Denver will become the first city in the United States to decriminalise "magic mushrooms", based on final unofficial results of a ballot initiative about the hallucinogenic drug.
The initiative called for Colorado's capital to end the imposition of criminal penalties for individuals at least 21 years of age for using or possessing psilocybin, widely known as magic mushrooms.
The Denver Elections Divisions will certify results on May 16, but the final count on its website on Wednesday was 50.56 per cent of voters in favour and 49.44 per cent against.
If the initiative is approved, psilocybin would still remain illegal under both Colorado and federal law.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration classifies the drug as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning the agency has deemed that it has a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical application.
Decriminalize Denver, the group behind Tuesday's ballot question, said psilocybin had a wide range of medical benefits.
It has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and to help in treating tobacco, alcohol and opioid addictions, and with alleviating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the organisation.
Some opponents worry that if passed, the initiative would increase the city's image as a haven for drugs, given that Colorado was one of the first states to legalise possession and sale of marijuana for adult recreational use.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann opposed the initiative. But if the measure were approved, she supported formation of a review panel under the initiative to study the effects of the drug and the impact the ordinance would have on Denver, spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said.
Denver residents first voted to decriminalise cannabis possession in 2004, years before Colorado voters ultimately approved its legalisation statewide for recreational purposes, establishing a full regulatory framework to license retail outlets and collect sales taxes on cannabis products.
Winston Peters calls for more police to ensure people still obey the law if cannabis vote doesn't pass
Winston Peters believes more police will be needed if New Zealanders vote against legalising recreational cannabis at the 2020 election.
Peters, leader of NZ First, has said in the past he doesn't personally support legalising cannabis, but his party formed a coalition Government with Labour and the Greens - the latter who were promised a referendum.
"Of course we have our views on it, but we don't think that 120 Parliamentarians are more capable of making a decision on this matter than the public and adult voters of this country," Peters said.
The Government announced on Tuesday that New Zealanders will vote on legislation to legalise recreational use of the drug at the 2020 election, rather than a 'self-executing' referendum that was preferred by the Greens.
A Newshub poll found 65 percent of people agreed with legalising recreational cannabis use. But Peters was asked what the ramifications would be if New Zealanders decided against legalising it.
He said more police would be needed to ensure people still obey the law, telling Magic Talk: "We will need more than the 1800 police that we're getting now to ensure that the law is followed in this country."
The Government announced in August last year that 1800 new police officers and 485 support staff would come into force by 2020, with 200 to focus on preventing gang-related and drug-related crime.
Last month National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Government was well-behind on its target, despite Police Minister Stuart Nash insisting the Government would reach the 1800 mark.
Nash told RNZ: "If we can't do it in three years, then we will still deliver 1800. We've got one of the lowest levels of attrition in the state sector, but we've still got around 400 to 500 officers leaving each year."
Bishop said while he supported more police, the Government needed to be "realistic", adding: "New Zealanders deserve a Government that is open, transparent and sets achievable goals."
Peters said: "We're getting 1800 more frontline police because they're desperately needed plus over 450 backup staff as well."
Will police discretion help?
Peters was asked if the Government was being too soft on drugs, pointing to changes proposed in the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill that would allow "police discretion" - giving them the freedom to decide if prosecution is necessary.
"The reality is, what we want to do is ensure that the police get the drug pusher not the user, because in the end, the person pushing that sort of degradation in our society is one we want to get out," Peters said.
"We want the police to say, 'Well, maybe this user here will be better getting treatment rather than us putting him behind the slammer and missing the man or woman that's been providing him those drugs'."
Under the proposed legislation, the two main synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) would be reclassified as Class A, and police would have more search and seizure powers to crackdown on suppliers.
But those caught possessing and using drugs would face lighter charges, so police would not prosecute for possession and personal use would merit a "therapeutic" approach.
Peters told Magic Talk: "We saw a whole lot of young people die from synthetic drugs that were killing people in serious numbers, so we reclassified them to make them Class A."
The Government has announced details of how New Zealanders will choose whether or not to legalise and regulate cannabis, said Justice Minister Andrew Little.
The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals. The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.
“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.
“That draft legislation will include:
“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.
“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.
“We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision.
View the paper considered by Cabinet below.
A leaked document has revealed the forms of cannabis the Government's been considering covering in the referendum on legalising recreational cannabis.
Justice Minister Andrew Little is set to reveal plans for the cannabis referendum today.
The leaked document considers legalising three forms of cannabis:
The Cabinet document warns the convenient consumption of edibles "may encourage cannabis use", but that when cannabis is smoked it "harms nearly every organ in the body."
"There is a tension between enabling alternative ways to consume cannabis and providing easy, convenient consumption methods that may encourage cannabis use," the document reads.
"Therefore, I recommend that commercial manufacture of cannabis-infused products be permitted with strict regulations, such as strict labelling and packaging requirements."
The Government has agreed on the shape of the referendum on personal cannabis use, and will make an announcement tomorrow.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cabinet on Monday had made its decision on the referendum, including on the wording of the question.
She said some small drafting matters had to be finalised and Justice Minister Andrew Little would make an announcement on Tuesday.
Ardern would not be drawn on how exactly the referendum would be "binding" as the Government had previously promised.
The National Party told media on Sunday it had been leaked a cabinet paper on the issue featuring four different options under consideration.
Only one of these options involved passing a law ahead of the referendum that would be activated if a "yes" vote won - making only one option truly "binding".
This was despite Little promising a binding referendum last December.
The Green Party won the referendum on the legalisation of personal use of cannabis during coalition negotiations.
The referendum is due to be held alongside the 2020 election.
Polling on the issue has shown mixed results depending on how the question is worded.
A Curia poll commissioned by Family First found just 18 per cent of respondents supported "lifting restrictions" on cannabis for recreational use. This question did not present a simple yes/no option as a referendum is likely to do however, and was preceded by many questions that suggested big tobacco were pushing for legalisation of cannabis and that the drug was dangerous.
An earlier poll by the same company commissioned by the New Zealand Drug Foundation found that 65 per cent of people supported it being either legalised or decriminalised for personal use.
A legal age of 20 for purchasing cannabis for recreational use has been proposed in a Cabinet paper to be discussed by senior Government ministers tomorrow.
A paper from Justice Minister Andrew Little, which contains four options for a referendum at the 2020 election on the decriminalisation of cannabis for recreational use, has been leaked by the National Party today.
Among the proposals contained in the paper is that the age at which cannabis could be purchased legally for personal use should be 20.
That struck a balance between deterring young people from using it and preventing people buying cannabis from a black market, the paper said.
But Paula Bennett, National's drug law reform spokeswoman, said the Cabinet paper was clear that smoking cannabis under the age of 25 was bad for brain development.
"The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25 years old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services," Bennett said.
Ross Bell, executive director of the National Drug Foundation, said the legal age could be one of the main sticking points.
"There are good arguments either side of this, whether it should be 18 or 20. I guess they will try to find a consensus view.
"Good public health principles would be that you want to restrict access, so that would say that 20 could be the right age.
"On the flipside of that, anything under that age is going to be illicit. That would mean that anyone under the age of 20, just as they are now, would have to buy their cannabis from the black market, so they actually miss out on any of those good public health protections," Bell said.
He also pointed out that New Zealand's youth justice system was up to the age of 18 so those aged between 18 and 20 wouldn't benefit from the protections that offered either.
Little's office today referred media inquiries to the office of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern but it declined to comment on the leak.
Chloe Swarbrick, the Green Party's drug law reform spokeswoman, said in a tweet the leaked paper was out of date.
The referendum to legalise cannabis for personal use is part of the Labour-Greens confidence and supply agreement.
A poll in January showed 60 per cent of New Zealanders would vote to legalise cannabis for personal use in a referendum, 24 per cent would vote 'no', and 16 per cent had no opinion.
Almost two in three people surveyed supported a regulated market with licensed operators, while 39 per cent thought that a legal purchase age of 18 would be best.
The four options for the proposed 2020 referendum, according to the leaked paper, are:
Bennett claimed the Coalition Government had been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they would choose had been holding up the process.
"From my reading of the Cabinet paper they are highly unlikely to go with option one but I believe it's option one that New Zealand First are pushing.
"The way the Cabinet paper is written, you can kind of tell that Andrew Little probably leans to option four, so it wouldn't surprise me if they land on option three."
She said National would be pushing hard for option four.
"We believe that legislation has got time and should go through the House because of the robustness of that against public submissions. It lets select committee really get into the detail of that proposed legislation and for that to be public and everybody to get that level of scrutiny."