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Cannabis referendum serious for industry

Cannabis referendum serious for industry

Road Transport Forum News

 April 2020    RTF News

When you head to the ballotbox on September 19, you aren't just going to be voting in a general election….you will also be asked to vote on two binding referendums that could have far reaching consequences for our community.

The first is around the question of euthanasia – specifically do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force? – the Act being the legislation that gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying.

Parliament has already passed the End of Life Choice Act 2019, but it will only come into force if a majority vote 'Yes' in the referendum.

The second referendum – and the one the Road Transport Forum has more professional interest in – is around the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

Unlike the referendum on euthanasia, the recreational cannabis referendum asks voters to base their vote purely on draft legislation – the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

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When you head to the ballotbox on September 19, you aren't just going to be voting in a general election….you will also be asked to vote on two binding referendums that could have far reaching consequences for our community.
The first is around the question of euthanasia – specifically do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force? – the Act being the legislation that gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying.
Parliament has already passed the End of Life Choice Act 2019, but it will only come into force if a majority vote 'Yes' in the referendum.
The second referendum – and the one the Road Transport Forum has more professional interest in – is around the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
Unlike the referendum on euthanasia, the recreational cannabis referendum asks voters to base their vote purely on draft legislation – the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
This is a key difference between the two plebiscites and something of very serious concern to RTF. The End of Life Choice Act has been through the full parliamentary process and has been scrutinised and amended through public consultation. The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, on the other hand, has had none of this and is not even in a state where it could be introduced to Parliament.
The Bill's status is as a work-in-progress draft, designed to simply indicate the likely framework and core legislative components of a future Bill. Frankly, it looks a bit like a copy and paste job at this stage. I don't think, for such an important decision, that is good enough. New Zealanders deserve to know exactly what they are voting for.
One of RTF's biggest concerns is around the broad health and safety implications of a 'yes' vote. It doesn't fill us with any confidence that Minister of Justice Andrew Little has said that the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment wouldn't be investigated until after the referendum vote. In other words, vote first and see what happens later!
Again, that's not good enough. Strict health and safety legislation binds employers and anyone who is a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) to strict liability around appropriate workplace health and safety measures. Heavy fines and even prison sentences can result from inadequate safety provisions.
I just do not think it is fair to ask NZers to vote on something that could have major implications under the Health and Safety at Work Act, yet to not have specific information on exactly what the correlation will be.
Currently, there is no practical way for employers to test drug impairment, and no discussion on the impact that the proposed Bill will have on other safety-focused legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Land Transport Act. How then can road freight business owners and their directors judge the consequences of a 'yes' vote on September 19?
The safety implications for the road transport industry carry over to the safety of our roads, of course. We already know that the number of people being killed by drug-impaired drivers on NZ roads is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit.
Although the Government has told us that they will be instituting roadside saliva-based drug testing sometime in 2021, there is still no real way to test for impairment to get drugged drivers off the road. It is also unclear as to how this will relate to the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill.
The casualness with which this Government is approaching these issues and the referendum generally, is of major concern to RTF. There is just not enough certainty around the implications of a binding 'yes' vote and how that will affect our industry.
That doesn't mean RTF is unwilling to engage on the issue, however. While polls have the 'no' vote seemingly in a strong position, there is a long way to go and I will make sure we take every opportunity to discuss our concerns with Government and advocate for a safety-first approach if the legalisation of recreational cannabis does indeed take place.


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