New Zealand residents have voted not to legalise cannabis in the referendum – but experts are still holding out hope for reforms.
Voters in New Zealand rejected the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in a legally binding referendum held on 17 October.
According to the results so far, announced on Friday 30 October, only 46 percent of the population were in favour of the legalisation, compared to 53 percent who voted against it.
In the same referendum nearly 65 per cent of people voted to approve euthanasia as an option for those who are terminally ill to seek medical assitance to end their lives.
Drug policy experts in the UK have described the cannabis result as ‘disappointing’ but are still hopeful that the country will see cannabis law reforms.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem said ahead of the result that regardless of the outcome, she would ensure people were no longer criminalised for consuming cannabis.
She also confirmed she had voted ‘yes’ to the legalisation.
The New Zealand Herald also reported following the result that Justice Minister Andrew Little had said drug laws were to be ‘reviewed’ to ensure that people whose worst offence is drug possession are “almost automatically” given a health referral rather than face prosecution.
Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR, the UK campaign for cannabis law reform told Cannabis Health that the result was ‘terrible’, but that holding a referendum on the subject had been a ‘mistake’.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome, as all it does is condemn communities in New Zealand – particularly young people – to continue living under the shadow of drug gangsters,” he said.
“I always thought it was a mistake to have a referendum on the issue, as it opens it up to be looked on as a matter of opinion, rather than leaving it to the scientists, doctors and medics to examine the evidence and make the decision.”
He continued: “Either a policy change makes sense, based on the evidence, or it doesn’t, and my view of the evidence is that it shows conclusively that when you leave cannabis in the hands of criminals it causes more harm.”
However, Peter said he was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s comments about the decriminalisation of cannabis.
“Whatever happens Jacinda Arden has said she wants to ensure that in the future people aren’t criminalised for using cannabis and that criminal gangs are brought under control,” he added.
“I suspect and hope that they will move forward with reforms at some point.”
Drug reform campaigners will be keeping a close eye on the US election this week, with Democratic candidate Joe Biden having pledged to decriminalise cannabis across the country if elected.
A move which, according to Peter, could have a far greater impact on law reforms across the world.
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