Referendum results: Cannabis legalisation loses narrow vote

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The preliminary results of New Zealand’s cannabis referendum were released at 2pm Friday.

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The preliminary results of New Zealand’s cannabis referendum were released at 2pm Friday.

New Zealand has voted against legalising cannabis.

The preliminary results released at 2pm on Friday show 53.1 per cent of votes against the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, and 46.1 per cent in support.

The results are still preliminary. There are still 480,000 special votes, around 17 per cent of the total votes, which will not be released until Friday November 6.

Special votes could potentially change the result, but the margin may be too large to overcome.

Voters in the cannabis referendum were asked a yes or no question: “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?”

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The proposed Bill would have allowed people over the age of 20 to buy cannabis from licensed outlets, up to a maximum of 14 grams per day.

People would have been able to grow up to two plants, with a maximum of four plants per household.

The referendum was not binding, but the governing Labour Party had committed to introducing and supporting the Bill in parliament if voters supported it at the referendum.

The cannabis referendum was a bottom line in an agreement between Labour and the Greens in 2017.

Richard Vogel/AP

The cannabis referendum was a bottom line in an agreement between Labour and the Greens in 2017.

The referendum was part of a confidence and supply agreement between the Green Party and Labour Party after the 2017 election.

Legalising or decriminalising cannabis had long been an official policy of the Green Party, but the party did not tend to actively campaign on the issue prior to 2016.

A referendum on cannabis would normally be a hot-button issue, but the campaign often found itself overshadowed by Covid-19 and the general election, as well as a referendum on euthanasia which ran at the same time.

Labour party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was criticised on the campaign trail for refusing to say which way she was voting in the referendum.

She has pushed for medicinal cannabis both in Government and Opposition, and supports drug testing at festivals. In the second leader’s debate, she admitted to using cannabis herself “a long time ago.”

Ardern’s opponent, National Party leader Judith Collins, is staunchly opposed to legalising cannabis for personal use and instructed her caucus to vote against the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill at the referendum.

Chloe Swarbrick’s surprise win in Auckland Central was seen as a sign of hope for supporters of legalisation.

Robert Kitchin/Stuff

Chloe Swarbrick’s surprise win in Auckland Central was seen as a sign of hope for supporters of legalisation.

Groups both for and against legalisation poured huge amounts of time, energy and money into their campaigns.

The anti-legalisation lobbyist group was Say Nope to Dope, a collection of anti-drug groups and religious organisations ranging from the NZ Christian Network to the Church of Scientology.

The group was backed by the US-based Smart Approached to Marijuana lobby, though the group said there was no financial assistance.

The largest campaign on the pro-legalisation side was the NZ Drug Foundation’s ‘On Our Terms’ campaign, which featured a number of high-profile endorsements including Dr Hinemoa Elder and former PM Helen Clark.

Abe Gray, a longtime cannabis activist and protestor, was a TOP candidate and led the Yes We Cannabis campaign.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Abe Gray, a longtime cannabis activist and protestor, was a TOP candidate and led the Yes We Cannabis campaign.

The Helen Clark Foundation was also actively campaigning for the Yes vote and commissioned several polls in the lead-up to the vote.

UFC fighter Israel Adesanya, actor Sam Neill, and musician Tiki Taane were also among celebrities who endorsed the Yes vote.

Other pro-legalisation campaigns included Make it Legal NZ, backed by former Green MPs Meteria Turei and Nándor Tánczos, and Yes We Cannabis, backed by cannabis campaigner and TOP candidate Abe Gray.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick was by far the most prominent campaigner for legalisation among sitting MPs.

Her surprise victory in the Auckland Central electorate was seen by many supporters as reason to hope that high youth turnout could swing the referendum.



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