But Ardern said Labour had an “obligation” to respect the outcome of the cannabis referendum in 2020, in which 50.7 percent of New Zealanders voted against legalisation.
“There is already a very strong health approach when it comes to people who are addicted or use particular drugs. In fact when we were in Government, I put an enormous amount of effort into rehabilitation in our prison system,” Collins said at the time.
“But ultimately, we cannot take a soft on drugs approach.”
A 2020 Cabinet paper prepared for the Government ahead of the cannabis referendum said decriminalising use, possession and private cultivation of cannabis would be “particularly significant” for Māori, who have borne the brunt of prosecutions.
But Newshub revealed in May that since 2019, the only material the Ministry of Justice has provided the Government regarding decriminalising cannabis amounted to just five bullet-points in a Cabinet paper.
“We had a referendum last year; it gave a very clear signal that New Zealanders were not ready for a greater level of liberalisation,” Health Minister Andrew Little told Newshub at the time.
“We are, however, working to make sure the way our recreational drugs regime operates is on a health-basis, not a criminalising basis, and we are striving to achieve that.”
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who led the campaign to legalise cannabis in the lead-up to the election, said it was disappointing there was not more discussion about amending the Misuse of Drugs Act.
She said it was “something that was suggested by two reports that the Government commissioned”, referring to Turuki! Turuki! Moving Together, a report which recommended regulation of personal use of cannabis.
It came off the back of the 2018 Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry, which endorsed liberalisation, noting that “personal use of cannabis should be legalised and regulated”.