New Zealanders prepare to vote on legalizing cannabis nationwide
New Zealand voters will vote on a nationwide referendum on Saturday to legalize the use and possession of cannabis by people aged 20 and over. If passed, this vote will make New Zealand the third country in the world to legalize cannabis nationally, after Uruguay and Canada.
The referendum, known as the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, would require the New Zealand Parliament to establish rules and regulations for the commercial production and sale of cannabis and cannabis products. The measure would also allow adults aged 20 or older to buy up to 14 grams of herbal cannabis per day. Home cultivation of up to four cannabis plants per household would also be permitted under this measure. Under current New Zealand law, adult use of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to three months in prison.
Last week, a group of leading New Zealand public health professionals expressed support for the legalization referendum in an editorial published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. Professor Michael Baker of the University of Otago, one of the health experts who has helped guide New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the country is a world leader in the 'use of “innovative and evidence-based approaches” to address complex public health issues.
“It's time to take the same new approach to cannabis law and put public health at the forefront,” said Baker. Our model of cannabis prohibition is outdated and not working. Supporting legislative reform is to reframe cannabis consumption as a health issue, which opens up new and more effective avenues to minimize the harms of this drug ”.
Polls show close race
Opinion polls on the referendum have revealed a close race, with a poll released last month showing 49,5% of those polled were in favor of legalization and 49,5% against, while 1% did not give no opinion.
Paul Manning, Managing Director of Helius Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that has commissioned a survey on the legalization of recreational cannabis in New Zealand for two years, suggested that the gap is very tight.
The 'yes' has strengthened slightly, but it is still very tight, with public opinion expected to continue to change until the polls close, ”Manning said. The quality of the debate and the strength of the arguments for or against legalization over the next two weeks are now crucial, ”Manning added. “The participation of 18 to 34 year olds will also be essential. Young adults are the most fervent supporters of the bill, but they are also the ones with the fewest registrations and voting intentions ”.
Andrew Geddis, professor of public law at the University of Otago, said the legalization of cannabis has never received massive support in New Zealand.
“Those who wanted to see a favorable vote had to convince a reasonable number of people that their previous prohibitionist views were wrong", did he declare. “So far it looks like they haven't been able to do it and time is really running out”.
Former Labor Prime Minister Helen Clark, who now chairs the Global Commission on Drug Policy, launched an advertising campaign calling on voters to support the referendum on legalization.
“I think there's everything to play with with this one,” said Helen Clark. “If you've averaged all the polls it's a tough race but it's doable.”
Early voting for the October 17 election has already started. The vote was originally scheduled for September 19, but it has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.