Former New Zealand PM backs cannabis legalisation but polls turn upside down amid ‘vacuum of information’

International News

The foundation founded by the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, has backed the legalisation of cannabis use after releasing a report that shows the illicit market in the country is “absolutely enormous”.

The Helen Clark Foundation released a report on Tuesday saying that prohibition was only producing harmful societal results.

Clark said: “Trying to ban the use of a drug like cannabis just doesn’t work. In our own country, it can blight people’s lives for a long time if they end up with a conviction, yet the evidence shows that up to 80% of us will use it at some point.”

Foundation executive director Kathy Errington told Newshub: “We have no way of regulating how strong cannabis is, how old people are who purchase it. But we’ve got an absolutely enormous illegal market.

“It’s really hard to educate people about how to do something safely if that thing is a crime. You’ve seen that in the past with anti-HIV campaigns in the 1980s; it made it very hard when the thing you needed to talk about was illegal.”

The Foundation also advocates the expungement of all minor criminal convictions for cannabis.

“If we do pass the referendum and we decide this shouldn’t be a crime it doesn’t make any sense to keep punishing people for something that we’ve all agreed is now no longer a crime,” said Errington.

A referendum was among the promises made by present Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party in a 2017 agreement that led to a coalition government with the Green and NZ First parties. In 2018 Ardern said a referendum would take place alongside the next general election, which will be held on 21 November 2020 or earlier.

In December, parliament passed a law that means terminally ill patients would no longer be punished for using cannabis.

In October 2018 a poll showed that 76% of New Zealanders support some form of legalisation.

However, according to Horizon Research, polling shows support has fallen from 60% in November, to 52% in April, to just 39% in August. The number of adults against legalising the personal use of cannabis has nearly doubled since November, rising from 24 percent to 47 percent.

Paul Manning, executive director of Helius Therapeutics, says he’s not surprised New Zealand is turning against legalisation as key messages from cannabis proponents are not getting through.

“On the current trajectory, the referendum is heading for certain defeat,” he said. “A vacuum of information in recent months has been filled by fear. This is the first set of comparable independent surveys, conducted by the same research company, and the downward trend is staggering. Those pushing for liberalisation will be particularly alarmed to see the substantial drop-off in support, particularly from Green Party voters and younger Kiwis.”

The number of Green Party voters in favour of legalising cannabis for personal use has fallen the most according to Horizon, from 83 percent in April to 64 percent this month. Labour Party supporters in favour have fallen from 63 percent in April to 46 percent.

At the same time, National Party supporters against legalising cannabis for personal use have risen from less than half to nearly two-thirds. In November 48 percent of National voters were against, rising to 60 percent in April and 64 percent now.

The Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell told Newshub in June the Government needs to get involved in the education campaign as there’s currently a lot of lies spreading about the drug.

“At the moment there is a vacuum and that vacuum is being filled by myth and misinformation and so the Government does actually have a responsibility to get facts and figures out there.”

Horizon’s poll surveyed 1003 people on August 3 to 4. “At a 95 percent confidence level, the maximum margin of error is ±3.1 percent,” according to Newshub.

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