Chlöe Swarbrick blasts Jacinda Ardern, National, Labour for 'risk-averse', 'partisan' attitude to cannabis referendum

Chlöe Swarbrick has taken a swing at the Prime Minister and MPs of both major parties, labelling them "the most risk-averse group [she's] ever met" and their stewardship of New Zealand's cannabis laws "utterly abhorrent".

The Green MP is frustrated by what she sees as hypocrisy from her fellow parliamentarians, many of whom have admitted to using cannabis at some point in their lives yet have shown no appetite to change to the law that criminalises it.

She says most Labour MPs refuse to make public which way they're voting in the cannabis referendum on October 17, while National MPs have simply adopted the party line: a blanket 'no'.

It comes as a recent poll shows support for cannabis legalisation has sunk to a low of 35 percent, while 53 percent of Kiwis plan to vote against it at next month's referendum.

Swarbrick's not worried by the result - all the polls contradict each other, she says, so it's better to consider their "broad trajectory" - but she's disheartened that the referendum being held alongside the election has caused it to "fall along really partisan lines".

She told Newshub the build-up to the referendum has exposed  Labour and National politicians as "the most risk-averse group I've ever met".

"My hope going into this was that we were going to end up with a non- or cross-partisan approach, whereby you'd have MPs from every sector speak to the importance of treating this as a health issue," she said.

"It just seems that, for some, clinging to power is too important.

"I think one of the reasons I've ended up the de facto spokesperson on this issue is because it can be painted as controversial.

"Probably the greatest irony is the more that the professional class of politicians choose not to engage with it, the more it is able to be painted as controversial."

'Our Prime Minister should express where she sits'

Swarbrick believes it should be an obligation for MPs - despite it being a secret ballot - to express where they stand on the issue of cannabis legalisation.

She's joined National leader Judith Collins and a chorus of politicians and media commentators in calling for the Prime Minister to reveal her position on the referendum.

"I remember during the 2017 leader's debate that Jacinda Ardern, as leader of the Labour Party, said she was in favour of cannabis decriminalisation," she told Newshub.

"If we are to meaningfully grapple with what is currently a system that's not working, I do believe our Prime Minister - despite not having to campaign on the issue - should express where she sits on it."

Jacinda Ardern has refused to say which we'll she'll vote in the euthanasia referendum.
Jacinda Ardern has refused to say which we'll she'll vote in the euthanasia referendum. Photo credit: Getty

She's also frustrated by the National Party, which has "somehow come to 100 percent consensus that all of them are going to vote 'no'" - despite MPs within the party telling her they would like to vote the opposite way.

Swarbrick says this kind of hypocrisy is "the thing that drives me most bonkers about how our Parliament and our politicians operate".

"You have a majority of politicians who have used cannabis at some point in the past, but now they oversee a law that criminalises and penalises and steals the future of people who do exactly the same thing as they did," she said.

"I just think the hypocrisy of that is utterly abhorrent, particularly when you're talking about such grotesque injustice."

How National and Labour responded

National's drug law reform spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says Swarbrick's comments about his party seem to be out of frustration and panic at recent polls, which suggest the 'no' campaign is on track for a win.

And he believes she's guilty of hypocrisy herself for calling out National MPs who are voting along party lines, saying there's no difference between that and the Greens all voting in favour of legalisation.

"[National has] played this with a straight bat. We're opposed to both the process as well as the policy," Dr Smith told Newshub.

Dr Nick Smith and Chlöe Swarbrick are the drug law reform spokespeople of National and the Greens respectively.
Dr Nick Smith and Chlöe Swarbrick are the drug law reform spokespeople of National and the Greens respectively. Photo credit: Newshub.

"I've never used cannabis and make no bones about my opposition to it.

"Just because somebody may at some time in their life have exceeded the speed limit, doesn't make them a hypocrite as a consequence of still saying there should still be a speed limit."

Dr Smith also claimed he'd spoken to Green MPs who say the party's environmental goals are being overshadowed and dragged down by the party's insistence on changing cannabis legislation.

But he shares Swarbrick's frustration that the Prime Minister refuses to make clear her position on cannabis.

"The Prime Minister's position is completely political. She knows that by stating her position clearly, she will alienate part of her support base."

Ardern wouldn't respond directly to Swarbrick's criticism, but her office told Newshub she'd set out her approach to the referendum "a long time ago". 

"It's her view that it's up to New Zealanders to decide on the issue - and Labour is committed to implementing whatever the end result is," a spokesperson for Ardern said.

Earlier this month, Ardern told The AM Show the issue of cannabis legalisation would be a conscience vote for Labour MPs. She said she didn't feel it was her job to advocate any one side because her party doesn't have a position on it.

"I have frequently said before that there are very strong arguments on both sides," she said.

"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."