Cannabis referendum: Jacinda Ardern reveals why she won't publicly take a side

Jacinda Ardern has explained why she won't reveal how she's voting in the cannabis referendum, but has been happy to talk about her position on euthanasia.

Ardern has never said whether she's in favour of legalising recreational use of cannabis, but will vote 'yes' to make ACT leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill the law. 

The difference in her approach is down to how the two controversial topics ended up on the ballot in the first place.

"For euthanasia, it was never intended that that Bill in Parliament would necessarily become a referendum," she told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"We were all voting on the actual Bill itself and whether or not that would become law. I was very open then about my voting in Parliament. It was then decided that it would become a referendum."

In other words, she was already on the record as being a supporter of the Bill, which passed its third reading in November in a conscience vote. It only passed narrowly, New Zealand First MPs only offering support on the proviso it went to a binding referendum.

In contrast, the cannabis referendum is not binding. It was set up as part of the Green Party's confidence and supply agreement with Labour. A proposed legal regime is outlined in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, but there's no legal obligation for it to be adopted wholesale if the referendum passes. 

"On the issue of marijuana, that is a conscience vote for the Labour Party... we do not have a position as a whole party," said Ardern. "My view therefore would not be the Labour Party view. 

"Equally, I don't think it's my job therefore to go out and advocate any one side because my party does not have a position on it. The view of the public around me is equivalent therefore to mine." 

Jacinda Ardern on The AM Show.
Jacinda Ardern on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ardern fears if she made her vote public, she'd be "asked to argue why".

"I feel like because we're running a Government referendum here, that it's my job to ensure the public have confidence in the information that's being provided and confidence that we'll deliver the outcome.

"I have frequently said before that there are very strong arguments on both sides. Personally I've never wanted to see people criminalised for cannabis use, but equally I've always been concerned about young people accessing it. 

"You can make an argument that both options are seeking to prohibit and reduce use - it's all around whether you believe decriminalisation or regulation is the way to do it, or continuing with prohibition."

If Labour is re-elected - which looks likely at this stage - Ardern said the public can be "assured" the results of the referendum will be respected. Past non-binding referendum results haven't always been, particularly those initiated by the public.