Appropriate controls for cannabis

Potential cannabis laws range from strict prohibition through to free market. Both extremes are unregulated and work to maximise use and associated harms. The CHOISE model sits in the mid-point of responsible legal regulation, with sensible controls to reduce overall harm.

Under any model:

Unlicensed supply would remain illegal. Supply to minors would remain an offence. Public use would be a civil offence.

Driving

The Government has announced drug-impaired driving will be addressed separately to the referendum. This model assumes it will remain an offence to drive while impaired by drugs including cannabis. The existing Field Sobriety Test is considered the most accurate predictor of impairment. The cannabis levy will fund FST training for every law enforcement officer, and dash cams to record the test. The FST could be confirmed with an evidential blood test, with a limit set for THC5, with no allowance for any concurrent alcohol use. Consumers must choose between cannabis, alcohol, or neither.

(Grotenhermen et al demonstrated a blood THC level of 710ng/ml was equivalent to a BAC of 0.5. The state of Colorado uses 6ng/ml with a positive defence available for heavy users who may retain higher levels.)

Workplace impairment

This would remain largely unchanged, with employers able to prohibit workplace use and impairment just as they can now with alcohol. Nothing in the proposal would prevent employers from adopting reasonable employment practises regarding consumption, storage and use of cannabis in the workplace, and nothing in the proposal prevents and employer from disciplining or terminating any employee for failing to comply.

Medical separation

Medical use would remain separately regulated. Patients would continue to access medicinal cannabis products through doctors and pharmacies.

No advertising

Broadcast advertising and outdoor billboards would be prohibited. Instore (point of sale) and internet promotions would be allowed, recognising the importance to consumers of providing information about products, dosages, quality and availability.

Potency

Product strength would be controlled by increasing the cannabis levy based on the THC level. Products with lower THC levels would incur a lower levy. There would be a credit for CBD content, which reduces the psychoactivity of THC.

Dosage

Cannabis products would be batch tested and true to label. A dose would be defined as 10mg THC (or CBD) per dose, with packages clearly displaying the total doses and total amount of cannabinoids. Packages would be tamper-evident and child-resistant.

Edibles

Edibles will have each dose clearly separated (for example, as lozenges, or segments of a chocolate bar). Edibles would be prohibited from resembling foods attractive to children, such as gummy bears.

Harm reduction

Utensils would be allowed for harm reduction purposes and would display health warnings.

Provision of information

It would be mandatory for certain information to be provided on cannabis retail packages and at the point of sale. Packaging must be accurate and display the cannabinoid content (THC, CBD, and any other that is over 0.2% by volume), as well as the ratio of THC:CBD. Packaging must not contain information that is false or misleading; is designed to encourage excessive consumption; depicts consumption by a minor; or is designed or likely to appeal to minors.

Levy based on THC, with credit for CBD

Sales levies would be based on net THC content, discouraging higher-strength products, and ensuring those who choose concentrates and other potent forms are contributing an appropriate levy. A credit for CBD content would further encourage balanced products.

Local control

Some aspects could be devolved to local bodies, such as zoning
decisions, signage, opening hours, recommendations for local grants, and whether to allow Social Retail, Social Clubs, delivery services, or none within their local area boundaries. These Local Cannabis Plans should be within a consistent national framework and broadly like alcohol licencing.

If a local body chooses to allow cannabis retail, it may also impose an additional Regional Cannabis Levy of up to 5% of gross retail revenues. To prevent continual toing-and-froing, local bodies must set their Local Cannabis Plan within 12 months and amendments are by local referendum.

Effective ownership & control

Ownership of both Social Retail and LPs is open to non-profits, iwi, private enterprise, partnerships or collectives. A suitability test for licenced producers and retail SEs will prohibit key people, directors, significant shareholders and those having any effective control from having violence or dishonesty convictions. There could also be restrictions on residency (such as requiring total- or majority-ownership by NZ residents).

Should there be additional restrictions, such as prohibiting or limiting effective ownership and control by liquor or tobacco companies?

Agency

Legislation should be administered by the Ministry of Health. An agency would be set up inside the Ministry to oversee the legal market and ensure compliance with international treaties.

Implementation and transition period

Consideration could be given to allowing existing licenced medicinal producers to convert any surplus inventory to adult-use products, for the first 12 months of the scheme. Any transition period should be carefully managed and properly resourced.

To encourage better operators to enter the market first, the licence system could require higher points in the first round. Subsequent rounds of licences could be allocated in response to how the market develops, with points adjusted accordingly.

Ongoing education and training

Provision must be made for ongoing public awareness campaigns as well as targeted consumer education, training for regulators and law enforcement, and implications for health professionals.

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