More questions than answers on binding cannabis referendum

Remember the referendum that was Brexit, where people in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar merrily voted to leave the European Union, until they realised that that actually meant, and that it was binding?

In hindsight, quite a lot of people felt they didn’t really have enough information and didn’t quite realise what would happen after they made that tick on a referendum paper. Some were quite shocked it was binding.

We are worried that New Zealand voters will find themselves in a similar position come the 2020 general election day, 19 September, when they vote on whether or not to legalise recreational cannabis use in New Zealand. That’s recreational, not medicinal.

We believe there is not enough information to make a vote that the current coalition Government would consider binding.

The only information available from the Government is a badly written and half-finished Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill – Draft for Consultation. It looks a bit like a copy and paste job at this stage and I’m not sure anyone with a law degree has been involved to this point. This is a Bill that people will be asked if they support (yes), or not (no).

We were surprised to hear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern answer a question in Parliament this week on the referendum by saying: ‘‘what we prepared is a draft bill so that there will be that full information to members of the public – that if they support the bill, that is the legislation that at least three parties in this House have said that they will then support to enact” (Hansard).

We think maybe the Prime Minister hasn’t read the bill. There are holes you could drive a truck through. Some of those for us are around road safety and workplace health and safety. The bill is silent on these matters.

In fact, the Minister who introduced the bill (Hon Andrew Little) was quoted as saying that exploring the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment would be pushed back until after the referendum vote. Vote now and see what happens later!

We don’t believe that’s good enough. In this country, employers and Boards are bound by strict health and safety legislation – that if flouted can result in them going to prison – and we cannot see how this bill in any way correlates to that legislated responsibility.

This bill, if enacted, will have serious consequences for safety sensitive industries, such as trucking.

So, we think the general public should be well informed before they answer a yes/no question. The picture they are drawn should be broader than them sitting in their lounge room with a joint and not worrying about being arrested.

We all share the roads – that’s pedestrians, cyclists, car and truck drivers – and everyone wants their loved ones to come home from work each day. Yet already, the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit.

International research shows that with legalisation of cannabis comes higher use and new users. It shows that a lot of the people who currently purchase cannabis illegally, continue to use those suppliers after legalisation, because of price. It shows that people aren’t that well aware or informed of the impact of using cannabis and driving. It shows an increase in road accidents in areas where recreational cannabis is legal.

There is no harm minimisation. There are new markets and money to be made. And the black market remains as it always has.

Higher risk on the roads automatically means higher insurance premiums across the board – insurance is risk priced and you pay on probability. When households and businesses are already managing tight finances, they shouldn’t be surprised by expenses that should be made clear up front.

There is also a whole bureaucracy that will be put in place to manage cannabis legalisation. The bill references a Cannabis Advisory Committee, Cannabis Appeals Authority, and Cannabis Regulatory Authority for starters. How much will all that cost and will it be funded by the tax payer?

There are so many unanswered questions about unintended consequences.

We believe the referendum cannot be binding until people are properly informed on what they are voting for, or against. We don’t want ideology and social engineering. We want facts and figures. This is reality, not fantasy land.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Not enough information for cannabis referendum vote

At next year’s general election, the New Zealand public will vote yes or no to a referendum question around legalising recreational cannabis use throughout the country.

That vote will focus on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, a draft of which was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 3 December.

The road freight transport industry has serious misgivings about this draft Bill. It is woefully incomplete, dangerously naïve, too narrow in focus, and lacking in critical detail. It is too incomplete to vote on and people need the full picture before such a vote.

For safety sensitive industries such as road freight transport, we cannot see how this Bill will in any way correlate to the strict health and safety legislation in New Zealand. In fact, in the section (8) that outlines the “Relationship between Act and other enactments”, there is no mention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which holds employers and Boards strictly liable for the health and safety of their workers.

The road is the truck drivers’ workplace, so we care a lot about road safety. We cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads, which is allegedly of critical importance to this Government. We already have a situation where the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads eclipses those killed by drivers above the alcohol limit.

Indeed, in releasing the Bill, Minister Little was quoted as saying that exploring the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment would be pushed back until after the referendum vote.

That is not good enough. People should be given all the facts before they vote on this Bill.

International research shows that where cannabis is legalised, consumption is higher and new users enter the market. So potentially, we have more drugged drivers on the road.

Deloitte has done a number of reports on Canada, which has legalised the use of recreational cannabis nationwide. They make for interesting reading.

The Deloitte report, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, surveyed current and likely cannabis consumers across Canada in early 2018, to gain insights into how consumption levels might change, what kinds of products consumers would be interested in, and how and where they’d like to purchase. They found that purchases by current and likely frequent cannabis consumers were set to rise up to 22 percent after legalisation.

The report says: “We see a more significant change in behaviour among less frequent consumers, both current and likely. After legalization, purchase frequency in this group is poised to raise 121 percent”.

It is incredibly naïve to believe that where there are commercial imperatives, anyone involved in making money from cannabis sales will in any way be focused on reducing consumption.

Research in the United States shows an increase in road crashes in states that have legalised marijuana, compared to states where marijuana is not legal. There is a need for more research in this area, but it is important to note. This evidence is incongruous with the New Zealand Government’s Road to Zero road safety strategy.

We don’t believe the Government is giving the full picture of the direct and unintended consequences of the Bill. Some big impact questions for safety sensitive industries need to be answered, particularly around liability when WorkSafe fines for workplace accidents are now well into six figures.

There are too many unanswered questions and after the referendum, that this current Government would consider binding, is too late for those answers. That’s what they call closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum