it loud and clear, right?

While we’ve been working for a regulatory framework that allows maximum participation and potentially spreads the benefits to more people and communities who need it, people often think the industry is trying to wrap it up for themselves.

But those of us who banded together to form the NZ Medical Cannabis Council, including Rua Bioscience, Cannasouth and Zeacann, understand we will all grow together if more people can share the benefits.

Like with the wine industry, New Zealand can become a country known for producing the best cannabis products in the world. If we can successfully export, we can make products more affordable for local patients.

And if more people knew the good things about the medicinal cannabis scheme, I think there would be less strident criticism, which comes from a position of simply not knowing the facts.

There are several lessons here for the cannabis referendum.

Information equals support

The cannabis referendum is also suffering from a lack of information  about the legal model. Most people agree prohibition does not work, but most people have no idea what the Bill does.

Recent poll volatility also confirms how most people are yet to make their mind up. Support for reform can vary between polls in the same week, depending on what happened and how the question was worded. While a recent Colmar Brunton poll had the Yes vote trailing, a UMR poll in the same week had Yes leading.

The best thing about the UMR poll, commissioned by the Helen Clark Foundation and the NZ Drug Foundation, is that it showed New Zealanders support legal cannabis if they know the facts.

It turns out there is a huge number of middle voters who could go either way, and giving them basic information about the referendum usually shifts them towards the Yes vote.

Middle voters want to know about the controls in the Bill. How cannabis use will be limited to adults, in private homes or specially licensed venues. They want to know there will be no advertising, no Big Business, and more support for health and education. This simple messaging works.

What doesn’t work is making unrealistic claims, such as cannabis reform being a miracle cure for everything. We also need those who say they’re on our side – but continually harp on about anything they don’t like about the Bill – to just shut up. These friends are our own worst enemy, by demoralising and discouraging our supporters more effectively than the No campaigners.

We can make it better

Our work to successfully make improvements to the medicinal cannabis scheme shows how we can also improve the referendum Bill, so that the Yes vote is more likely to win.

It turns out we are leading the world in developing our legal cannabis framework. It goes further and is much better than what Canada has done. Developing this is not that easy, and kudos to all those who are working on it. In my experience the policymakers are open to constructive solutions if they’re given to the right people at the right time.

The final version of the referendum Bill will be released before the official campaigning period starts in June. There may be some changes to what was proposed in the draft Bill, but the most significant addition will be defining the social equity objectives.

Social equity for cannabis means righting the wrongs of past policies. It means removing barriers to going legal, so that more people can participate and share any economic benefits – especially those who suffered most under harsh punitive law enforcement. It means returning cannabis sales revenues to local communities rather than enriching corporates. It means paying for extra classrooms or health services with cannabis sales revenues. It means favouring social enterprises over pure profits. It can mean active support for those at the bottom, such as low interest loans, business mentorship or lower licence fees, funded by sales revenues. In a nutshell, social equity makes legalisation work for everyone, not just those who consume cannabis.

How the social equity objectives are defined will fundamentally determine the structure of the market, who participates and how widely the benefits are shared. It will also dramatically affect public perception of the referendum model.

The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has so far been largely associated with the business dealings of middle class men. Most people feel excluded, and patients seem last to be considered. Among many supporters there is a lack of enthusiasm for the scheme. The referendum needs to flip that mindset if we are to win, and I think the key will be what they do with social equity.

To win, cannabis law reform should benefit everyone

When the referendum’s draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill was announced, the media concentrated on the proposal to allow adults aged over 20 to legally grow two plants each (or four per household), and purchase up to 14 grams from specially licensed stores. The focus was on what adult cannabis consumers can do.

But a majority Yes vote would also allow:

  •     Cheaper access to cannabis products for therapeutic use, because patients could just go to cannabis stores.
  •     Adults can purchase seeds or seedlings to grow at home.
  •     Prices would be cheaper than for pharmaceutical products.
  •     Cannabis sales taxes will go to health and education.
  •     Profits would be taken away from organised crime.
  •     Huge vertically integrated businesses won’t be allowed.
  •     Licences will be allocated to achieve social equity objectives.

We need a majority vote, and people everywhere tell me they want a law for the people, not just profits. They need to hear more about these spin off benefits. I think the final bill could be made even better if policymakers also incorporate aspects of the Cannabis & Hemp Opportunity, Investment and Social Equity (CHOISE) model I have released to encourage public discussion.

Under the draft Bill, the cannabis licensing authority would decide how to allocate licenses. CHOISE says they should use a points-based licensing system (like Illinois) to fairly allocate licenses to benefit local communities, and to help right the wrongs by ensuring those who suffered most under the current law (such as Maori) are first in line.

It’s great to see the referendum Bill proposes sales levies, rather than taxes, because levies can be directed to specific areas. CHOISE proposes directing the cannabis sales levies into local community groups, building local support into the future. It will be interesting to see if the referendum Bill adopts this approach.

Home delivery and mail order sites should be part of this scheme. This would also let conservative local communities “opt out” if they don’t want cannabis retail stores in their area, while retaining consumer access especially for those who find travel difficult.

We should also do all we can to encourage local and craft growers over booze-owned foreign corporates. Let those who have minor pot convictions enter the legal industry. That’s really important if we want those on the illicit side to go legal. Reforms overseas have gone further, setting aside funds to help low socioeconomic applicants with low-interest loans and reduced fees.

As I have previously written, to end prohibition we need a well-funded public education campaign ahead of the cannabis referendum, and a more popular model based on social equity, social retail enterprises and social clubs.

We can get a majority Yes result in the cannabis referendum with better promotion of the basic information – but every vote will count.


Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a licensed medicinal cannabis company; 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; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.


  1. Having attended one of the recent Ministry of Health roadshows on medicinal cannabis I dont share the optimism of this article. Every single one of us that attended said that we could not operate under the onerous fee structure they are proposing and behind the MOH backs said things will continue as normal with the black market. As such, it is a complete failure for the small scale producers (Maori in particular) and patients looking to access affordable medicinal cannabis products. In other words it will be much like Canada with the bulk of the cannabis trade remaining in the black market with these rules. Unless the referendum passes things will not improve for access to medicinal cannabis products (unless you are very wealthy).

  2. Here’s me.
    I’m Super Decision Maker Man!
    I can fly like an over paid public official to go to where they’re not really needed but Oh Boy! What a piss up! I can leap tall mountains of bullshit in a single bound and can wrap kids in warm blankets and make food available to fill their little bellies without the need for one wheedling committee meeting to elongate my tenure on the public tit on $ix figure$ plu$ entitlement$. Ta Daaaaa !
    Therefore, thus, and what not, here’s my decisions.
    I decided to make pot not only legal but mandatory. If you’re not stoned you don’t get an ice cream.
    If you’re a politician and you never smoke pot then you don’t know what the fuck your talking about at the best of times, much less in relation to Pot prohibition therefore fuck off.
    Another decision.
    House people. Before anything. House people. Before the legal Puff? House people. House people.
    Then repeal all those odious and absurd ‘laws’ rammed through by The Jonk E ‘The full contact hair tugger’ in relation to farmers markets ( To hand our heads and our money over into the hands of the rorting supermarket cartels. How the fuck did we allow that to happen? What were we thinking? A vegetable seed is now a ‘controlled substance? What the fuck? )
    Is this guy jonky’s soulmate or what?
    I decide! Remember? I’m The Decider!
    Gee Dubja Bushisms. Lest we forget.
    Therefore, I decide to conduct a royal commission of inquiry into ALL District Councils. Ho boy? Could I tell some tales. The rot starts at the roots and there’s nothing more rotten than the roots of local councils, a perfect training ground for central government politicians and ‘officials’ aye Boys?
    One last thing? Pot? Legal. Done. No fucking about. Just done and done. It’s done. Moving on…
    Anywhere, anytime, with anyone. From midnight tonight. Done. ( Kids? Ask your mother first.)
    Booze? Out of the supermarkets thus out of the sight of kids.
    Right E O then.
    Pot’s legal. The homeless are housed. Kids are stuffed with foods…
    That, dear humanoids, is called ‘making decisions’.
    ( The above is , of course, parody and farce, surely that goes without saying.
    But I think you and me? We’ve forgotten what a decision fucking looks like. We have overpaid, overstuffed, over pampered wankers stringing us along. I say fuck that. And fuck them. I think we need a new approach to our cadre of greedy, devious, lazy politicians don’t you?

    • I vote for Country Boy, as for the current crop may i respectfully suggest transportation for life to Antarctica, where they can benefit from Global Warming

  3. Good things take time I hear my neighbours daughter and her boyfriend on Fridays having their weekly argument when they have a drink nek minute they are swearing and fighting. And I feel like yelling out to them ‘have a joint and mellow out’ nek minute the police arrive. Our young people are on line viewing porn and how to kill themselves and our young girls are viewing how to be skinny. We don’t want our under 18yr olds smoking pot not until they are older but to use this as an excuse for hard working people not to have a puff in their own home is bullshit.

  4. In regards to this article and associated matters, it seems the Author likes working with the Health Department, an organisation who failed to stand up to the Police in godzown long white cloud.

    Here I man spent years trying to get a data file from the Ministry of Health. And it turned out that the Police had manipulated Health data, yet the Maxwell report contains the name of the Health Department. Cannabis was sending people to Hospital in record numbers, exceeding opiods and amphetamines, thats what the Crown wrote up with the “creme de la Creme”. Seems he proved his point and the umemployed man got the harm report removed from the Police web site, and Health needed to man up.

    and whats this….

    so pretty much its a no “vote” from me, the Health Department has no idea how to use a simple database.

    • A no vote will mean the health department will still be in control.
      Voting yes allows individuals to home grow which negates the need for a health department. 😉

    • I’ve read the articles you linked. The first one point out, predictably, a massive overstatement of cannabis harm was fabricated by Maxwell – the author of the report in question – by massaging the data it was based on. Maxewll’s methodology was so obviously dodgy that a sociologist with a bit of time on his hands was able to get hold of the original data and expose this fabrication.

      The second one pointed out that senior health officials had tried to get the Police to recall the report, on the basis that it was fabricated nonsense. They refused.

      This tells us two things. One, despite cannabis being less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, as is well known among international experts in drug use like Prof Nutt and his team, the Police are more than willing to use fraudulent reports to demonize cannabis. Two, that Police are completely unqualified to be the regulators of drug use in society, and putting it in their hands increases drug harms. The obvious conclusion to that a “yes” vote in the cannabis referendum is a no-brainer.

  5. Cheaper license fees my arse. When you combine all the necessary steps to run this business from start to finish its nearly as expensive as the original cost. Plus there is still the requirement for an expensive facility to grow it in the criteria. Its still a rich mans game

  6. I wonder how many of the 200-250 actual Cannabis admissions were related to Peter Dunne’s criminal relaxation on Feux Chemical Cannabis (The supposedly Generic Alternative to the real thing??). There does not seem to be any information in Dawson’s report that would separate the real McCoy from the deadly junk that Dunne allowed to be sold in the corner Dairy’s, BP Stations and other seedy outlets around the country. As I recall their were a number of deaths from the use of Peter’s Party Pot…?
    I am amazed that there is no distinction made in this regard! I’m also amazed that we have gone thru the past 30 years of a growing Police State mechanism that has been embedded into our Political System that have directed the making of laws and regulations to Police & other (et al) Lobbyist insistence over the good and wellbeing of our citizenry so as to pad their already overblown budgets within our Justice System.
    There is an absolutely damning straight line pointing to the top of the Justice System and the Cabinet Chambers. Disclosures as this report exposes- points to the Truth for who our Politicians and Bureaucrats are working for in disguise as Public Servants serving themselves in a supposedly Social Democracy.
    Truth be known, Aotearoa / NZ in the light of day is no better than a South Sea’s Banana Republic, wholly owned and manipulated by Bankers, Trust Lawyers, Political Prostitutes with Rubber Stamps and common Mob grafting Bureaucrat thieves… A bunch of hired killers in service of the Neoliberalist meritocratic Market…

  7. The good white folks like most christians and those who have the high paying g-man jobs and loco govenrment and contractor friends are the ones who are gonna miss out on the benefits of cannabis.
    Even the sad faced bus drivers will get the sack for having cannbinoids in their system.

    Some of the clever ruling elite and their friends, those on the fringes and those outside of the system will be the bulk of Nzers accessing medpot products for their ailments.
    Lol you said ‘ale’

    People still coughing and spluttering too much!
    when hemp vege curry too nice! cacao and hemp oats! hemp kombucha! ginko biloba and hemp!

    probiotics and curry n spice
    synergise with cbd
    medpot so much more than now wise,,
    in the future
    a whole new levelise

    entourage not just whole plante’
    but also with othyr plants

    Jah Bless!

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