New Zealand will vote on a recreational cannabis legalization referendum in 2020, the government announced on Monday. Following a decision by the cabinet, Justice Minister Andrew Little said the vote will be a part of the national general election taking place that year.
“We know when it will be, we have a commitment that it will be binding, and now it is just a question on filling in the detail from there,” Little said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party formed a coalition government last year based in part on assurances to other parties that a cannabis legalization vote would be held soon. The Labour Party leads a three-way coalition government with the Green Party and populists New Zealand First (NZF).
Broad Support for Legalization
The legalization of recreational cannabis is widely supported in New Zealand. A 2017 poll found that nearly two-thirds favored the legalization of cannabis possession and more than 80 percent supported allowing the use of medical marijuana patients with terminal illnesses.
The Green Party applauded the announcement of the legalization vote. Chloe Swarbrick, a Green Party spokesperson, said that it is time for Parliament to catch up with the voters.
“We’ve had countless opinion polls for decades now, confirming New Zealanders are positively well ahead of political action on the issue of cannabis law reform,” Swarbrick said.
“This binding referendum presents an opportunity to have the will of the people trigger meaningful legislative change,” Swarbrick added.
Audrey Young, a political commentator with the New Zealand Herald, said that public opinion was heading “toward liberalization.”
“That’s because of two things — the advancement in the medicinal cannabis regime and the law just being passed, and also just that gathering sense of global opinion that the war on drugs is lost and that the health approach is the one to take,” she said.
Simon Bridges, the leader of the National Party, said that legalizing cannabis would normalize drug use and characterized the referendum vote as a “cynical” effort to distract voters from more important issues.
If the 2020 referendum succeeds, it would make New Zealand the first Asia Pacific country to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.
Access to Medical Cannabis Expanded Last Week
The decision to hold a recreational cannabis legalization referendum in New Zealand comes just one week after the country announced changes to its medical marijuana program. Under new laws, terminally ill patients will be allowed to use cannabis medicinally immediately. The measure improves access to medical marijuana and provides protection from prosecution for patients. The law also permits the cultivation and manufacturing of cannabis products for both domestic use and export to other countries.