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Margin Narrows On Referendum Result: A Clear Mandate For Change

“Based on how close the result is, a change to cannabis/ drug law should not be ruled out,” said Tuari Potiki, Chair of the Drug Foundation.

“While the Drug Foundation accepts that the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is now unlikely to be put forward to Parliament in its current form, the Government has a responsibility to find a fix to our broken drug law.”

“The close result shows an unprecedented level of support for change in some form. Doing nothing is not an option for the Government.”

The final cannabis referendum result was released today with 48.4% of New Zealanders voting in favour of legalisation, and 50.7% against. The margin closed from 7% to 2.3% in the final count. 1,406,973 people voted for the specific set of regulations in the proposed bill, while 1,474,635 voted against.

“The issues that make reform essential have not simply disappeared now the votes are cast. The Government must find out what New Zealanders’ key concerns were in voting no, and come back with proposed legislation that will address the issues we all agree on”.

“The last minute swing towards a yes vote strongly suggests that young people and Māori – two of the biggest yes voting groups – came out in force in the last days in favour of a piece of law that directly affects them more than anyone.

“It’s sobering that a piece of law that could so positively improve criminal justice outcomes has been voted down on such a narrow margin. Those who would have particularly benefited are young people, Māori and medicinal cannabis patients. Yet people who are not directly affected by the outcome held sway,” Potiki said.

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“We’ve heard from so many whānau who are distraught after hearing the preliminary result last week, many of whom have personally faced conviction for their cannabis use.”

“The problems caused by prohibition will not disappear by themselves. We cannot stand back and ignore those who carry the greatest burden of the current punitive approach. The Government has a responsibility to find a way forward that honours their experiences.”

The Drug Foundation favours a Government response that keeps legalisation of cannabis on the table in some form. In addition, we note the strong mandate for decriminalisation that has been evident in public debates on the referendum: even those who campaigned for a ‘no’ vote publicly accepted that cannabis use should be treated as a health and social issue, and decriminalised.

“Within six months we believe government should take steps to end criminal penalties for those who use cannabis and other drugs, and for those who grow small quantities of cannabis at home for personal use,” Potiki said.

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