The party you vote for can be added insurance for how you vote in the referendum to legalise cannabis for personal use.
The October 17 vote has become somewhat political because of the non-binding nature of the referendum and the various stances of the parties.
If there is a majority "yes" vote, Labour and the Greens have committed to passing the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which details the proposed framework for legalisation.
They would support the bill into law, and if the select committee process recommended any changes, the current controls in the bill would be kept as the bare minimum.
NZ First's support is not as concrete. If change was recommended or new evidence emerged during the committee process, it would consider those in light of the strength of the "yes" vote.
Translation: If new evidence against legalisation emerged and the vote passed by the smallest of margins, NZ First might withdraw support.
National and Act say they would introduce the bill, but it wouldn't progress further if that's what the committee recommended; National and Act would likely hold the majority on the committee under a National-Act Government.
So, a vote for Labour or the Greens - and NZ First to a lesser degree - could boost the chances of a "yes" vote translating to legalisation.
And if you vote "no", voting for National or Act might see the bill shut down even if there is a majority "yes" vote.
Key Q: It's not about liking or disliking cannabis
The key issue isn't how you feel about the merits or demerits of cannabis, but whether the proposed framework would reduce more harm than the status quo.
Most users don't experience health issues, so more use doesn't necessarily mean more harm.
Voters should consider how legalisation might affect the most vulnerable groups - young users and heavy users - and whether they might shift from the unregulated black market to a legal market with strict controls.
There is no concrete answer about what would happen.
Comprehensive research by an expert panel - led by the PM's chief science adviser Juliet Gerrard - found that legalisation had the potential to reduce harm, but whether that would transpire is unknown.
A best-case scenario is that users 20 or older switch to a legal market where they receive educational and harm-reduction information, can be confident of the ingredients in what they consume, and consume it in the safety of their homes or at specialised premises with host responsibility obligations.
A worst-case scenario is an increase in young users and daily users after the black market targets what the legal market can't supply: cheaper, more potent, and easier-to-access cannabis, including for people under 20.
Snapshot of cannabis use
Cannabis is widely used in New Zealand despite being illegal; 80 per cent of Kiwis try it by the age of 25, and the proportion of adults using it at least once in the past 12 months almost doubled from 8 per cent in 2011/12 to 15 per cent in 2018/19.
A report by Business and Economic Research Ltd (Berl) commissioned by the Ministry of Justice said that about 74 tonnes of cannabis is consumed every year by 557,000 users aged 15 and over - but more than 80 per cent is consumed by daily users.
Usage is highest among people of European ethnicity in their 20s, and is also disproportionately high among Māori aged 15 to 20.
And the poorest 20 per cent of the country consumes 40 per cent of the total, Berl says.
Legalising cannabis could help deprived communities whose incomes often rely on the black market; the bill includes a "social equity" clause that would see national production capped and shared fairly.
The bill also includes a clause so that one business can't contribute more than 20 per cent of national supply, nor could a business grow it as well as sell it in a retail shop. This is to minimise dominance of the market by big corporates, which has happened in overseas jurisdictions such as California.
Most vulnerable: Young users and heavy users
Cannabis is less harmful, in general, than legal substances alcohol or tobacco, according to the expert panel.
Most users don't have health issues, but about one in five do, with risk increasing for those who use early, often, and who use more potent cannabis.
Younger people are more likely to experience harm because the brain is still developing until around the age of 25.
Health issues include sleeping issues and anxiety. There is also a weak association between cannabis use and depression, and one in 10 who start using before they are 15 will develop psychosis by age 26.
The panel found little to no evidence of cannabis as a gateway drug, and legalisation could even reduce a person's exposure to other illicit drugs.
Social harms perhaps worse than health issues
"Criminalisation of cannabis use may cause more harm than cannabis use itself," said the panel, whose work has been nationally and internationally peer-reviewed.
Being caught with cannabis can see your liberty deprived if you're jailed, and it can affect more than just your education and work opportunities.
Recently Kiwibank told medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton that it will close her bank accounts because it believed she had been acting unlawfully.
Gerrard says the people affected by social harms are "disproportionately young, disproportionately male and disproportionately Māori" .
The panel didn't shy away from biases in the justice system, calling it "systemic racism"; Māori are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted of a cannabis-related crime.
The Drug Foundation says legalisation could reduce Māori cannabis convictions by up to 1279 per year.
"Legalisation has the potential to formally address some of the bias in the justice system by placing Māori on a substantively equal footing with other citizens regarding cannabis use," the panel said.
The proposal for legalisation - not a free for all
Those aged 20 and over could carry or buy up to 14g of cannabis (about 30 joints) a day, but they couldn't legally consume it anywhere except a private premises or a special cannabis cafe.
The location of these licensed premises would be worked out in consultation with local communities. Lighting up a joint in the street or next to a school would be as illegal as it currently is.
They could grow two plants at home, or up to four plants in a home with at least two 20+year-olds.
They couldn't buy online, and a ban on advertising would make it illegal to put a huge cannabis leaf on a shopfront or on a billboard by the motorway - though it's unclear how an advertising ban on social media platforms would be policed.
Cannabis-infused beverages, injectables, or products that included tobacco, alcohol or more harmful substances such as fentanyl would remain illegal. Edibles might be sold at a future date, but not in any way that would appeal to young people.
There are no specific provisions in the bill to protect heavy users, but general ones include a 15 per cent limit on THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) content, price controls, health information at the point of sale and host responsibility at cannabis cafes.
A new Cannabis Regulatory Authority, advised by an independent committee of experts, could require packaging to include ingredients, THC and CBD potency and harm-reduction messages.
It would be against the law to supply or sell it to a person under 20, or expose an underage person to cannabis smoke or vape.
Less punitive penalties than the status quo proposed
Under the current law, fresh or dried cannabis are illegal Class C drugs, meaning use/possession carries a potential three-month jail term and/or a $500 fine. This leaps to up to seven years' jail for growing it and eight years' jail for dealing it.
The penalties under the legal framework would be less punitive: A $100,000 fine for a business or two years' jail for an individual for unauthorised sale, a $3000 fine for supplying more than 14g of cannabis, and a $2000 fine (or up to three months' jail) for growing 10 or more plants.
There would be a $200 to $500 fine for possessing more than 14g of cannabis, or for smoking a joint in public.
Underage possession would be punishable with a $200 fine but no conviction, and the fine could be waived if the user underwent a health or education programme.
But selling to someone under 20 would be punishable by a fine up to $150,000 for a business, or four years' jail for an individual. Supplying someone underage could lead to a $5000 fine.
How cannabis is currently policed
The number of people charged with cannabis-related offences fell 59 per cent in the past decade - from 8191 people in 2010/11 to 3353 people in 2019/20.
Those charged with cannabis use/possession more than halved over the decade - from 5288 to 2110 people.
Of the 2528 people convicted of cannabis offences in 2019/20, three quarters were also convicted of other offences.
There were 591 people convicted of cannabis offences alone in 2019/20; 230 of them were convicted for cannabis use/possession, five of whom went to jail.
Arrest or conviction does not deter people from using. Research shows that 95 per cent of those arrested or convicted continue to use it at a similar or increased rate as before they were arrested.
A law change last year, described by some as default decriminalisation of drug use, has seen only about 11 per cent of all drug users encountered by police given a health referral.
The illegal status of cannabis is thought to deter problem users from seeking treatment, not only out of fear of prosecution but also social stigma.
The expert panel said that in 2012/13, one in 100 cannabis users had received help in the last year, and one in 25 people who wanted help did not get it.
"There is currently no or very minimal resource for treatment of cannabis-related harms, especially for young people, and availability of treatment ... varies widely across the country," the panel said.
"If legal, more people may seek help and more help could be available."
Boost to health services could help thousands - Berl
Revenue from a Government levy in a legal market would be ring-fenced for health services, though the value of the levy has not been set.
Based on current prices and a THC-related tax rate, Berl said legalisation could see $675 million put towards boosting health services.
Berl's modelling, based on what happened in US states where cannabis is legal, showed a spike of 30 per cent in cannabis consumed and 25 per cent more users if it was legalised here, which eventually dropped back to pre-legalisation levels.
The boost to health services, Berl says, would see the number of users with long-term health conditions drop by between 4600 and 5900, while those with mental health diagnoses would drop by between 6500 and 7800.
The fall in the number of people charged and jailed for cannabis offences would save the justice sector $11.4m a year over the medium-term.
Berl's model makes some grand assumptions including a legal market displacing two-thirds of the black market, and health services being both available and effective.
NZIER, for example, assumed that a legal market entirely replacing the black market would see only $490m a year in tax revenue.
The expert panel says the proposed legal framework in New Zealand most closely resembles Canada, where cannabis was legalised in 2018; 52 per cent of Canadian consumers accessed cannabis legally in 2019.
Canada has seen a moderate increase in occasional adult use. Daily or almost daily use went up among those aged over 65, and there has been no reported change in those aged 15-24 for occasional or frequent use.
The panel said legalisation hasn't been in place long enough overseas to show any trends beyond short-term ones.
A photo finish?
Recent polls have shown that the October 17 vote will be close.
The "yes" vote tended to be higher up until about a year ago, when the "no" vote took the lead.
A Research New Zealand poll in March had 43 per cent in favour of legalising cannabis, with 33 per cent opposed. But in August that had changed to 39 per cent in favour and 46 per cent opposed.
Polling of 1200 people from September 17 to 21 by Curia Market Research has 36 per cent in favour and 49 per cent against legalisation.
The Curia data showed that a "yes" voter tended to be under 30, a student, Māori, a Wellingtonian, or a Labour or Green supporter. A strong "no" voter tended to be older than 45, European, retired, living in a least deprived area, or a National supporter.
A Horizon Research poll at the start of this month found the race neck-and-neck, with 49.5 per cent for and 49.5 per cent against.
From $60,000 a year to a burden on the taxpayer
Regular cannabis user Kyle Denning, 36, has been living in fear of police ever since he saw friends get busted with a "tinny each" of cannabis when he was 18.
"Many years later I was a member of Auckland Daktory and got pulled over leaving the club, and got a warning for my grinder after my car was searched."
To avoid going through a supplier, he decided to grow his own but that backfired when police visited his west Auckland property in 2017 for an unrelated reason.
"They obviously smelt something, and it was like Christmas time for them going into my garage," Denning told the Herald.
They found 39 plants - half of them flowering - which Denning said were only for his and his ex-wife's use.
He was convicted of growing cannabis and sentenced to three months' community detention, 150 hours of community service and 12 months of intensive supervision.
"That was my IT career. I had worked as a senior desktop engineer for 15 years. Nobody wanted me because of my conviction."
He said he is among the 80 per cent of cannabis users who haven't had any harmful health effects.
"The most harmful effect it's had on my life is the criminal side of things. I just feel like my talents have just gone to waste. I went from $60,000 a year to a benefit - a burden on the taxpayer rather than contributing to society.
"It turned my life upside down. I had to apply for my insurance company to keep my insurance because a conviction can affect you getting insurance. It stops me from travelling overseas. It stops me from applying for jobs I want.
"I spent three years trying to find work before deciding I had to try something different. Now I'm an apprentice builder."
He said he used cannabis mostly for medicinal reasons, but the current law around medicinal use doesn't accommodate what he uses it for.
"It stops my recurrence of migraines, it helps my chronic back pain and my insomnia.
"We're all rooting for it to be legal recreationally because it means people will be able to use it medicinally without having to go through all the red tape with the doctor."
He said he missed his IT work but accepts the consequences of his actions.
"I chose to break the law knowing it was illegal - despite the fact I don't agree with it. I made the choice and nobody else did that for me. I own this and have moved on with my life."
At a glance
• The referendum question is: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill? This is a draft bill detailing the proposed framework for a legal market for personal cannabis use.
• The key issue is whether the proposed legal regime would reduce cannabis-related harm more than the status quo.
• The referendum is non-binding. All parties say a "yes" vote would send the bill to select committee, but only Labour and the Greens have guaranteed supporting passing the bill into law.
• Users would know what they are consuming and have the benefit of education and harm-reduction messaging.
• It would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into health services, which problem users currently avoid out of fear of prosecution.
• It would quash social harms of criminalisation, which hit Māori hardest and include fewer educational and job opportunities.
• It could create industry in deprived communities, which are ensured an equitable chance of participating in a legal market.
• It would normalise cannabis, which could increase use among vulnerable groups - youth users and heavy users.
• A legal market protecting young people would incentivise the black market into targeting youth.
• It would also push the black market to offer cheaper, stronger, easier-to-access products than the legal market.
• A ban on advertising would be difficult to enforce on social media platforms.