Yes Weed Can: New Zealand votes in cannabis referendum – The Independent

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New Zealanders will not only elect their prime minister this weekend but also vote  on whether or not they will be able to buy cannabis from a local shop, an issue that has clouded this election.

The country is running two referendum questions alongside the general election.

The proposed Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill allows those over 20 to buy 14 grams of the drug each day from a licensed outlet and grow four plants per household.

Eighty per cent of Kiwis have admitted trying the drug and local police arrest more people for cannabis, per head of population, than any other country in the world. Those caught possessing the substance can be fined $500 or jailed for 14 years.

The new law would see any person under 20 caught with cannabis being offered an education session.

Polling since 2018 measuring public support for a law change has fluctuated been between 29 and 60 per cent, however last week a major news outlet said its research revealed 49 per cent would favour reform.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who served between 1999 and 2008 before joining the United Nations in New York, has spearheaded the case for changing direction.

“The criminalisation of cannabis has caused countless damage to so many people over so many decades and it should stop,” Ms Clark said. “We should not be criminalising our youth or anybody of any age because they choose to use this drug, and not say alcohol. For a young person, 20 or over, who buys legally from now on, they don’t face the prospect of being arrested, prosecuted, potentially jailed, have their career for life blighted.”

The former Labour leader said while the substance does have some social and health problems, so does liquor.

“We have dealt with that for years and we have to get use to seeing cannabis as something that is widely used.”

If 50 per cent or more ballots agree to change, the draft legislation will be debated and likely passed when parliament reopens following the election. The process could take up to a year.

Incumbent Labour Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who is expected to return to office in a landslide, has consistently refused to say how she answered the referendum question when she voted with her fishing television show fiancé, Clarke Gayford.

“I was once a Mormon and then I wasn’t. That’s how I’ll put that,” Miss Ardern said.

Later, she admitted smoking marijuana “a long time ago” but said she would keep her referendum preference a secret so not to affect the outcome.

“I made a clear decision that I want the public of New Zealand to decide this and I want this not be about politics. I will be giving my answer after New Zealand has decided.”

Critics were quick to accuse her decision of being merely tactical, designed not to scare off conservative and Christian voters.

And Miss Ardern’s main rival has attempted to capitalise on the unwillingness.

“She owes a duty to New Zealanders to tell them what her views are,” Ms Collins, who vehemently oppose a law change, said.

“I will be voting against the legalisation and the sale and recreational use of cannabis in our country. I want to protect the mental health of young people in particular.

“People do have individual concerns about particularly moral issues, or what we would often call conscience issues, and they want to know where you stand on things.”  

While the result of the election will likely be known this weekend, New Zealand’s Electoral Commission will not release the preliminary result of the referendums until November 6.

The other forming ballot papers relates to legal euthanasia.

The End of Life Choice Act allows people over 18 suffering unbearable terminal illness to receive a lethal injection after sign off from a doctor providing they are not expected to live any longer than six months.

This article originally appeared here in https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/cannabis-marijuana-vote-new-zealand-referendum-b1050436.html

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