Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick swipes at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for holding back cannabis view

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who stood out in the campaign to legalise recreational cannabis, has taken a swipe at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for holding back her view. 

The Electoral Commission's preliminary results show the majority of New Zealanders have voted against legalising recreational cannabis and questions have been raised over whether it could have gone the other way with Ardern's support. 

"I'm in the Greens because I have the courage of my convictions," Swarbrick said on Friday, when asked if she thought the referendum could have swung in the 'yes' vote's favour if Ardern had been open about her stance. 

"I'm really proud of having stuck my neck out there and made the argument for something that I believe in - something that is evidence-based, something that disproportionately criminalises our most marginalised communities," Swarbrick said. 

"I think that any politician who wants to talk about those kinds of things needs to say those things when it matters."

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister confirmed on Friday she voted 'yes' in both the cannabis and euthanasia referendums and will progress any legislation in line with the will of the people following the release of the final results next week.

Ardern was pressured during the election campaign by National leader Judith Collins to reveal how she intended to cast her vote on recreational cannabis because Collins made it clear she would vote against it. 

But Ardern said she believed her role as Prime Minister was to facilitate the referendum without influencing the public's vote because she wanted to enable the outcome whichever way it went. 

She was also already on record as supporting euthanasia before the decision was made to put it to a referendum in 2019. As for the cannabis referendum, the Greens were promised it as part of their confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2017. 

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo credit: Newshub

"I see euthanasia as different - that never went to Parliament as a referendum in the first place. It was designed as something for parliamentarians to vote on and I've been very open on my position," Ardern said in August. "This, though, has been designed for the public to decide."

The Prime Minister had only ever dropped a few hints on how she viewed cannabis. 

"I was raised Mormon and then I was not Mormon - I let other people determine what that means," she said in May 2019, after the Government confirmed a vote on recreational cannabis would be put to the public.  

It's not the first time Swarbrick, the Green Party's drug law reform spokesperson, has voiced frustration over Ardern's quietness on the subject of cannabis. 

"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," she told Newshub last month.  

The Green MP said on Friday she is optimistic that special votes - people who enrolled to vote on Election Day and those who cast their ballots from overseas - could swing the cannabis referendum in favour of legalisation.  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

"The kind of indications that I have heard from those who have been doing the calculations and crunching those numbers is that we need around 67 percent of those specials to be skewed towards 'yes'," she said. 

"I think it's entirely plausible. I think that if anybody tried to predict anything about this election, least of all that I would be sitting here as the leading candidate in Auckland Central, especially based on the polls - we'd be having a very different conversation."

Swarbrick said she was disappointed the campaign was filled with misinformation. 

"I'm really stoked to be following in the footsteps of Green MPs who have always stood really staunchly in favour of evidence-based, compassionate harm reduction legalisation of cannabis. This same cannot always be said for those across the parliamentary aisle."

National's drug law reform spokesperson Nick Smith, who Swarbrick went up against in Newshub Nation's cannabis debate, said he was pleased with the preliminary results. 

"New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalising recreational cannabis would normalise it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm," Dr Smith said. 

"The way forward on drug policy is a firm approach on dealers and gangs to restrict supply, increased access to treatment and rehabilitation for users, expansion of specialised drug courts and improved education on drug harm."

You can view the referendum results here