MUST READ: Cannabis referendum: fear and lies outgun the truth


The cannabis referendum campaign has become a battle of truth versus lies – and the facts are losing.

While the various Yes campaigns focus on sharing facts and building points of agreement, the modus operandi of the Nopers is to spread fear, misunderstanding and distrust.

And it’s working.

While some recent polls have shown Yes and No tied in a dead heat, or too close to call, the latest TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll of intending voters shows Hope trailing Nope by 35% to 53%.

That poll should throw all supporters of truth and justice into a sweaty panic!

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The battle is far from lost; the worst we can do now is give up or opt-out because it’s too hard or “they’ll never do it anyway“. That sort of despondent, confused, thinking is exactly what the Nopers are hoping for.

On the contrary: these polls show every vote will count, and the difference between winning and losing will come down to voter turnout. There are far more people who don’t vote than the difference between Yes and No in these polls.

Cannabis has a unique ability to inspire people to vote. It raises turnout everywhere cannabis ballots have been held. Cannabis ballots may even have helped elect Obama to his second term as US President, by bringing out more progressive voters.

But in order to overcome the Noper’s tactics of fear and division, we first need to understand them.

We perhaps also shouldn’t give them too much credit: Covid-19 is the number one issue this year, and everything else has taken a back seat.

With so much fear, anxiety and worry already floating about it’s no wonder the Nopers have been able to play on that with their huge budget for fearmongering.

A battle of good vs evil, and facts vs bullshit

Alex Braae at The Spinoff has written about how Bob McCroskie and Family First run their Nope campaign. It is clear they are a well-resourced and formidable campaign machine.

The Nopers are holding meetings at churches and community halls, using slick presentations that sound truthy-enough to stoke fear and apprehension.

But the Noper’s full page newspaper ads, nationwide letterbox deliveries and high profile billboards are full of lies.

Funding for the Nope campaign comes from religious conservatives and wowsers, such as the Church of Scientology.

Their advice comes from US lobbyists such as SAM USA, and drug testing firms who stand to make lots of money if prohibition is retained.

Their tactics are to drown out the truth in a barrage of fake news, false information, and outright lies.

They do this safe in the knowledge that their pockets are deep, that the Advertising Standards Authority almost always rules on the side of advertisers – or won’t even consider it – and any ruling would come after the referendum and wouldn’t stop any ad.

So they just keep pumping out their false narrative, designed to stoke fear and apprehension among voters.

Their doctored image of Featherston’s Kia Ora Dairy, which Say Nope To Dope paid to run in newspapers nationwide, was wrong in almost every aspect and backfired by outraging residents of the Wairarapa town.

However, it had the intended effect of getting nationwide coverage based on fear.

While pumping out a fire hose of disinformation, the Nopers also encourage their supporters to lay false complaints against those who push the truth about cannabis and its associated laws; the good folk supporting the Yes campaign.

The NZ Drug Foundation won a previous ruling against a false complaint about their ads. Last week Make It Legal fought off another spurious complaint. Both were laid with the ASA about demonstrably true claims that voting Yes would make medicinal access easier and cheaper.

I’ve been saying the same thing all along – and I also say that as the CEO of a licensed medicinal cannabis company. The truth is, medicinal access even under our new rules is still far too difficult and too expensive for most people.

Access to medicinal cannabis comes down to personal income. Those who can afford it get access, while everyone else must remain in the illicit market.

Voting Yes would allow patients to grow their own, or go to a shop and buy low-dose products over the counter. It’s pretty hard to deny that that wouldn’t make access “easier and cheaper” – but facts have never stopped the Nopers.

Thankfully, the industry-led ASA ruled that Make It Legal’s claims were fair enough.

Yes campaign plays nice while Nopers get away with murder

This could be seen on TVNZ’s Q&A with Jack Tame which had a cannabis referendum debate, featuring Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and AUT professor Khylee Quince presenting the case for Yes, and the NZ Medical Association’s Dr Kate Braddock and National MP Nick Smith arguing for No.

The two guests who supported Yes were respectful, didn’t interrupt and tried to discuss the matter at hand.

The Nopers, true to form, interrupted with false claims and distractions, or mouthed truthy-sounding platitudes designed to stoke fear and worry about what might happen.

Chloe made a big mistake at the outset of the debate. In hindsight, our campaign has been making the same mistake over and over again. We build agreement and display our reasonableness by opening with a statement that we all agree cannabis causes harm, but we question how society can best deal with it.

Rather than building agreement so we can all move forward, that position actually cedes ground to the Nopers, and frames the discussion as “cannabis is harmful”. It implies that all use is harmful, and that strong intervention by state agencies is justified and desirable.

Yet the truth is that the vast majority of cannabis use is not harmful, and no intervention is justified. The Otago and Christchurch longitudinal studies, for example, found that up to 80% of New Zealanders have tried cannabis (so it is normal), but only around 10 per cent or so experience harms from their use.

The researchers of both those studies, Prof Joe Boden and Prof Ritchie Poulson, notably support a Yes vote.

Facts don’t seem to matter to National MP Nick Smith, a prominent campaigner for Nope. He’s a good debater who could argue either side, and I suspect he’s just doing his job to get National elected. I mean, he couldn’t possibly believe the stuff he’s saying, could he? On Q&A Nick Smith claimed:

1. “This is not about medicinal cannabis.” Actually patients and doctors are supporting Yes because existing scheme is too hard and too expensive. In fact, the only increase in cannabis use seen in US states that have legalised has been older folk obtaining over-the-counter “adult use” cannabis for their aches and pains.

2 “Legalisation will increase cannabis use and harm… it is called dope for good reason.” In fact, underage use in Canada dropped by half in just one year after legalisation. The road carnage Smith shouts about is based on flawed data: ESR included drivers with any trace of cannabinoids, which can linger for months, but only included drunk drivers who were over the legal limit (to be consistent, they should also have included anyone who drank any alcohol in recent months).

3 “Legalisation will not eliminate the black market and gang harm”. Smith is actually confirming prohibition does not work and has created a lucrative illicit market that supports organised crime. Legalisation may not “eliminate” it completely, but that’s better than supporting the status quo which created that market in the first place.

4 “A billion dollar dope industry with 420 stores around NZ ( concentrated in our most vulnerable communities) whose motive will be to push this drug and sell more.” In fact, that billion dollar cannabis industry already exists, with hundreds of tinny shops already in vulnerable communities. Cannabis won’t be invented by the referendum, but it could be brought under control and out from the shadows. The model proposed by the referendum would generate $675 million for local health and education, plus $200 million in income tax, plus GST, plus savings from ineffective and counterproductive law enforcement.

5 “Timing could not be worse for combo of dole and dope.” In fact, making cannabis legal could help New Zealand’s economy by generating 5000 legitimate and taxpaying jobs (according to BERL), with more vocational pathways and increased regional economic opportunities.

Paddy on Weed

Meanwhile on TV3’s Paddy Gower on Weed, the host had a blast catching up with various potheads and growers (I had my own catch up with Paddy on 95bfm’s Marijuana Media – listen to the podcast here).

The king of “gotcha journalism” had been commissioned to produce a follow up to last year’s 2-part series on medicinal cannabis. Those two shows had a ground shifting effect on the public’s perception of medicinal cannabis patients and providers.

Where previously there had been some hesitation, this had changed to full support. People saw on mainstream television the way prohibition had denied safe and affordable access to patients struggling with debilitating and painful conditions. They saw how medicinal cannabis helped them. They saw they sky did not fall, and they were reassured.

So we had high hopes for this week’s referendum-themed follow up. It was certainly filled with cannabis eye-candy. There were lots of scenes of consumption and flowering plants, from illegal grows hidden in cupboards and basements to high-tech licensed grows for medicinal production.

If anything, the show proved cannabis use is widespread and entrenched in New Zealand. It isn’t going away.

Hopefully the primetime mainstream media slot for the show provoked some good discussions among the families watching it. Hopefully they learned something. Hopefully they’re now a bit less likely to accept the lies and fear served up by the Nopers.

Because the truth about cannabis, if people knew it, would literally set them free.

Chris Fowlie is the president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; developer of the CHOISE model for cannabis social equity; CEO of Zeacann Limited, a cannabis science company; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.


  1. I see the new conservatives have been out with there ‘say nope to dope’ signs. Thank goodness this lot won’t make it into parliament they are sick people. This lot are living in the past we only have to look at their divisive backward thinking policies. Those opposing the cannabis referendum need to look at the other more serious problems plaguing our country, alcohol, pokies, P and porn availability these are very widespread .

  2. Hi Chris, the yes campaign is a total joke where is the voice of the people?? We get Helen Clark, Hine Elder and other non-cannabis users mostly other white women giving their voice to it. But where are the voice of Maori women and the voice of actual people who use cannabis regularly to self-medicate, use for recreational and want to be able to access medicinal CBD in other product forms like edibles, etc?? Basic social media 101 where is the digital avatar for people to update their Facebook profiles? I mean who the af is running the social media campaign its absolute rubbish. Everyone I know is going to vote yes however we need to the rest of the country on board so how about you ask for some actual digital advertising and promotion that people can 1) update their FB profiles so that their group of friend and whanau can see that they are voiting yes, stop with the white women promoting bs and get stoner voices involved and provide better digital content i.e. avatars, things people can post to their Facebook.
    thanks Tui

    • yes tuibelle I have been wondering the same thing. Something very simple so that all the old women in their 60’s I know can put it out there! How the fuck pollsters can say those in their 60’s are anti is beyond me!I have an old friend who hasn’t voted since 1984 who has enrolled specifically to vote yes to cannabis.

    • I think the truth is regular cannabis users dont come across as good models. It would be like promoting alcohol use by trotting out alcoholics!

      1 Many stoners have undiagnosed conditions like asd, adhd, ptsd and food intolerances ie celiac that are medically unattended and these psychiatric deficits that would be incorrectly thought of as a product of cannabis use. These cannabis users who lost the genetic lottery would drag down the reputation of cannabis, due to ignorance and lack of understanding of this type of self medicating user.

      2 Many other stoners fall on the other side of the spectrum. They are extremely high functioning and genetically superior models of human kind. These fortunate peeps who won the genetic lottery are just as fillified by authorities as they tend to be non authoritarian and constantly challenge bullshit,, so they are often shunted off into gangs and problematic use. Dark skinned users fall into this category due to their often superior genetic expression over degenerated caucasian gene pools. So promoting problematic use within these groups is sort of like quelling revolution by pacifying the slaves in Jamaica when pot was let loose there.

      A ‘nut job’ or a ‘gang associate’ or ‘just healthy polynesian users’ would not help the cause.
      And just like an alcoholic, their problematic use is a condition of genes lying outside of the accepted norm of middle NZ’s ideal authoritarian loving role model citizens.

      • Not so, there are plenty of professionals and people in high places who are regular users but don’t want to come out to preserve their professional and personal reputations. That stilts the perception of who the users are.

        • I agree Festus sounds a bit like his first group of undiagnosed nut jobs.
          Though in his favour,, if you have ever gone to The Daktory or a J Day it is quite evident that middle nz is barely represented at these gatherings. These are mostly the high use / problematic use users with genetic expressions below and above the norm,, and as such vilified by the mainstream.

          The mainstream moral judgements imposed on outsiders, could be considered sociopathic in this regard, no empathy for those outside of the mean of acceptable genetic expression, including racism.

          However regarding winning a referendum, winning the perception of middle nz is important. I note the newly running WEDO campaign is using billboards highlighting these normal everyday users. I just saw a receptionist and a neuroscientist on a billboard outside countdown this morning.

          Living in Grey Lynn, I also note all my neighbours who own 2mill $$ homes are healthy social users too.

    • Tui I think you are outing an ongoing issue in the so-called cannabis ‘debate’ – hopers are muted in their perspective because of the legal status of the drug. Sure there might be a few hopers who use and articulate sound reasons for doing so – but don’t knock the hand that feeds you. Ms Clark and co are hopers and we need all the support we can get because the nopers have such an advantage. They can talk crap and hopers cannot respond in a timely and open manner for fear of the repercussions.
      Let’s hope we get a great youth turnout for the election, because it is the youth vote that might get the hopers across the line. Unfortunately, given the uneven playing surface, I am not holding my breath (no pun intended!).

    • ” It was understood and expressed that you have to control people through beliefs and attitudes. Well, one of the best ways to control people in terms of attitudes is by what the great political economist Thorstein Veblen called “fabricating consumers.” If you can fabricate wants, make obtaining things that are just about within your reach the essence of life, they’re going to be trapped into becoming consumers. You read the business press in the 1920’s and it talks about the need to direct people to the superficial things of life, like “fashionable consumption,” and that’ll keep them out of our hair. In fact, Bernays had major achievements in his lifetime that are worth looking at. The first of them was to get women to smoke.”
      Requiem for the American Dream – The 10 principles of concentration of wealth and power ; Noam Chomsky.

  3. Yes Chris it is a fight of good vs evil.
    But its also a fight of ignorance vs understanding.

    Babylon runs on chaos and Rastafarian narratives highlight this at every opportunity. Rasta reasonings often use the ancient texts to understand how this manifests in every aspect of the modern and ancient world.

    There is nothing new under this sun and to me this campaign highlights the problems of dishonesty in man. The microcosm is the macrocosm, and maybe if the cage door was left open, many of NZ voters would choose to remain shackled in denial rather than take response-ability for their own destiny and choices, relying on those in authority.

    Dopamine flooding is very tempting, but like all denials of short term gratification, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    There is very little money to be gleaned from people who are not neurotic and possessed, in need of a dopamine fix from being right, putting others down, gossip, shopping, sports, power, food, sex and drugs.

    The dopamine levels of those in love with only immateriality is constant, as long as this love of the immaterial is constant.

    True freedom comes from healthy balanced use and/or denial of things which generate dopaminergic activity, which correlates to a healthy balance understanding of Christian sin or Buddhist ignorance.

    The middle way is always the only real freedom.

  4. As an undecided but tending towards no due to the piss poor job that ‘hopers’ are doing of getting any useful information out there.
    And now they bring a dude with a financial interest in saying yes. Really?
    Please someone answer this question: why are we not working incrementally towards legalisation, by first going medicinal followed by decriminalisation?

    • It is commonly accepted that discrimination will have no effect on gangs, and that it may actually increase profits.
      Most users are normal healthy tax paying often model citizens are will still be considered criminals.

      How is this a good idea to you?

      • The least of my concerns is gangs profiting from pot. Much better pot than meth and fentanyl.
        I think medical marijuana is a great idea, it should accessible and affordable. But the hopers are gambling by going all in.

  5. it is great to see in todays Press an advert for NO TO DOPE by real people from all walks of life . No American religious just Doctors Sports people and community leaders mental health workers. The current system is not perfect and the racist overtones need to be adressed but making it legal is a step to far

    • Doctors and mental health workers make money from prescribing recently man made and dangerous synthetic drugs with horrifying side effects,, and vilifying natural and safe herbal substances that have been made by god and been around forever.
      Its great like you said, but for those who to wish to continue to make money off illness and disease.

      And if you look at rape on college campuses in the USA, the sports jocks are MASSIVELY represented in over 80% of cases, even though they are only 15% of the campus population. They have a horrendous abusive drinking culture too, like the military jocks.

      Hardly surprising these types of NZers who are addicted to an authoritarian system that provides them income,, and dopamine hits from incorrectly being right, that they stand up to continue their denial of real truth.

      Lying provides a rush, and an addiction to lying is prevalent among overweight trump supporters. They get a dopamine fix when they lie or go to a rally…

  6. it is great to see in todays Press an advert for NO TO DOPE by real people from all walks of life . No American religious just Doctors Sports people and community leaders mental health workers. The current system is not perfect and the racist overtones need to be adressed but making it legal is a step to far

    • So are you a real person Trev? Dope is stigmatised and many people that smoke it are stereotyped when in fact as mentioned many go to work and pay their taxes. Also what people do in their own home is their own business as are they hurting anyone but themselves? We have a bad culture of Polypharmacy in this country benefitting pharmaceutical companies who are creaming it. And in the meantime peoples quality of life is not getting any better they are just prolonging the inevitable by taking far too many pills.

  7. should start a fund page, the problem here is that fund is owned now by a few rich listers that have all kinds of access to the medicinal suppliers and have large interest in chemical cannabis and vaccines.

  8. Chris Fowlie your skills, perception, knowledge, and actions are so clear, filled with ‘common-sense”, and accurate. oh i wish we could clone you, 😉 , to add to the arsenal of bringing the truth, health and safety to the masses to dispel the fear, lies and harm caused by the Nopers. NZ will one day be sooo grateful for your input and leadership. I hope and work to make that gratitude be displayed on Voting day. If the Govt sets up a Ministry of cannabis , you should be CEO. kia kaha wazza

  9. ‘Rather than building agreement so we can all move forward, that position actually cedes ground to the Nopers, and frames the discussion as “cannabis is harmful”. It implies that all use is harmful, and that strong intervention by state agencies is justified and desirable.

    Yet the truth is that the vast majority of cannabis use is not harmful, and no intervention is justified. The Otago and Christchurch longitudinal studies, for example, found that up to 80% of New Zealanders have tried cannabis (so it is normal), but only around 10 per cent or so experience harms from their use.’

    For an incredibly good and stirring 18min watch regarding addiction, check out Gabor Mate, esp the TEDtalk – The power of addiction and the addiction of power

    most addicts are criminalized because they have had abusive childhoods

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