With just a few days left of voting, the cannabis referendum is too close to call. Every vote will count, and the result could be determined by turnout and enrolment, especially among youth and those who don’t normally vote.
This election, it will be those who are most disenfranchised – those who usually have the least say, those who have opted out of a system that is broken for them, those who have been so oppressed for generations that they normally see no point in voting – who have a real chance this time to make a difference.
That’s because support for Yes and No in the cannabis referendum is really close – although Yes appears to be narrowly pulling in front. Pollsters only publish results from people who say they intend to vote. If a person says they’re not going to vote, the poll caller ends the conversation and tries someone else.
Non-voters and unenrolled people do not show up in any polls. So those really tight, “too close to call”, polls could actually have an election day blow out and the referendum could pass comfortably, but only if progressives and non-voters heed the call and show up to have their say.
But passing the referendum is just the beginning, not the end. Assuming Yes wins, we will need to steer the Bill through parliament, including public submissions, with a new roster of incoming MPs.
So it’s not just about voting Yes, but also ensuring we have the best mix of parties and MPs in the next parliament.
This will come down to who is motivated the most. We know 1.2 million Kiwis have already voted. Mike Hosking and the Boomers will be voting. Your racist uncle is voting. Your boss is voting. Your mates who drink beer while complaining about lazy pot smokers – well, they’re voting too.
A good twenty per cent of eligible voters pass up on the opportunity to vote. They mostly come from the left, and I suspect they would mostly support voting Yes – if they are motivated enough to vote.
Moreover, around 1-in-7 Kiwis already choose cannabis. That’s over 600,000 voters – a sizeable block!
With that in mind, I’ve gone through the cannabis policies and public statements from our parties and their leaders, to give some guidance for those who toke and vote, and to those who are voting Yes and want the referendum Bill to be supported in the next Parliament.
Ranking the 2020 party cannabis policies
Greens: The tactical and rational vote. The Greens got us medicinal cannabis, the referendum, the MoDA law change, and Chloe is the only parliamentarian going out of her way advocating for change. The Greens are truly our champions of reform, and we need a strong Green presence in the next parliament to ensure the referendum Bill is boldly supported.
TOP: The principled vote. Possibly the best cannabis policy on offer. And I went to school with Geoff Simmons – a great guy and he really understands this. But will they get in?
ALCP: The protest vote. As a co-founder of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party back in 1996 they will always have a place in my heart, and ticking the leaf on the ballot sends a message that this is your number one issue. But realistically they have little chance of getting to 5%.
Labour: The sensible vote. The referendum bill – or anything else if it loses – will only pass with Labour’s support. Our progress to date has only happened because Labour allowed it, and making any progress in the next Parliament will require a Labour-led Government, because it’s clear that National will do the opposite. But points off for Jacinda Ardern not voicing her support for a Yes vote.
National: The angry prohibitionist vote. Current leader Judith Collins has instructed all National MPs to cast their personal votes against the cannabis referendum. National’s policies are a mish mash of the usual, tired, “tough on crime” cliches like smashing gangs and building prisons. If the referendum passes National will support the Bill to Select Committee but if they lead the next Government National has made it clear the Bill would die there, even if a majority of New Zealanders have voted for it.
ACT: The hypocritical vote. The libertarians at ACT should be champions of drug law reform, but like with his own End of Life Choice referendum, leader David Seymour has found it more convenient to not campaign on either issue, lest he spook his new friends from the gun lobby who now stack ACT’s party list. It seems ACT will apply the principles of freedom of choice and personal responsibility to weapons lovers and end of life, but not extend those same principles to the 1-in-7 Kiwis who choose cannabis.
NZ First: The contrarian vote. We can thank Winston for gifting us the cannabis referendum, and also curse him for the same because it would have been so much better to just pass a law. The old grump won’t say how he will vote.
Maori Party: The unknown vote. No written policy, but co-leader John Tamihere says he is voting yes. The Maori Party previously supported medicinal reforms, and advocated for decriminalisation, not legalisation.
Having your say – and increasing the turn out
Voting in New Zealand really couldn’t be easier. Just take your Easy Vote card to your nearest voting place. They’re open now until election day on Saturday. But if you’re not enrolled yet, or didn’t get one in the mail, don’t worry you can just roll up to any voting place and enrol on the spot. You don’t need ID, and you don’t need an Easy Vote card. It’s super easy to vote. Just do it!
The other thing we can all do is motivate the non-voters we know, and support them to vote Yes. There will be someone in your life. Maybe more than a few? Give them a call or pop round for a visit. You are allowed to check in with your friends and whanau on election day, get them in the car and take them to a voting place. This is the mahi we need to do to make it legal. It’s not hard, and you can make a real difference.
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.