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So, here we are.
Throughout the past week, the Otago Daily Times has run a range of articles, opinion pieces and letters with a single aim: to inform our readers about this year’s cannabis referendum.
As we set out at the beginning, it’s a complex issue with many different arguments both for and against legalisation.
One reader shared his experience with cannabis after being diagnosed with throat cancer. He gave up drinking and smoking tobacco after the first appointment, but continued to use cannabis.
He said none of the medical professionals he met told him not to.
"I truly believe that this referendum, if passed, is going to reduce the demand for P and opiates if we have the ability to grow a couple of plants for personal use," he wrote.
"I am a regular user who is a father and a husband of a family that has seen no harm from my use, that has a well paying job and contributes to society in a positive way and all I want is the ability to de-stress at the end of a week without feeling like a criminal."
Others outlined why they were against legalisation, citing harm from smoke, unpleasant social impacts, and potential harm from drug-impaired driving.
Feedback has been mixed, but a constant theme has been engagement.
Those who already had strong views on either side of the legalisation debate continue to be vocal, but what about those who have not spoken up? Does the lack of feedback mean most people are in the middle on this? What will happen may well come down to them.
Engaging and swaying those voters will be the challenge for campaigners in the lead-up to the referendum — although they may have longer to do so, thanks to the latest Covid-19 outbreak.
The Prime Minister is expected to decide by Monday if the election, including the two referendums, will be delayed.
It’s a tad ironic. Prior to our series beginning, an expert said the initial Covid-19 outbreak stalled a lot of referendum campaigning and the distribution of information.
They were hoping the weeks leading up to the election would be a chance to amend that.
The effect of the current outbreak is still unknown.
In the meantime, campaigners have returned to online methods to get their messages across. A panel on the issue, part of the Otago University Students’ Association’s Politics Week, was held via Zoom on Thursday after Level 2 gathering restrictions took effect.
Regardless of when votes are cast, the decision is now up to you.
The referendum is non-binding, meaning legalisation will not automatically occur, but the public will expect the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill to be introduced to Parliament if there is a strong "yes" vote.
How far it would then make it through the legislative process depends on the make-up of the next Parliament.
The public will need to weigh up the health, economic, justice, and social factors to decide whether legalisation is the best path for New Zealand to take.
Hopefully, our series of articles has helped you do just that.
WHAT’S IN THE PROPOSED BILL?
- It’s non-binding
- Age limit of 20 or over to buy cannabis
- Health warnings required on packaging
- Limits on how much could be sold
- Taxes and levies on growers and sellers