Sunday, November 1, 2020

Barry Soper: Small spark of hope remains for cannabis legalisation


The bongs were standing at the ready to be fired up as the preliminary result on the referendum to legalise cannabis was released by the Electoral Commission.

When it came out the tears turned the wicked weed into a damp, non-inflammable mess.

Just over 53 per cent of you said no to legalisation while 46 per cent said yes.

By next Friday the tobacco will have dried out and the bongs will be at the ready again given there's a modicum of hope that the flame will take hold.

There are around 480,000 special votes being counted and that could turn the tide, which is a remote possibility but nevertheless is still a flicker for those who have fought to have the law on the statute books. It would take most of the special votes, 67 per cent or almost 324,000, to change the preliminary results.

But let's have a look at what the last UMR poll done by the Helen Clark Foundation and the New Zealand Drug Foundation found. UMR came the closest to calling the outcome of the election, it has to be remembered.

That poll on cannabis found 49 per cent in favour, with 45 per cent opposed to it being legalised.

But it's the breakdown of who supported it that's important.

Not surprisingly the Greens, who put it on the table during the 2017 coalition talks, were the most supportive in the poll, with 82 per cent of their followers saying they would vote yes. Next were Maori at 66 per cent in support of legalisation. Then came 62 per cent of young people aged between 18 and 29, followed by 62 per cent of Labour voters saying they'd support it.

Those who didn't want a bar of it were National supporters, where 74 per cent were unlikely to vote for it and 67 per cent of those aged over 60.

So if the election night election results were transferred to the cannabis referendum there's still a slim chance it could succeed, but then that's discounting the number of National voters who changed to Labour to keep the Greens out of a formal Government arrangement.

The pro-cannabis lobby have now turned their venom on Jacinda Ardern who most, if not all of them, would have voted for.

Within minutes of the preliminary votes being made public, Ardern admitted what most of us assumed, that she voted for legalisation. If she'd declared that earlier her new detractors say the result could have been different.

But if in the unlikely event the result changes, then legislation would surely follow, with Ardern saying the Government would progress any legislation in line with the will of the people.

Barry Soper is a New Zealand political journalist, and has been featured regularly on radio and television since the 1970s. Currently, Soper's main role is political editor at Newstalk ZB, a radio network in New Zealand.

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