Leaks form backdrop to cannabis referendum

The Government is to release details on the referendum that could legalise recreational cannabis, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed. 

The announcement comes against the backdrop of an embarrassing leak of a Cabinet paper to the National Party. 

At her Monday post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern said Justice Minister Andrew Little would make an announcement on Tuesday about the referendum. This is likely to mean Little will opt for one of four referendum options. The options were outlined in a Cabinet paper which was leaked to the National Party, and partially released on Sunday. 

The referendum will be held at the 2020 election.

National’s drugs spokesperson Paula Bennett said there were four options taken to Cabinet and revealed in the leaked paper.

The first was a “general question” that would not be accompanied by a legal framework or other policy; the second option would refer to a “specific policy framework”, while the third option would refer to draft legislation, but would not force Parliament to enact that legislation. 

Parliament cannot bind future Parliaments, meaning any of these three options would rely on the Parliament elected in 2020 to enact the will of the referendum. 

The fourth option would enact legislation before the referendum which would be triggered by a “yes” vote, making it the only option that is binding. 

Bennett said the Cabinet paper recommended that the legal age for smoking cannabis should be 20, whilst also saying that smoking before 25 was detrimental to brain development. 

Ardern pushed all questions on the referendum back to Little, but seemed to distance herself and her Government from endorsing a position on the referendum. 

“You’ll see from the confidence and supply agreement [with the Green Party] this is about the Government putting forward a question for the New Zealand public. This is not about formulating a Government position,” she said. 

No inquiry into source of leak

Meanwhile Ardern also played down concerns about the leak, saying she did not believe it came from Cabinet.

“Keep in mind that when we have Cabinet papers they are circulated beyond Cabinet ministers,” she said. 

Ministerial services and other staffers also handle Cabinet papers. 

Ardern said she would not be willing to launch an inquiry. 

“Yes we take the issue seriously, not willing to spend too much resource pursuing an issue I might not be able to determine,” she said. 

The leak comes on the back of another embarrassing report. 

Politik reported on Monday that Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage had been described by a senior Minister as “too dogmatic”, and possibly in line to be reshuffled out of that role after the Budget. 

Sage ruffled feathers after rejecting a request by Oceania Gold Company to buy land needed to expand its operations in Waihi, after the proposal had been approved by LINZ and Associate Finance Minister David Clark. When one minister rejects the proposal it cannot proceed. 

Both the leaks appear to have been planted to discredit the Greens.

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