Preliminary election results in New Zealand indicate that a cannabis legalization initiative has been rejected by voters, although some votes still remain to be counted. Totals from the election held on October 17 show that 53% of voters chose not to support the initiative, while 46% voted in favor of marijuana legalization. A second referendum to legalize euthanasia in New Zealand appeared to be headed for approval with 65% of the vote in favor, according to results released on Friday by the Electoral Commission in Wellington.
Under the cannabis initiative, possession, use, and home cultivation of recreational cannabis by adults 20 and older would be legalized. The measure would also establish a regulated market for commercial cannabis sales, and shops and cafes for the sale and consumption of cannabis would be licensed by the government.
Supporters of the initiative argued that legalization would eliminate the influence of criminal organizations in the marijuana market in New Zealand, where 80% of the population reports trying cannabis by age 20. Advocates for the measure also noted that the country’s drug laws are unfairly enforced, with indigenous Maori citizens three times more likely to be arrested and convicted on cannabis charges than non-Maori individuals.
Asher Etherington of Make It Legal New Zealand, a group that campaigned for the initiative’s passage, expressed disappointment at the election results released on Friday.
“If no voters thought that by voting down this opportunity, Kiwis would cease to consume cannabis, they have not been paying attention,” Etherington said. “The cannabis reform lobby here has fought for decades and is prepared to fight for decades more to achieve positive reform.”
Tuari Potiki, chairman of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, called for continued drug reform efforts and the elimination of cannabis criminalization, saying that punitive measures are disproportionately borne by the Maori and young people.
“Although a majority of New Zealanders did not vote for the proposed model of legalization, the debate has shown a clear public desire for legal change in some form,” Potiki said in a statement.
Prime Minister Criticised For Lack Of Support
Supporters of the measure criticized Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who easily won re-election in last week’s vote. She had failed to publicly support the initiative, despite admitting in a debate late last month that she had used marijuana “a long time ago.” Only on Friday did she finally confirm that she had voted in favor of the measure.
Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University, said that the results of the election could have “been a whole lot tighter had the P.M. taken the position in public that we now know she took on the ballot herself,” adding that “there’s a certain measure of disaffection, frustration, and no small amount of anger that she’s now indicated she has this position and hasn’t clarified why she didn’t take this position before the election.”
Although approximately 480,000 “special votes” are yet to be counted, the chance for a change to the preliminary results when the final count is released on November 6 seems slim. On Friday, Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was “highly unlikely” that the initiative would prevail in the final results and said that the government has “no other plans in terms of drug law reform.”