Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her silence on the cannabis referendum, saying her public advocacy wouldn’t have translated into successful legalisation of New Zealand’s most used drug. Reports the Canberra Times
On Friday, the Electoral Commission released preliminary results for the public poll, showing 46 per cent of Kiwis voted for the law reform, with 53 against.
The results aren’t final as roughly 500,000 “special votes” representing 20 per cent of the electorate are yet to be counted.
Minutes after the results were released, Ms Ardern revealed she was a ‘yes’ voter on the issue, ending months of equivocation.
The Labour leader was praised by ‘no’ campaigners Say Nope To Dope and savaged by ‘yes’ advocates for sitting on the fence through the debate.
On Saturday afternoon she said she voted ‘yes’ because she didn’t want to see “people imprisoned for personal possession” while having “concerns about young people’s access”.
“I weighed those issues up and I voted in favour,” she said.
“However I wanted every New Zealander to weigh those issues up independently of my view.”
In a live television debate during the election campaign, Ms Ardern admitted previously smoking the drug “a long time ago”.
The 40-year-old, who helped Labour to its biggest vote share since 1938 in the election a fortnight ago, said she doubted her own voice would have influenced people.
“I don’t actually. Ultimately New Zealanders made up their own mind,” she said.
“I asked every single New Zealander to vote for Labour and they didn’t.”
Writing in the NZ Herald, former Labour prime minister Helen Clark expressed her disappointment with the vote – without criticising the current PM.
“The case for legalisation was evidence-based … a no vote cannot and will not deliver a cannabis-free New Zealand,” she wrote.
Ms Ardern moved to end cannabis possession as a criminal offence last year when the parliament amended the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Ms Clark suggests a further law change to discourage police to arrest Kiwis for marijuana possession and Ms Ardern hinted she may pick that idea up.
“That change in the Misuse of Drugs Act does place an expectation on the police … to take a health approach unless it’s in the public interest not to do so,” she said.
“There’s work to be done there and ensuring that has been the case.”