At the start of 2020, cannabis advocates were very hopeful that at least one country would legalize cannabis for adult use. Prior to the start of 2020, only two countries had legalized cannabis for adult use – Uruguay and Canada. Other countries such as Mexico, Italy, and South Africa had court rulings issued that struck down cannabis prohibition, however, those countries had not fully implemented those rulings by the start of 2020 (and still haven’t).
One country was well-positioned to become the third country to legalize cannabis for adult use going into 2020. New Zealand placed a referendum measure on the 2020 ballot and would let voters decide the matter. That was different from Uruguay and Canada which passed legalization via legislative action instead of putting legalization before voters to decide.
Leading up to the vote, polling was all over the place with some polls showing that the measure was losing by a margin that was well into the double digits, and multiple other polls showing the measure winning. Unfortunately, the measure ultimately failed by a margin of just 2.3% and cannabis remains prohibited for adult use in New Zealand, although cannabis is still legal for medical use in some instances and hemp is still legal.
New Polling Shows Hope For Future Reform
Cannabis legalization failed to pass in 2020 in New Zealand, however, that doesn’t mean that cannabis prohibition is going to stay in place forever. Currently, people caught with cannabis are subjected to a $500 fine at a minimum, and penalties can go all the way up to 14 years in prison for manufacturing and/or distributing cannabis. Obviously, that policy needs to change.
A poll was recently conducted by Curia Market Research on behalf of a conservative organization called Family First New Zealand. The poll involved 1,000 participants (out of 18,000 cold calls made) and presented participants with three options to choose from.
The first option was to maintain the status quo and keep the drug laws that were implemented back in 2019. That includes keeping cannabis prohibited except for medical use and for industrial hemp purposes. The second option was to decriminalize all drugs, and the third option was to legalize cannabis only and keep all other controlled substances prohibited.
Legalizing cannabis was by far the most popular choice, with 48 percent of poll participants selecting that option. This is of course roughly the same percentage of support for the 2020 legalization initiative. Only 8 percent of participants selected that they wanted to decriminalize all drugs, and 31 percent wanted to maintain the status quo. The remaining group of participants was unsure as to which option they would choose.
The Push Continues
The poll results are encouraging, in that there’s clearly strong support for cannabis legalization even after the failed referendum vote. With 12% of voters being unsure about policy reform and 48% of participants supporting legalization, it’s likely just a matter of voters being better educated on the harms of cannabis prohibition and the benefits of legalization.
With the vote being so close during the 2020 election advocates have a lot to work with. Pushing for updated provisions in the next policy reform proposal could be enough to push legalization over the top. It’s quite possible that some of the ‘no’ votes in 2020 were not necessarily outright opposed to legalization in general, but rather, they just didn’t like the specific measure on the ballot.
Another possibility is that, had the pandemic not occurred the 2020 measure would have succeeded because advocates would have been able to do a better job of educating voters in public spaces, including and especially at major events.
It’s harder to promote just about any policy reform effort during a pandemic in which public gatherings are limited. Personal conversations and interactions go a long way to change minds. Hopefully, the new poll results will encourage advocates to keep pushing until New Zealand gets on the right side of history.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Berlin (August 25-27), Zurich (August 31-September 1), and Barcelona (October 7).