Jacinda Ardern reveals she voted in favour of cannabis legalisation as New Zealand votes 'no'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has finally revealed her stance on recreational cannabis, confirming she voted in favour of legalisation, but the majority of New Zealand has voted 'no'. 

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister confirmed Ardern 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.

The Electoral Commission unveiled the preliminary results on Friday showing 53.1 opposed to legalising recreational cannabis compared to 46.1 in favour, while 65.2 percent voted in favour of euthanasia compared to 33.8 percent against. 

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 had made it clear she would vote against it. 

But Ardern said she believed her role as Prime Minister was to facilitate the cannabis 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.  

The End of Life Choice Act - the legislation behind legalising euthanasia - has already gone through the parliamentary process and has been given Royal Assent, so it will come into effect 12 months from the final results, on November 6 next year. 

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill - the legislation behind legalising recreational cannabis - will not be introduced by the Government this term. The incoming Government says it will respect the result of both referendums.

Special votes are still yet to be confirmed - that's people who enrolled to vote on Election Day and those who voted from overseas. But Justice Minister Andrew Little said it's unlikely the special votes will change the results. 

"The margins in the results are such that it is highly unlikely those results would be overturned on the specials. In fact, on the euthanasia question, it's pretty much unassailable," Little told reporters after the results has been announced. 

"On the cannabis question, the specials would have to break 70 percent 'yes' in order to overturn that result today, so I think we can be pretty sure that the electorate does not support legalisation of recreational cannabis."

Little said given New Zealanders have voted against legalisation of cannabis, it's unlikely the Government will pursue it again, but he pointed to changes that have already been made to favour a health-based approach to drug use. 

The Government passed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act in 2019 which allows police to use "discretion" not to prosecute drug users, but to offer addiction support instead. 

"There has been in the last term of Government some work with the Misuse of Drugs Act and giving a signal to the police about the way they exercise their prosecutorial discretion to favour a health approach," Little said. 

Little was asked if the Government would consider decriminalisation of cannabis rather than legalisation, and he said while there has been a "level of decriminalisation with the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act", the referendum results will be respected.  

"The electorate has spoken... On that basis, I don't see there's a basis on which we could entertain further drug law reform of that nature," he said. "The electorate has spoken - they are uncomfortable with legalisation."

Little added, "Bearing in mind, too, that the problem with pure decriminalisation is that it doesn't remove one of the social harms which is the criminal element that sits behind the supply of cannabis.

"The whole rationale for legalisation and control was to minimise social harms - not just harms to individuals, particularly young people - but also the social harms associated with the criminal elements that are behind supply."

He said decriminalisation doesn't deal with that issue. 

"We put together a draft piece of legislation that I think dealt with the issues people would have expected to be dealt with, we put together publicity information, it's got out there, there's been a reasonable public debate about it, but in the end people weren't ready to take that step."

Little said he voted in favour of legalising recreational cannabis.