New Zealanders back legal weed once they know the facts - poll

Kiwis will vote to legalise cannabis if they actually know what they're voting on, pro-legalisation campaigners have claimed.

A referendum later this year will ask whether recreational use of the popular drug should be made legal. Recent polls have found support for legalisation slipping.

But a new poll has found when voters are told what's in the proposed legislation, support for legalisation comfortably outweighs opposition. 

"It's going to be really important that people understand what is proposed, and they have good access to accurate, evidence-based information about the issue and the likely impacts of the law change so they can make an informed decision," said Holly Walker, deputy director of the Helen Clark Foundation, which paid for the polling, conducted by UMR. 

When first asked, respondents were almost evenly split on legalisation - 46 percent for, 44 against and 10 undecided. But once the details of the Government's draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill were explained, support grew to 50 percent, opposition fell to 42 percent and undecided dropped to 8 percent.

"People are more likely to support legalisation of cannabis when they know that information about the restrictions that are proposed," said Walker.

The Bill includes:

  • a ban on sales to anyone under 20 - much like alcohol used to be
  • a purchase limit of 14g - about half an ounce, enough for 14 tinnies
  • restrictions on where it can be used
  • restrictions on its potency
  • an advertising and marketing ban
  • limits on how much can be grown at home
  • no online sales.

"Not everyone knows the basics," said Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.  

"We have had people ask us if they have to be enrolled to participate in the referendum. This issue is relevant to every New Zealander and they want to talk and have their say on this... There is evidence from other jurisdictions that if we are going to have this conversation people need good, accurate information. 

"We have an opportunity to vote on a solution that is focused on positive public health outcomes and harm minimisation, so let's do it right."

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark backs legalisation.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark backs legalisation. Photo credit: The AM Show

Anti-legalisation campaigner Bob McCoskrie told NZME support was falling as more people realised the vote wasn't going to be about medicinal use.

Some teens want to smoke, but aren't getting the chance 

New data from the Youth Insights Survey, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday, shows teen use of cannabis is continuing a two-decade decline

National Party drug spokesperson Paula Bennett said the findings were "great news".

"So why risk the potential of normalising cannabis and reversing this trend by legalising?"

But new figures out of Canada this week, which legalised recreational cannabis in 2018, showed use amongst 15- to 17-year-olds has declined in the past two years, while use amongst 18- to 24-year-olds had remained static. 

According to the researchers behind the latest statistics for Aotearoa, the primary reason 14- and 15-year-olds aren't smoking as much isn't because they don't want to.

"The evidence suggests that adolescents' willingness to try cannabis has increased, but their opportunities for doing so have decreased due to less face-to-face time with friends and fewer drinking and smoking occasions," researchers Jude Ball, Niveditha Gurram and Greg Martin wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The evidence for this is while monthly cannabis use by adolescents has declined from 9.9 to 7.8 percent over the last six years, the percentage who have ever tried it has risen from 13.6 percent to 14.2. 

Bennett also said this week a drop in cannabis convictions over the past week was further proof legalisation wasn't required. Massey University senior drug researcher Chris Wilkins said the drop was down to police focusing on harder drugs like meth, rather than decreasing cannabis usage.