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New Zealand Voters Support Legalizing the ‘Right to Die’ Over Cannabis

November 11, 2020 03:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
New Zealand Voters Support Legalizing the ‘Right to Die’ Over Cannabis

In October 2020, New Zealand citizens were asked to vote on a number of matters, which includes matters concerning cannabis and euthanasia. After this vote, New Zealand will join a small number of countries that have legalized physician-assisted euthanasia, but what’s to be said of the matter on cannabis? Well, one thing’s for sure, some citizens expressed frustration towards Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had refused to take a position concerning the legalization of cannabis before the election. That may not be enough for frustration, but then she announced, on the Friday after the election, that she was in fact in favor of cannabis legalization and had voted in its support. 

The Prime Minister’s Stance on Cannabis Was Unclear Prior to the Vote

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s stance on cannabis prior to voting, she made her support for the legalization of physician-assisted euthanasia quite clear. The legalization of assisted euthanasia was passed with having 65% of the votes as support. This means that doctors will legally be able to prescribe lethal doses of medication at a patient’s request. Do note that there are steep stipulations and very specific circumstances in which this can be done. Patients must have a terminal condition and a life expectancy that is strongly predicted to end within a 6 month period. Patients who ultimately choose this scenario will need to have displayed a significant and continuous decline in physical health and ability, as well as suffering through symptoms that can’t be eased with intervention. Two doctors will be required to sign off on their discretion and the patient will have to prove that they were of sound mind and capable of making informed decisions.

David Seymour, a lawmaker sponsoring the euthanasia bill stated that the verdict was well received and that it made “New Zealand a kinder, more compassionate and more humane society”. As mentioned already, there are only a few countries that have legalized euthanasia and the same can be said for cannabis, despite increasing decriminalization. 

The Government Will Now Drop All Cannabis Reform Efforts 

The citizens of New Zealand were expected to vote on the matter of legalization as well as on the specific regulations which would govern the cannabis legal market. Unfortunately for many, 53% of the voters decided on opposing the matter. Unlike the matter of euthanasia, the cannabis referendum was non-binding, meaning that the government will have a reflection of the people’s thoughts but it does not require any action. Sounds like there is still some hope for cannabis legalization…until you find out that Justice Minister, Andrew Little, stated that the government would drop its efforts to legalize cannabis as well as dropping its efforts to decriminalize it. 

Many believe that the matter of cannabis may have had majority support if the Prime Minister stated her support prior to the voting. In my opinion, the legalization of euthanasia is one step forward to a more humane society, but dropping all efforts of legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis is two steps back. Additionally, supporters of cannabis, such as Dr. Marta Rychert, added that the cannabis referendum could have been more appealing had they focused more on the economic contribution instead of largely focusing on the health and wealth of New Zealanders. 

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At the time that the cannabis referendum results were released (the 53% against cannabis), there were still half a million “special votes” which had to be counted before the official release of the outcome on the 6th of November. Unfortunately, even those were not enough to change the outcome. The final results of the cannabis legalization and control referendum were 48.4% in favor of and 50.7% against cannabis. 

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, later explained why she did not want to take a position on cannabis prior to the vote stating that it was “for New Zealand to decide” and that,

“Ultimately, New Zealanders have made up their own minds”. She also stated that “when it comes to a referendum, a majority is a majority and so it hasn’t tipped the balance in terms of what we as a government do. We gave our commitment to New Zealanders if it won the majority, we would progress legalization; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t”. 

Considering that the final verdict differentiated by only 1.7%, that leaves a large number of the New Zealanders without hope of accessing cannabis in a legal capacity as it will now remain illegal. For many people, cannabis offers relief from conditions that pharmaceuticals can’t or don’t do well enough. All the progress that New Zealand has made with regards to cannabis legalization has now come to a screeching halt. Perhaps the nation and its people will reconsider in time, one can only hope at this point. 

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