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New Zealand Narrowly Rejects Cannabis Legalization

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Nov 06, 2020   
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The campaign to legalize recreational, adult-use cannabis in New Zealand has lost.

According to the final results from the country’s referendum on the issue, 48.4 percent of voters (1,406,973) supported the legalization policy, while 50.7 percent (1,474,635) did not.

And so, by a narrow margin of 67,662 votes, the “no campaign” has won the referendum.

Up in smoke

The first round of results from the recent referendum were announced last Friday, October 30. From those preliminary votes, it appeared that the electorate had ultimately rejected the legalization proposal; 46.1 percent of voters were for legal adult-use cannabis, 53.1 percent were opposed.

But those votes did not include nearly 500,000 “special” ballots, which were cast by citizens living abroad, those in prison, and others with special circumstances.

Once those votes were accounted for, the balance of opinion did tip slightly, but not enough to overcome the projected outcome.

The hopes of many “yes campaigners” may have been dashed, but others are still determined to hold the country’s government to account on drug policies.

“Based on how close the result is, a change to cannabis law should not be ruled out,” Tuari Potiki, chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, said in a statement.

“The close result shows an unprecedented level of support for change in some form,” he added. “Doing nothing is not an option for the Government.”

What was lost?

After months of deliberation in New Zealand’s parliament, a cannabis legalization bill was finally agreed upon by ministers and government officials back in May.

The bill proposed a regulated recreational cannabis market that could initially offer up to 14 grams (half an ounce) of dried cannabis per day to anyone aged 20 or older from licensed retailers. A cap would also have been put in place to limit the amount of cannabis such businesses could sell, and a proposed cannabis tax would have funded services to reduce cannabis harm.

Although this recreational market was ultimately rejected by New Zealand’s voters, the country did just launch its medical cannabis framework this April. Via a prescription from their general practitioner, patients are now able to access pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicines and dried products that can be vaporized. But smokable and edible forms are still prohibited.


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