By Roland Sebestyén
Last week, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern admitted to reporters that she had used cannabis in the past. While this admission from the most senior politician in the country may not have influenced voters to change their minds on cannabis legalisation, recent polls indicate that support might once again be growing. In addition, health experts from across the country appear to have come out in support of reforming the “outdated” laws.
A few weeks ago, a poll commissioned by 1 News Colmar Brunton found that just over a third of people (35%), were keen to see cannabis legalisation in New Zealand.
According to the same poll, opponents of the proposed bill had an astonishing 18-point lead. These findings indicated that the pro-legalisation campaign might have just reached the end of the road and New Zealand would not see cannabis legalisation for a very long time.
However, things seem to have changed since New Zealand PM, Jacinda Ardern, said during a televised debate that she had consumed the drug a long time ago.
The Labour politician has been under constant pressure to reveal her stance on the question of legalisation. The PM has refused throughout the campaign side with either prohibition or legislation and insists that her admission should not be seen as support for reform. However, the voting public might think otherwise.
Apart from the cannabis referendum, New Zealand will also vote in a euthanasia referendum alongside the General Election on 17 October, and Ms. Ardern’s popularity has not floundered. Forecasters believe that the current Prime Minister has a real chance to win a landslide victory.
Whilst the past two polls, conducted over the last week, indicate that the campaign for cannabis legalisation could be back on top, Conservative pollster, David Ferrar, insists that it would be bold to assume that the race is over.
One of those polls found that Vote Yes has a tight but somewhat calming five-point lead (52-47) over those who are against easing laws.
However, Ferrar claims that the inconsistency of the polling is somewhat strange, insisting that if polls had been taken in the field, the No vote would be leading.
In the meantime, New Zealand health experts weighed in and said the referendum should’ve been thought to be a health question rather than a decision on drugs.
Prof. Michael Baker from the University of Otago said: “It’s time to take the same fresh approach to cannabis law and put public health first.”
“Our prohibition model for cannabis is outdated and doesn’t work. Supporting law reform is about reframing cannabis use as a health issue that opens up new, more effective ways of minimising harms caused by this drug.”
According to The Guardian, another expert, Professor Papaarangi Reid, the head of the department of Māori health at the University of Auckland, believed that legalising cannabis would be beneficial for the country.
He said: “We’re particularly concerned that Māori have borne the brunt of biased enforcement and the negative health effects of illegal cannabis.
“We know that Māori are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted of a cannabis-related crime than non-Māori with the same level of use.
“This is an unacceptably high price to pay, especially for a policy that is not effective at reducing harmful use.”