New Zealand may become the first Asia-Pacific country – and only the third worldwide – to legalize marijuana.
A binding referendum on legalization will be held alongside the next general election in 2020, the government announced this week.
It’s part of a confidence and supply agreement between the ruling Labour Party and the Greens, who welcomed the binding nature of the vote.
“We’ve long advocated for a binding referendum with legislation setting out a clear, evidence-based regulatory framework. That way, we avoid a Brexit-type situation figuring out what a ‘yes’ vote means after the fact, and cut grey moral panic from the debate,” Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said on Twitter.
Speaking in Parliament last month, Swarbrick blasted the hypocrisy of MPs who admitted they had taken drugs in the past but did not support legalization.
“A substantial number of us (in Parliament) have personally admitted to breaking the law and consuming illegal drugs,” she said. “And now we preside over that law which penalizes people who engage in exactly the same behavior.”
According to a New Zealand Drug Foundation poll earlier this year, two thirds of respondents supported either legalization or decriminalization.
“We know from polls over a number of years that a majority of New Zealanders support cannabis law reform,” said Sandra Murray, a spokeswoman for the Cannabis Reform Coalition.
However, she said details of exactly what voters would be asked were yet to be hashed out.
“It is disappointing that we haven’t got clarity on the question yet,” Murray said. “Our coalition reiterates our preference for a two-part question that asks firstly whether people support adults being able to possess and grow cannabis for personal use, and secondly whether they support adults being able to buy cannabis from licensed premises. This could be in the form of a modular bill which allows one or both divisions to be passed, depending on the outcome of the referendum.”
If New Zealand does legalize marijuana, it will be only the third country in the world after Uruguay and Canada to do so. Nine states in the US and the District of Columbia also allow recreational marijuana use, and the drug has been decriminalized in many parts of Europe.
Marijuana legalization may only be the first of several referendums which New Zealanders vote on in 2020: the government is still considering whether to hold votes on legalizing euthanasia and making changes to electoral laws, according to Radio NZ.
Supporters of changing the marijuana law will hope for a more positive result than the country’s last major referendum. In 2016, New Zealanders rejected changing the country’s flag after a year-long campaign which cost upwards of $17 million.