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Don’t Expect Results On Saturday’s New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Vote For A Few Weeks

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New Zealand voters will have a chance to decide on a referendum to legalize marijuana nationwide on Saturday—but don’t expect to see the results until a few weeks later.

Early voting has been open since October 3, and advocates have been strongly pushing for a “yes” vote on the initiative, which would legalize cannabis for adults aged 20 and older. But recent polling indicates that it’s going to be a close race, likely adding to the anxiety of the delay in releasing results after Election Day.

“We won’t count referendum votes on election night,” the nation’s Electoral Commission says. Instead, preliminary results for the cannabis referendum, as well as a separate ballot question on end of life choices, will be posted on October 30. The final results for the ballot measures and the general election will be declared on November 6.

Under the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, unveiled by the government in April, adults would be able to purchase and possess marijuana, cultivate two plants for personal use and visit cannabis “coffee shops” where on-site consumption would be allowed.

They could purchase up to 14 grams of cannabis from licensed retailers and also gift up to 14 grams to another adult.

If more than 50 percent of voters approve the ballot question, marijuana wouldn’t be immediately legalized. Rather, it would still be incumbent on Parliament to enact the legislation.

While some wanted the referendum to be self-executing, meaning the law would take effect as soon as it was approved by voters, this version is “binding” in the sense that lawmakers are effectively required to pass the bill—but it could still be amended, and it’s not clear how significant any changes could end up being.

The three political parties that are part of the nation’s minority government coalition reached an agreement about the basic details of the legalization referendum and released that information in May 2019. The referendum on the issue is the product of a deal that the Green Party struck after agreeing to help install Labour Party head Jacinda Ardern as the prime minister following the 2017 election.

After all of this work and campaigning around the legalization proposal, however, it remains deeply unclear where voters will ultimately come down.

A poll released by the Helen Clark Foundation and the New Zealand Drug Foundation earlier this month found 49 percent support for the referendum and 45 percent are in opposition. Meanwhile, a separate survey from August showed just 39 percent of respondents favor the measure while 46 percent are against it.

An internal poll from the Green party that was shared with The Spinoff showed that, of the 1,286 respondents surveyed from October 9-12, 278 had already voted and 50 percent of those individuals were against the referendum, versus 47 percent who back the proposal. Of the remaining 1,008 respondents, 45 percent said they were in favor of the policy change, 41 percent said there were against it and 14 percent remained undecided.

If approved, New Zealand would become only the third country in the world with a national law allowing legal marijuana sales, after Uruguay and Canada. A handful of other nations have policies that allow possession and home cultivation.

Meanwhile, Ardern, the prime minister, acknowledged during a recent debate that she has consumed cannabis in the past but has refused to say how she plans to vote on the referendum.

The nation’s justice minister said on Thursday marijuana prohibition has failed, but he added that the government has “no intention” of past cannabis convictions.

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Photo courtesy of Tākuta

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