A "community cannabis licensing trust" could be a viable model for selling cannabis if its use was legalised, a researcher believes.
Massey University is conducting the research, which looks at how alcohol licensing trusts work and whether their use could translate to a different substance.
Lead researcher Marta Rychert said a community cannabis trust would follow in the footsteps of alcohol licensing trusts that were seen in West Auckland and Invercargill.
Rychert said communities could decide in a local vote if they wanted a trust to be responsible for meeting the demand for cannabis in their district.
Off-license cannabis dispensaries would be operated by the trust, with all revenue from the sale of cannabis to be spent for the benefit of the community, she said.
Communities would then elect board members to serve on the trust and ensure it met its statutory obligations.
"We have this natural experiment with alcohol trusts, so it's good to learn from that before we think how this could be applied to cannabis," Rychert said.
The model could be applied to avoid a profit-driven cannabis market, she said.
Establishing requirements to distribute profits back to the community could suppress the commercial incentive by removing financial obligations to shareholders and private owners.
"There are problems with the commercial-driven market so that's why we are looking for alternatives for New Zealand."
In the United States, profit-driven markets had increased drug use through lower prices and higher potency products, she said.
A referendum on legalising marijuana was part of the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens. However, no date is yet set for a referendum.
Rychert it was important that New Zealanders had an understanding of different options for cannabis legalisation before they voted.
It was "critical" people knew what they were deciding on the day of the referendum as it would have huge implications for how access would be regulated, she said.
NORML president Chris Fowlie said using the community trusts model for cannabis would be a great idea. "The distribution is really where you influence whether something is done in a responsible way and this also raises money for the community."
Researching an existing model was helpful, as people knew what the trusts were and could understand how they could work for the cannabis market, he said.
"It's really important the referendum is based on facts and evidence and we need those studies to be available or just a part of the conversation."
Research for the study was underway and Rychert was looking for people to complete a survey looking at how satisfied they are with the alcohol trusts model.