An unprecedented victory for Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick in the Auckland Central electorate last night may spell a dramatic swing in the forthcoming cannabis referendum results, according to a panel of political commentators.
New Zealanders have had their say on whether recreational cannabis should be legalised, the results of which are yet to be released. On their ballots, Kiwis were asked whether they supported the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill - legislation that would legalise the use of recreational marijuana by implementing a regulatory framework to control the sale and supply of the drug, which is readily available through the black market and used prolifically nationwide.
Swarbrick, the Green Party's drug reform spokesperson, is one of Parliament's most prominent proponents of cannabis legalisation, and has actively advocated for the 'vote yes' campaign throughout her electioneering.
The young MP has consistently urged Kiwis not to conflate voting 'yes' for the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill with supporting cannabis use. Instead, she argues, voting in favour of the Bill supports the implementation of restrictions and a regulatory framework to ensure greater safety for communities and rangatahi - rather than continuing the current black market free-for-all.
Despite recent polling indicating the public consensus is no, recreational cannabis should not be legalised in New Zealand, Swarbrick's shock victory has sparked theories that another major upset should not be ruled out.
Presenting Newshub Nation's Election Special on Sunday morning, political editor Tova O'Brien floated the possibility that Swarbrick's surprise win - scraping past Labour's Helen White by a mere 492 votes - could be indicative of another unexpected turnout in favour of the referendum.
"She was a champion of the recreational cannabis referendum - no one predicted that Chlöe would take out Auckland Central, the predictions for the cannabis referendum have been [leaning towards] no. Do you think there could be an upset there and we could see recreational cannabis legalised?" she asked the panel.
Dr Lara Greaves, an Auckland University lecturer in New Zealand politics and public policy, said it is a possibility.
"We know left-wing voters are more likely to be pro-cannabis and young people are more likely to be pro-cannabis. Potentially [Swarbrick's win] suggests that, but it's just one of those things where we'll have to wait and see."
Dr Greaves praised Swarbrick as an "excellent politician" who has played an important role in the legalisation campaign.
"I think more broadly though, the way we talk about Chlöe Swarbrick and politics and [her] being an up-and-comer, the function of her age and her gender - she is actually an excellent politician, she worked the cannabis referendum really well, obviously for principled reasons," Dr Greaves said.
"She's just generally showing that we need more rangatahi, more young people in politics, it's great."
The results of the latest Newshub Reid-Research Poll, released on the eve of the election, revealed the majority of Kiwis had, or were planning to, vote 'no' in the referendum.
The poll asked participants: "Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?"
- 55.6 percent said 'no' (+5.1 points on the September 30 poll)
- 38.3 percent said 'yes' (+0.4 points)
- 5.7 percent 'didn't know' (-5.2 points)
- 0.4 percent won't vote (-0.8 points).
Addressing the results on Friday, O'Brien said even if the undecided voters do decide to 'yes', it won't be enough for the Bill to pass.
"It's looking like cannabis will be voted down," she said.
Earlier this week, Swarbrick crossed swords with Duncan Garner over the presenter's views on legalisation. Remaining poised and collected, the MP fended off Garner's attempts to poke holes in her argument, reiterating that control of sale and supply is more important than just decriminalisation - the act of removing criminal penalties for cannabis offences, policing that requires roughly $300 million in funding per year.
If the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill passes in its current form, New Zealanders aged 20 and over would be able to purchase a maximum of 14 grams of cannabis from a licensed retailer per day. The Bill also proposes restrictions on THC potency, as well as the regulation of cannabis quality.
People aged 20 and over would be able to grow up to two plants, with a maximum of four plants per household, and would legally be allowed to consume cannabis on private property or at licensed premises. Health warnings would be required on packaging and at the time of purchase.
If more than 50 percent of people have voted 'yes' in the referendum, recreational cannabis would not become legal immediately. After securing its second term last night, the Labour Government would subsequently introduce a Bill to Parliament that would legalise and control cannabis. This process would include the opportunity for the public to share their thoughts and ideas on how the law might work.
If more than 50 percent of people voted 'no', recreational cannabis will remain illegal, as is the current law.
The results of both the cannabis referendum and the euthanasia referendum, regarding the End of Life Choice Bill, will be revealed in two weeks' time.