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Cannabis Referendum Remains Tight, With Many Still Undecided

With early voting now open, an independent survey of nearly 1,500 Kiwis shows the referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis is incredibly tight when respondents are forced to take a yes or no position.

When asked to make a choice between supporting or opposing the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, 52% of all respondents said they would vote in support, while 47% were against. This result would mean a small majority of around 139,300 votes for the bill, with 53% of females in support and 51% of males.

Commissioned by New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, the latest Horizon Research survey marks the eighth in a series of comprehensive surveys tracking nationwide opinion on cannabis law reform.

The same survey, conducted in late August, produced a dead heat with 49.5% in support and 49.5% opposed. In fact, the ultimate referendum result, due two weeks after election day, is still too close to call. The survey’s two-year trend lines for both ‘for’ and ‘against’ have now effectively converged.

“The ‘yes’ vote has firmed up slightly, but it’s still looking very close, with public opinion set to keep shifting right up until voting closes on the evening of Saturday, 17 October,” says Paul Manning, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics.

“The quality of debate and the strength of arguments for or against legalisation in the next two weeks are now critical. Turn-out of 18 to 34-year-olds will also be key. Young adults are the strongest supporters of the bill, but they also have the lowest registration and intention to vote,” says Mr Manning.

By ethnicity, support levels were Māori 64%; Indian 55%; Pasifika 53%; NZ European 52%; Other European’ 50%; and Asian 41%.

For the fourth time running, survey respondents were forced to take a position to better emulate the stark yes/no choice voters have. Other publicised polls on the referendum are still giving respondents a ‘don’t know’ option. The referendum options and the information provided to respondents were the Electoral Commission’s.

When all respondents were initially given an ‘I’m not sure’ option, 9% chose it, 46% supported the bill, 42% opposed it, and 2% said they would not vote in the referendum. Support was up from 44% in August, and those not sure was down from 12%, with females (12%) now twice as more likely to be unsure than males (6%) on how they would vote

Over 83% of all respondents said they were both registered and 100% likely to vote. When forced to take a yes or no position, the headline result for definite voters was also recorded at 52% for, 47% against. Initially, 9.2% of definite voters said they were unsure how they would vote, 46.5% said they would vote in support, and 44% would vote against.

“Nearly one in 10 New Zealanders remain uncertain about how they’re going to vote on cannabis legalisation, and that includes totally committed election voters. Again, both camps’ ability to reach and connect to the public in the coming days will be absolutely critical to the referendum result. It’s staggering that nearly 300,000 Kiwis have yet to make up their minds, which makes it quite exciting but also somewhat unpredictable,” says Mr Manning.

In the previous August survey, legalising the personal use of cannabis had achieved majority support among all respondents aged 18 to 44 years old. The latest survey, however, showed there is now overall support from those under 55 years of age, with the majority of 45 to 54-year-olds now backing the bill.

Support peaks at 69% among 25 to 34-year-olds. Opposition peaks at 73% among those aged 75 years or over, and has hardened the most among those aged 55 to 64 years with 58% now against, compared to 49% in August.

What’s more, the youngest voters, 18 to 24-year olds, now seem to have made up their minds on how they will vote, with those unsure down from 19% in August to now 5%.

Intending Green Party voters for Election 2020 are the strongest supporters at 97% for, 2% against. They are followed by Labour voters at 65% for, 35% against; Act voters at 42% for, 57% against; New Zealand First voters at 36% for, 64% against; with intending National voters the strongest opposers at 22% for and 78% against.

“Kiwis look set to vote along partisan lines. However, past surveys have shown that even those against legalisation overwhelmingly agree that prohibition of personal use cannabis has been an abject failure in this country. And most Kiwis accept that the continuation of the status quo won’t improve anything,” says Paul Manning

“The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is not about liberating cannabis. It’s already well entrenched across society. Rather, this vote is about harm reduction and strict regulation, with the state in control, not the gangs. Voters now have a lot to weigh up,” he says.

Commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and carried out independently by Horizon Research, the results are from a nationwide online survey of 1,481 respondents conducted between 24 and 28 September 2020.

This report tracks the results of a series of nationwide online surveys of adults representing the 18+ population of New Zealand. Respondents were members of Horizon Research’s HorizonPoll panel and a third-party nationwide research panel, both of which represent the adult population at the 2018 Census. Results are weighted by age, gender, highest education, personal income, employment status and party vote at the 2017 election. At a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is ±2.6%.

Helius and Horizon’s tracking of public opinion on the referendum over the past 23 months makes it the most significant series of surveys on the issue. Support was first recorded at 60% in November 2018. Last year support was at 52% in April; 39% in August; and 48% in November. This year it was at 54% in February; 56% in June; 49.5% in August; 52% in September.

Key results for all respondents:

Referendum options: Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

All respondents:

  • 52% - for
  • 47% - against
  • 1% - no response

Age Group:

  • 18 – 24 years: 63% for / 35% against
  • 25 – 34 years: 69% for / 31% against
  • 35 – 44 years: 60% for / 40% against
  • 45 – 54 years: 57% for / 43% against
  • 55 – 64 years: 41% for / 58% against
  • 65 – 74 years: 33% for / 66% against
  • 75yrs or over: 27% for / 73% against

Note: some results may not total 100% owing to rounding

Intended Party Vote 2020:

  • ACT: 42% for 57% against
  • Green: 97% for 2% against
  • Labour: 65% for / 35% against
  • National: 22% for / 78% against
  • NZ First: 36% for / 64% against


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