New Zealand sets cannabis legalisation referendum for 2020 General Election

International News

New Zealand’s Government has set the date for its promised referendum on legalising cannabis for the 2020 General Election.

The referendum was among the promises made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party in a 2017 agreement that led to a coalition government with the Green and NZ First parties. The coalition ended the nine-year rule of the conservative National Party.

Earlier this year Ardern said a referendum would take place by the end of 2020, while a poll showed that 76% of New Zealanders support some form of legalisation.

Earlier this month, parliament passed a law that means terminally ill patients would no longer be punished for using cannabis.

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the decision: “The Cabinet decision is that it (the referendum) will be held at the 2020 general election, the agreement is that it will be binding.”

A “yes” vote would make New Zealand the first Asia Pacific country to allow recreational use of marijuana in a region where it is widely prohibited.

Chloe Swarbrick, the Green Party’s spokesperson on drug law reform, said: “We’ve had countless opinion polls for decades now, confirming New Zealanders are positively well ahead of political action on the issue of cannabis law reform.

“This binding referendum presents an opportunity to have the will of the people trigger meaningful legislative change,” she said.

The Coalition Referendum Coalition welcomed the news, saying that holding the referendum alongside the General Election would “maximise turnout”, but expressed disappointment that the exact question to be asked is yet to be clarified.

Campaign Manager Sandra Murray said: “Our coalition reiterates our preference for a two-part question that asks firstly whether people support adults being able to possess and grow cannabis for personal use, and secondly whether they support adults being able to buy cannabis from licensed premises. This could be in the form of a modular bill which allows one or both divisions to be passed depending on the outcome of the referendum.”

According to the NZ Drug Foundation, cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand. It says that “by the age of 21, 80% of New Zealanders have tried cannabis at least once” and that 10% ‘developed a pattern of heavy use’”.

National Party leader Simon Bridges says legalising cannabis would normalise the use of such drugs and sends the wrong message to New Zealanders, and claims Ardern’s government is using the referendum to distract voters in the 2020 polls.