Cannabis: Green Party pushing for cross-party decriminalisation bill that would skip members' ballot

Green MP Chle Swarbrick is looking to get other parties onboard a cross-party bill to decriminalise cannabis, allowing it to skip the members' ballot and head straight to Parliament.
She could do this by using a new rule that allows 61 non-executive MPs MPs who are not ministers or under-secretaries to push a bill straight onto the order paper, bypassing the traditional lucky-dip ballot, where proposed laws can languish for years.

But it is not yet clear whether Labour or National would back such a bill so soon after a referendum on cannabis legalisation narrowly lost.

Cannabis legalisation would have seen the Government allow the drug to be sold openly in legal stores, while decriminalisation would just remove the criminal penalty for possession.

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A poll last week showed a 69 per cent majority for either legalisation or decriminalisation.

In light of the poll, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said his Labour Party would treat the matter as a conscience issue, meaning Labours 65 MPs could vote freely on it.

He said he would vote for such a bill, but it wasnt on the Governments work programme.

Chle Swarbrick is keen to see cannabis decriminalisation put to Parliament.

Any bill can pass with the support of 61 MPs. Since Labour has 65 MPs and the Greens have 10, this opens up a potential path for decriminalisation passing into law if 51 Labour MPs back it alongside all 10 Green MPs.

But this would still require a new members bill to be pulled from the biscuit tin of a democracy the lucky-dip members ballot, which has in the past seen same-sex marriage legalised and prisoner voting banned, among other things. Some bills languish in the tin for years, never being pulled out and considered by Parliament.

Swarbrick told Stuff she was hoping other parties could be convinced to sign on to co-sponsor a bill and back it to skip this process and go straight to the House.

This could happen under a new process that allows members bills to skip the ballot and go straight onto the order paper, if 61 non-executive MPs sign on to support them.

National does not have an official position on cannabis decriminalisation but is likely to be fairly cool to the proposition.

Throughout the cannabis referendum debate and discussion, you have politicians from across the aisle in every single party saying they do not want to see cannabis criminalised, Swarbrick said.

These are the kinds of discussions that are now on the table. I am hoping they are open to supporting that, and that a bill is created in a cross-party manner.

She would need the support of MPs from all parties in the house to skip the ballot, as Labour and the Greens only have 47 non-executive MPs, well below the 61-mark. Even with ACTs 10 and the Mori Partys two, two National MPs would still be needed and it would be hard to guarantee the support of every Labour MP.

The Labour Party, National Party, and ACT Party caucuses are all yet to consider the matter.

Labour whip Kieran McAnulty said it wasnt on the caucus agenda or even the agenda of a caucus committee.

ACT Party deputy leader Brooke van Velden said her caucus did not yet have a position on the matter.

National also does not have an official position but is likely to be fairly cool to the proposition.

National MP Nick Smith asked Health Minister Andrew Little to respect the outcome of the 2020 referendum and rule out any liberalisation of New Zealand cannabis laws.

Other MPs in his party are likely to have different views, but National do not currently treat cannabis as a conscience issue.


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