Until this week, it looked possible that New Zealand would join Canada and Uruguay in legalizing cannabis for adult use. Polls, which initially showed strong support for legalization, but became increasingly mixed over time, and the outcome was a toss up when New Zealanders cast their votes on an adult use referendum on October 17.
Now, it looks likely that a majority of voters have said no to cannabis legalization. Preliminary results released on October 30 show that only 46.1 percent of votes (1,114,485) were cast in support of the referendum, with 53.1 percent (1,281,818) opposed.
The final results won’t be released until November 6, and an estimated 480,000 “special” ballots still need to be counted. Even so, the odds of a turnaround look slim, and both supporters and opponents of legalization are calling it a loss.
On Friday, New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Andrew Little released a statement about the results.
“The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill will not be introduced as legislation by the Labour Government this term,” the statement said. “Subject to the release of the final results on 6 November, the incoming government will respect the result of both referendums. This will mean that recreational cannabis use will remain illegal in New Zealand.”
As Cannabis Wire recently reported, this particular push to legalize cannabis in New Zealand began in 2017, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took office. Her party, the Labour Party, along with the Green Party, committed to legalizing cannabis by her term’s end. The government’s proposal on which New Zealanders have just cast their votes was unveiled this May, one month after the country’s medical cannabis program launched.
Ardern won reelection by a landslide, though it remains to be seen what steps will be taken toward building support for cannabis legalization, should a majority of voters officially reject the referendum in this election.