New Zealand Voters May Legalize Marijuana on Saturday
This Saturday New Zealand voters will have the opportunity to pass the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which would legalize the purchase, possession and use of marijuana for those 20 and older. The measure would require the New Zealand Parliament to establish rules and regulations for the legal sale of marijuana and marijuana products such as edibles. The measure would also permit adults at least 20 years old to purchase up to 14 grams of herbal cannabis per day, and cultivate up to four plants at home.
Under current law the possession of even a miniscule amount of marijuana can result in jail time of up to three months.
As noted by High Times, last week a group of New Zealand’s leading public health professionals expressed their 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 helped guide New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the country is a world leader in using “innovative and evidence-informed approaches” to addressing complicated public health issues.
“It’s time to take the same fresh approach to cannabis law and put public health first,” Baker said.
“Our prohibition model for cannabis is outdated and doesn’t work,” Baker added. “Supporting law reform is about reframing cannabis use as a health issue which opens up new, more effective ways of minimizing harms caused by this drug.”
Public opinion polling on the referendum has revealed a tight race, with one survey released last month showing that 49.5% of respondents were in favor of legalization and 49.5% were against, while 1% gave no opinion.
Paul Manning, chief executive of Helius Therapeutics, says the race is close:
“The ‘yes’ vote has firmed up slightly, but it’s still looking very close, with public opinion set to keep shifting right up until voting closes,” Manning said.
“The quality of debate and the strength of arguments for or against legalisation in the next two weeks are now critical,” Manning added. “Turn-out of 18- to 34-year-olds will also be key. Young adults are the strongest supporters of the bill, but they also have the lowest registration and intention to vote.”
Andrew Geddis, a public law professor at the University of Otago, says:
“Those wanting to see a yes vote had to convince a reasonable number of people that their previous prohibitionist views were mistaken,” he said. “At the moment, it doesn’t look like they have been able to do so and time really is running out.”
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark of the Labour Party, who now serves as the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, launched a publicity campaign calling on voters to support the legalization referendum.
“I think there’s everything to play for with this one,” said Clark. “If you averaged out all the polls, it’s a tough race but it’s doable.”
Early voting for the October 17 election has already begun.