NZ First are on their own calling for a referendum on decriminalising cannabis

By August 22, 2016 Recent News

Stuff 16 August 2016
The majority of Kiwis are calling for cannabis to be decriminalised but there’s almost no appetite for a referendum from political leaders.

Prime Minister John Key says a referendum on decriminalising cannabis isn’t on the Government agenda and if Labour were to win in 2017, it wouldn’t be on theirs either.

Key said while it’s interesting to have a poll on decriminalising cannabis – ultimately it would lead to cannabis stores on the street corner.

“You show me the communities who want to put up their hand and say I want a tinny house at the end of my street.”

The only party supporting putting the question to the public is NZ First – who has a long standing position to use referendums to decide controversial issues.

Labour leader Andrew Little says he personally doesn’t think cannabis decriminalisation would work as a policy and the party has no plans to carry one out if in Government.

This won’t be music to the Green Party’s ears who don’t think a referendum is needed but instead want a Government bill on legalising cannabis, which would provide an opportunity for public submissions.

Greens health spokesman Kevin Hague said a recent poll that revealed 64 per cent of Kiwis thought personal possession of a small amount of cannabis should be either decriminalised or legal, showed it was time to have a proper debate on the issue.

“I’m looking forward to the day the Green Party is part of a Government and we’ll be advocating for that.”

However, Little said legalisation isn’t an option for Labour and a referendum on decriminalisation isn’t on the table either.

“We’ve been clear about our priorities, and actually I don’t think the Greens will even disagree that the types of priorities we’re talking about are their priorities too. We can have a talk about it but what it will come down to are what the priorities are now.”

Government support partners, UnitedFuture and ACT don’t favour a referendum on the issue.

If there was a citizen-initiated referendum, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said he wouldn’t oppose it but “it’s not a priority”.

ACT leader David Seymour said referendums are a “cop out” and he can’t recall any problem in the country ever being solved through the public process.

“What the polls show is while there’s a lot of sympathy for medicinal marijuana, there’s actually not a lot of sympathy for anything else in terms of reform,” he said.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says her party supports broadening access to medicinal cannabis and would like to see a “wider debate” on decriminalisation.

She wouldn’t be drawn on a referendum for decriminalisation until she discussed it with the rest of the party.

“Personally I’m not sure a referendum would be that helpful. It’s pretty polarising one way or the other and I think the discussion is what’s needed rather than putting everyone into a corner.”

Peters said holding referendums is a much better process than giving MPs, “many who are disconnected from how the public feels,” the power to decide.
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