Legalising Cannabis: New Zealand’s Referendum Setback Isn’t the End

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Legalise cannabis

Cannabis advocates across the globe were left gobsmacked last Friday, when the preliminary results of New Zealand’s national cannabis referendum turned up a vote against legalising the comparatively innocuous drug, with 53 percent of those polled and counted voting “no”.

These days, when it comes to cannabis law reform worldwide, the overwhelming trend is towards legalisation, or at least, decriminalisation. And with NZ being one of the most progressive constituencies on Earth, most were expecting “yes” to triumph.

There are still around half a million votes left to be counted within the nation of close to 4.9 million people, however most are no longer holding their breath in the hope that the needed 67 percent of outstanding votes turn up a yes to bring legalisation over the line.

So, if the referendum result does remain the same when the final decision is announced this Friday, it will mark a substantial setback to the legalisation movement.

But in no way does it indicate an end to the cannabis campaign. And this is especially so in Australia, where it’s now legal to smoke the plant at home in the capital.

NZ Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick
NZ Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick

The voice of reason ignored

NZ Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has been the poster child for the cannabis referendum. The 26-year-old politician – who romped it in when taking out the seat of Auckland Central in the federal election – hasn’t given up on the referendum or the campaign to legalise cannabis in general.

“It’s pretty clear with the privileged platform that you hold in politics that there’s an opportunity to lead,” Swarbrick said last Saturday, as she referred to how both PM Jacinda Ardern and justice minister Andrew Little only revealed they were voting yes after the referendum had taken place.

And therein lies much of the issue around the outcome. As Swarbrick points out, a majority of the nation’s MPs had admitted to having tried cannabis in the past, but unlike her, most of them also refrained from speaking out in support of the yes vote.

Whereas, at the same time, a staunch anti-legalisation scare campaign was run under the banner Say No To Dope. And it simply ramped up half a century worth of drug war rhetoric, which is now derided worldwide for having caused more damage than the outlawed substances themselves.

“The last thing that we want is a campaign fuelled by hysteria,” Swarbrick warned Sydney Criminal Lawyers in May last year.

However, it now seems that no campaigners did go on to flood the public with advertising campaigns featuring misinformation and selective facts.

Legalse cannabis

Still, it’s legal to spark up in Canberra

One thing that Australian cannabis legalisation advocates have got going for them is that in our nation’s capital cannabis is completely legal to consume, personally possess and even grow at home. And this has been the case since 31 January this year.

The ACT Legislative Assembly voted to legalise the personal possession and use of cannabis last year.

So, at least one of our nation’s parliaments has officially acknowledged that any harms associated with the drug’s use don’t warrant its continued criminalisation.

And while there’s been an immense silence around the part legalisation of the plant in the capital territory, this speaks volumes in that having permitted citizens to legally consume the drug has led to no problems whatsoever.

Indeed, the issue that’s now left in Canberra is to set up a legal supply chain, so the production of the plant is no longer left in the hands of the black market.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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