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New Zealand Won’t Be Legalizing Recreational Cannabis, According to Provisional Referendum Results

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Oct 30, 2020   
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The campaign to legalize recreational cannabis in New Zealand appears to have lost.

According to preliminary results from the country’s recent referendum on the issue, 46.1 percent of New Zealanders (1,114,485 people) voted to legalize cannabis, while 53.1 percent (1,281,818 people) voted not to.

The result isn’t final, as nearly 500,000 “special” votes have yet to be counted, but it appears unlikely the projected outcome will change.

The Reefer-endum, rejected?

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

The bill proposed a regulated recreational cannabis market, which could initially offer up to 14 grams of dried cannabis per day to anyone aged 20 or older from licensed retailers.

This bill was then put to the people of New Zealand in a referendum on October 17, which took place parallel to the national election.

All but the “special” ballots – those cast by overseas voters, prisoners, and people in the military – have been counted.

It is possible that the votes from these special ballots could overturn the outcome, but the ballots would have to be in favor of the legalization bill by about a 70 percent margin, which is thought to be an unlikely result.

“The referendum is on a knife’s edge,” Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick, who helped draft the initial bill and campaigned for legalization, wrote on social media. “If 67% of the half a million specials are in favour of legal regulation, we win.”

The final result, including the votes from the special ballots, will not be confirmed until November 6.

Even if the final result does show a majority support for legalization, it won’t be legally binding. No matter the outcome, the government will still debate the issue before any policy can be passed.

New Zealand launched its medical cannabis framework this April. Via a prescription from their general practitioner, patients have since been able to access pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicines and dried products that can be vaporized. Smokable and edible forms are still prohibited.


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