New Zealand's Cannabis Referendum is Rapidly Losing Support

Legalization advocates are beginning to lose hope that the proposed recreational will be passed, after opposition to the measure rose to 53% in September.

At the start of 2020 many predicted that New Zealand would legalize recreational cannabis use following its upcoming referendum, becoming the third major country to do so after Canada and Uruguay.

However, it's becoming increasingly likely that the ballot may fail as public backing for the measure has declined considerably during the coronavirus pandemic.

I think it's wrong that we're having to put something so complex and important to a referendum – that's the first mistake. Having said that, no one else was ever going to put cannabis on the table. As for whether we should decriminalise first as a stepping stone to legalisation, politically and pragmatically it may have been the correct step to take. But that's a political question – it certainly isn't the right thing to do. NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director, Ross Bell

In fact, a recent survey by Colmar Brunton found that the number of people opposing cannabis legalization has risen to 53%, while only 35% currently supported the proposed law.

This represents a significant decline for the marijuana legalization movement, which many have attributed to a public debate which has contained copious amounts of misinformation and "fake news".

A drug law reform spokesperson for the Greens Party, Chlöe Swarbrick, echoed these claims, saying that it had been challenging to change Kiwi's opinion of cannabis after a lifetime of following the rhetoric established by the US War on Drugs.

 "I have no regrets about fighting for the right thing to do, even though it is incredibly complicated and nuanced," Swarbrick said.

"I very strongly believe that the right thing to do was to advocate for legalisation, because that is the only way that you meaningfully cut to this issue inside a legal framework."

If the yes vote succeeds—and is subsequently approved by Parliament—then the proposed law would make it legal to citizens to both cultivate their own cannabis and purchase up to 14g per day from a licensed dealer.

Those who were most likely to oppose the legislation were found to be citizens aged 50 or older, while those most likely to support legalization were identified as people aged 18-24,  Labour and Green Party supporters, and individuals who identify as Maori.  

And according to the executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, Ross Bell, the government's current approach to cannabis prohibition has become outdated, necessitating a "different approach".

"We are convinced the law will protect public health much better than leaving cannabis in the hands of organised crime," Bell said.

"Cannabis does cause harm and we know particularly that harm falls heavily on young people. Why do we think that organised crime is better placed to manage cannabis?"

"The law we are voting on is all about protecting young people. One of the problems with prohibition is it criminalises people and it also puts up a barrier to people seeking help as it becomes a criminal issue."


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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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