Cannabis referendum final result and opportunities for reform


New Zealand will today discover if the cannabis referendum passed or not. But in either case, we should chart a new course that is more broadly supported.

The Government appears to have already decided cannabis will remain illegal while legalising pill testing for middle-class festival goers.

The preliminary results released last Friday had Hope trailing Nope by 53 to 47 per cent.

That was enough for Justice Minister Andrew Little, who oversaw the referendum and whose officials designed the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, to call the whole thing off.

Little declared the preliminary result was not going to change, and the result was a mandate for not doing anything.

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But a 50/50 close call is not a mandate to sit on your hands. It’s a mandate to find a workable compromise, and keep trying.

Half of New Zealand just voted for full legalisation, while many Nopers now say they would support other reforms, such as decriminalisation.

And the final result of the cannabis referendum released today is expected to tip further towards Yes, because it counts special votes.

These are from Kiwis living overseas, late enrolments, voting outside enrolled electorates, and prisoners. All these demographics are expected to favour Yes over No.

It would need at least 67% of the specials votes ticking Yes to tip the balance.

That’s certainly possible. But whether Yes or No gets the most votes, it’s still going to be a very close, almost 50/50, split vote.

It’s not enough for either side to just barely scrape by then proclaim victory. Before the preliminary results were announced, NORML had called for compromise and consensus, even if Yes wins.

We need a cannabis policy that is broadly supported, not a country split down the middle.

This was always going to be a problem. While I believe this is the best version of legalisation that’s ever been put forward, it wasn’t designed to win a referendum.

It was designed by Ministry of Justice officials who wanted a policy that would benefit all sectors of society, rectify the harms caused by prohibition, retain any economic benefits in local communities, give people a second chance, while learning from the failures of alcohol, tobacco and gambling policies.

They weren’t concerned with tricky things called elections, referendums and politicians.

So the Bill is really long, detailed and complicated. It flagged it’s own weak points and gave opponents plenty of angles of attack.

And the Minister in charge went missing from the campaign, reappearing only right at the end with a belated confession of voting Yes.

Andrew Little then managed to infuriate reformers by immediately proclaiming defeat before the final result was in. He then went further and ruled out any drug law reform.

Andrew Little is now the Minister of Health, officially in charge of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

That should ring alarm bells, but perhaps it’s all a cunning plan. If so, the essence of this plan would be:

  1. take the heat off Jacinda Ardern, who had also raised the ire of reformers by refusing to say which way she had voted (and I think that could have bumped Yes by 5 per cent), and
  2. outwardly ruling out legalisation to appease Labour’s new centre-right base, and
  3. taking over Health to put through other reforms.

There are hopeful signs.

Mr Little’s boss, Jacinda Ardern, finally admitted she had voted Yes in the cannabis referendum, and then immediately pledged to legalise pill testing at festivals.

That seems like drug law reform to me, so it gives me hope Andrew Little was just sulking.

But legalising pill testing is drug law reform for the middle classes, and the parents of nice kids enjoying themselves over summer.

It’s drug law reform for a Labour party courting centre-right voters.

But if the “use of premises” provision of the Misuse of Drugs Act is repealed to allow festival pill testing, it could also let cafes or social clubs tolerate cannabis consumption on the premises.

Combined with properly decriminalising possession and use, that would be a huge game-changer.

There are other opportunities for reform that could happen under both a Yes- or No-majority scenario, including:

  • formalising the failed decriminalisation that is predicated on police discretion they have failed to use, or use in racist ways;
  • expanding medicinal access to make prescriptions easier and products more affordable, and letting patients grow their own;
  • allowing the medicinal cannabis private member’s bill from National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti, already drawn from the ballot, to have a first reading and go to select committee;
  • implementing the Law Commission’s recommendation to repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act and replace it with a new law “fit for purpose”, or if not, then implement the Law Commission’s recommendation to:
    • remove the Misuse of Drugs Act’s reverse onus of proof (that breaches NZ’s Bill of Rights) which presumes the accused is guilty until proven innocent; and
    • remove the presumption of supply that charges people as dealers if they possess over some arbitrary amounts (1 ounce, 10 plants, or 100 marijuana cigarettes); and
    • legalising social dealing (one friend sorting out another)
  • reforming the ridiculous ban on pipes which while openly sold in many stores carry a punishment for possession of up to 1 year imprisonment and a criminal record that states “possession of a needle or syringe”.

Additionally, with a more representative and diverse parliament there are a number of MPs who could table a private member’s bill to do any of these.

Even the Nopers are now saying they would support other reforms, including decriminalisation. We must hold them to that.

Especially given every ballot put to American voters at this week’s election has passed. Every. Single. One.

That means a full third of US citizens now live in states where adult-use of cannabis is legally regulated and available. Oregon went further and decriminalised all drugs, while Washington DC legalised psychedelics.

New Zealand’s cannabis referendum has confirmed that cannabis is here, we are here, and we are not going away.

Cannabis was not invented by voting Yes, and it won’t disappear by voting No.


  1. Mr Little’s boss, Jacinda Ardern, finally admitted she had voted Yes in the cannabis referendum, and then immediately pledged to legalise pill testing at festivals.
    Jacinda playing us all off against each other, taking sides, protecting her own self-interest. The PM who we all thought was going to be the progressive leader we were all looking for to govern fairly and fix the inequality gaps that infects society at all levels. She’s a total hypocrite and NO I did not vote for her or Labour.

    • @ TB…?
      Ah…? Hang on a minute?
      You write ; “she had voted Yes in the cannabis referendum, and then immediately pledged to legalise pill testing at festivals.” as if that’s a bad thing?? Have you bumped your little head?
      “Jacinda playing us all off against each other, taking sides, protecting her own self-interest.”
      What? I’m more skeptical than two skeptical things selling each other second hand dish washers on international skeptical people day and even I know you’re not making any sense because nothing about the above you’ve written is sensible.
      ” She’s a total hypocrite and NO I did not vote for her or Labour.”
      Ah… Personally speaking I don’t care who you voted for, if indeed you did, but who ever it was, if you did, they lost. So raspberries to you.
      I’m not the only one who knows that decriminalising ALL recreational drugs is definitely the way to go. Look at the USA state of Oregon? Someone there needs a medal and a statue of themselves immediately. Perhaps while on a horse with a joint and a non war mongering smile? I can only dream if that person ran for, and became, the president of the U$A.
      The Guardian.
      “Oregon becomes first US state to decriminalise possession of hard drugs”
      I read elsewhere that Oregon looked to ‘ successful drug trials in Europe’ as inspiration.
      See? They’ve obviously heard of Portugal you dodgy natzo dumbasses.
      Is funny isn’t it? That the more progressive and open policy Labour becomes the more fucking odious the nationals look and sound. Ha. Ha. And more raspberries.
      ( Farmers? As you wisely untangle yourselves from the Nasty Natzo’s Webs of lies, logical fallacies and hokey blokey ball cupping vote for me now won’t cha, high wankery down on the farm and come over to The Light I’d also recommend you ask of them where your money’s been going for the last one hundred years ? All jokes aside. )

    • OK Tui you are disenchanted obviously but Ardern released the information about her “yes” vote not long after polls closed. So she did not seek to influence others one way or the other.
      What is your disappointment and I would be interested on what you think is “hypocrite” about her action.
      Has Collins pleased you more.
      I voted “yes” hoping decriminalisation PLUS a widespread education program about the damage done to growing brains by the weed.

      Our youngsters are being damaged with rising rates of various psychoses related to cannabis use in teenage and early adult years. This is not a matter to be laughed off as a lifetime of mental illness is a tragic consequence of community ignorance.

      • “Our youngsters are being damaged with rising rates of various psychoses related to cannabis use in teenage and early adult years.”


      • Yes I completely agree, the PM is a smart polypolytition for all of us… and I have encountered the antiweed types (50%of NZers) who are IMO are not a group unlike the pro Trump group, “Trump or nothing” ie: no weed or nothing. Opinions based on bias and ignorance carried on through the ages. I am personally glad PM did not want to influence the pro or anti weed groups through her position of influence and power, this would not play well in the future and actually holds to her personal honerable stance on everything that has happened so far to never take advantage of her privilege. And, she always pointed out her POV was already out there. So, no, she did not not have the courage of her convictions, she is a little bit more wiser and sophisticated for that. To advocate or not, this would have done no favours to anyone, as will be evidence in the very near next three years of simply having to deal with the almost 50 percent pro weed vote, not to mention straight and ‘deplorable’ Americans being more progressive than us. It will give pause for thought for all those who would be simply anti dope because they basically think it is a poor Maori, a racist issue, which many still hide behind.

      • “Our youngsters are being damaged with rising rates of various psychoses related to alcohol use in teenage and early adult years. This is not a matter to be laughed off as a lifetime of mental illness is a tragic consequence of community ignorance.”
        There fixed that for ya!
        Those are the issues damaging our youngsters John W. Smoking dope is often an escape from this shit , abusing cannabis is a result of ignorance and a lack of information.

      • “Our youngsters are being damaged with rising rates of various psychoses related to cannabis use in teenage and early adult years.” And the sheer, unrelenting pressure of having to find a lifepath under the shockingly heavy burdens, financial, and personal placed upon them by a sick, and nakedly corrupt system have no effect whatsoever? The huge volume of utter rubbish food the powers that be have forced onto the youth without any more than faint lip service to any health considerations… Then we need to acknowledge the growing number of ADD, ADHD, and various other symptoms of the effects of the toxic environment a “business” obsessed government has inflicted upon the whole poulation, have had absolutely no impact on the mental health statistics? Of course not.. It’s children being given cannabis as five year olds.. Why didn’t I figure that out?

      • Yea I have, the pills being tested are mostly illegal , seems a bit hypocritical to undertake pill testing of party pills for kids, which is an acknowledgement that popping pills can not be controlled so best to treat as a health issue , yet the same approach has been ruled out for Cannabis. Lack of policy consistency here.

  2. Very sad that this didn’t sweep thru with a majority. I guess a portion of young people just couldn’t find the motivation to vote, even for this. I look forward to seeing a breakdown of the voting on this. I have trouble understanding why little old NZ is so conservative, and more to the point, why the conservative would want to impose there restrictions on everybody. Bloody selfish.

    • Perhaps the younger people are waking up to the damage weed does to the growing brain.
      I votes “yes” hoping for decriminalisation and the health issues being more widely canvassed to the remarkably ignorant public.

      • John W:
        > Perhaps the younger people are waking up to the damage weed does to the growing brain.

        As with the much greater damage caused to young brains by alcohol, the best way to reduce this damage is to have licensed suppliers who will lose their license if they sell to people under 18. Everyone who voted “No” was voting for the continuation of black market tinny houses who will sell to anyone with $20. The same tinny houses who face no quality control regulation and can get away with spraying fly spray on buds to make them seem stronger. The Yes voters are the ones who voted to protect young people, not the head-in-the-sand Nopers.

    • Easy ones first eh Green bus??? Kiwis are thick that’s why. Allergic to thinking( they want someone else to do that for them)and yes very selfish and gutless.

  3. When others disappoint you with poor form, its wise to just move on and release any emotion from the interaction.

    “Dont argue with an idiot. The will beat you with experience and someone watching might not be able to tell the difference.”

    The main thing I am going to take from the reeferendum is that over half of NZ are not worth your attention. They will eat, drink and then medicate themselves to an early death, and influence others to do the same.

    Most schizophrenics test positive for celiac antibodies and in the past it was called wheat schizophrenia. All those poor souls never receiving the correct treatment. The media is full of lies, and true scientific endeavor is a dying art.

  4. Ardern withheld judgement on cannabis, so as not to alienate center right conservatives ( mainly women ) ,who would normally vote National ,but who were drifting to Labour under a good effort regarding covert.Coming out early pro cannabis risked losing those voters .Her positive endorsement of cannabis adding ,realistically 5%,could have carried the referendum but my feeling is the Labour strategy team told her to stay neutral to clinch the extra conservative votes .
    What older ex National voter wants a drug addict prime minister ? Oh dear .

    Ardern has shown remarkable leadership skills in times of crisis , but shows no sign of genuine transformational change or fixing inequality through fundamental redistribution or reform of the taxation system . Its just National lite .

    She is in a catch 22 . Reform taxation to solve inequality / child poverty /affordable housing and the former National voters go back to National . Which reduces her chances of a third term .

    Without serious wealth redistribution or Winston Peters to blame , a failure to address key social problems by 2023 will mean anger from the center left of Labour on the lack of progress and ammo for National to make a come back , based on Labours lack of performance .

    As the Labour vote drops , and migrates to the Greens in protest , it is plausible the Greens may hold considerably more power in 2023 .

    In 2023 , as the baby boomers start to die off , and more young people begin to vote ,the Greens appear increasingly viable. Young people only want 3 key things .A decent job ( which can’t be snaffled by a robot ),an affordable house ( that’s not $1,000,000 ) and a planet to live on .I don’t see Labour or National delivering this for young people anytime soon .

    Ardern is unable to produce radical reform if she wants to keep the center right ground and keep National weak and directionless . But the utter frustration with this by traditional labour voters may see the greens prosper , in 2023 .

    Watch this space .

  5. Coherent well written summation Chris. Hang in there and keep lobbying. There is a potential movement out there. Especially amongst the aged who are in pain and having seen what their parents were subjected to in care homes dishing out the opioids, are determined NOT to let that happen to them, even if it means jail time. Kia kaha!

  6. as a non-using Yes-voting 0.6% looser – the referendum was non-binding. Seems to me there is a strong mandate for reform. That so many voted YES despite say-nope-you-dope. So Dearest labour overlords – engage the tax-stream, disengage the “crucify our brown kids” model and lets try and catch up – and even pass blue-state-america.

  7. Fowlie is in error rounding 46.4% to 47% (nor does 48.4% round to 49%, though 50.7% does to 51%). Disregarding accuracy to make a point can misfire. However, I do agree with most of the rest of this. And reducing the gap from 7% to 2%; while not as good as a yes majority, is certainly useful to those arguing for drug law reform.

  8. Good opinion piece Chris.
    My thinking is if Labour chooses to do nothing on the Cannabis Law reforms by 2030…vote them out…

    Nothing focuses Politicians mind more than losing a election… If Government thinks they can ignore you, and take your vote for granted they will…trust me on this.

    If Labour chooses to ignore 1.2 million Kiwis decision, then 1.2 million voters should ignore Labour in 2023…

    By the way, most of those yes voters are also Labour/Green voters

  9. People didn’t vote no to personal use, they voted no to full blown legalization with all that it entails. And i firmly believe that is why he draft legislation was written that way.. to ensure a no win. Lots of people couldn’t care less about Joe Bloggs smoking a joint but balked at having cafes and the equivilent of bottle/pot shops popping up every where. Its a case of if we can’t tax it.. you can’t have it. Shameful manipulation of inexperienced green MP’s who got all excited about getting offered way more than they dreamed of but forgot the basic rule.. If it seems to good to be true.. It probably is.

  10. Final reeferendum results showed as many people voted for a cannabis reform as for the Labour Party. If this indicates there is no mandate for change then it also indicates Labour doesn’t have a mandate to rule.

    • Ethan Woke:
      > Final reeferendum results showed as many people voted for a cannabis reform as for the Labour Party.


      Vote for legalizing cannabis: 1,406,973
      Votes for Labour: 1,443,546

      But a lot more people voted against cannabis reform than for the NatACTs:

      Votes against legalizing cannabis: 1,474,635
      Votes for National: 738,275
      Votes for ACT: 219,030
      Total NatACT votes: 957,305

      I wonder which parties the other 500,000 or so Nopers voted for?

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