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Cannabis advocates argue NZ government should disregard referendum results


Cannabis advocates in New Zealand are calling for Prime Minister Jacinta Arden to disregard the results of the cannabis referendum, as it is the “right thing to do.”

Cannabis advocate Damien Grant has called the New Zealand cannabis referendum “impractical” in a column last week, bringing light to the Kiwi’s still fighting for kush. Final results from the country’s October referendum showed 50.7% of voters voted “No” to cannabis law reform, while 48.4% of voters voted “Yes”. Results were separated by just 67,662 votes.

Grant’s column has criticised the actions of the Labour government and Prime Minister Jacinta Arden, arguing parliament has an obligation to do the right thing despite popular opinion. The cannabis advocate also compared the cannabis referendum the controversy around the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Bill, where homosexuality was decriminalised.

Advocates like criminologist Fiona Hutton and Awatea Mita have also called for the referendum results to be disregarded. Hutton is an associate professor at Victoria University who believes the government now needs to be courageous and start working on decriminalising cannabis

Mita is a staunch advocate for cannabis reform, arguing cannabis criminalisation disproportionately impacts Māori communities. Despite making up 16.5% of the population, Mairo people make up over 44% of those charged with low-level drug offences and 43% of those who receive drug convictions. 

If the New Zealand government were to ignore the referendum results, it wouldn’t be the first time. Over the past twenty-five years, the government has ignored the results from:

  • The 1996 firefighter reduction referendum
  • The 1997 minimum sentencing and hard labour referendum
  • The 1999 referendum (to reduce seats in parliaments from 120 to 99) 
  • The 2009 corporal punishment referendum
  • The 2012 state-owned utilities referendum

As Kiwi’s were only voting on a specific piece of cannabis legislation (the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill) there is still a chance the government will decriminalise or legalise cannabis.

In a column written for Stuff, Grant wrote the following.

Moving to end out antiquated and largely unenforced cannabis laws will require political courage… but it would be the right thing to do and the Prime Minister knows it.

The results of New Zealand’s referendum come in stark contrast to those coming out of the 2020 US Election – where four states passed bills to fully legalise recreational cannabis.

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