With only a few days left for voting, campaigners are making a last ditch effort to influence whether voters tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Campaigners are using the next few days to push as many people voting for their stance to the ballot box as possible. 

It’s a close race, with polling painting a messy picture. What way the vote will go after Saturday’s election is anyone’s guess. 

UMR research commissioned by the Helen Clark Foundation and the NZ Drug Foundation is showing 49 percent of New Zealanders are in favour and 45 percent are against. Research New Zealand has 46 percent supporting the bill and 40 percent against it. A Horizon poll commissioned by Helius Therapeutics shows 52 percent in the ‘yes’ camp and 47 percent in the ‘no’ camp.

Casting doubt on those polls is a Newshub Reid Research poll with a different result. It has the ‘no’ vote in the lead with 50.4 percent, and just 37.9 percent saying they support it.

Horizon’s latest poll shows a swing to yes. The research is commissioned by Helius Therapeutics, a medicinal cannabis company. Image: Horizon’s website

Yes campaigner: Make it Legal

Make it Legal’s campaign spokesperson Sandra Murray said her organisation is flat-out.

“For us, it’s mostly about activating our supporters and making sure they actually turn out to vote.”

She’s also kept busy responding to changing news. Today she says the team has been responding to people who have already voted and want to change it after the New Zealand Medical Association changed its official stance on the legislation from ‘no’ to a neutral position.

NZMA chairperson Dr Kate Baddock said the organisation’s stance against legalisation was based on a 2012 position and NZMA “didn’t do anything” when the referendum was announced. She fell back on this 2012 position without consulting members. 

Murray estimates she’s fielded about 12 requests about vote changing and been in touch with the Electoral Commission. The answer is no – once cast, a vote can’t be changed.

There are a number of reasons she’s hearing why people are choosing ‘yes’. Poor access to medicinal cannabis is one. 

“The second one is people who enjoy cannabis saying, ‘I’m sick and tired of being labelled a criminal’.”

The third group, Murray said, are non-smokers who think current laws are unfair and ineffective.

She and a team of moderators are moderating around 3000 comments a day on the campaign’s Facebook page. Those opposing legalising cannabis had a range of reasons.

Some, she said, were incredibly ill-informed: “We’ll see used marijuana needles all over children’s playground.”

The main reason she hears is people saying they’ve known someone who has ruined their life because of cannabis. “If we keep the same legislative structure, nothing will change,” she argues.

When asked if Jacinda Ardern should declare how she plans to vote, Murray thinks Ardern’s has dropped plenty of clues in the past.

“When you put them all together, you can see quite clearly that she’s not going to vote no.”

Murray is picking a win for the ‘yes’ campaign. 

“It’ll be a close win but we think that we’ve got that over the line.”

She hopes “hidden” voters she encountered at market stalls might come out on election day.

“The wife might say, ‘I’m voting no’, and have a rant. But then as they’re walking away, the husband would lean over and he’d whisper in our ears ‘I’m voting yes’.” We got that so often, up and down the country.”

No campaign: Say Nope to Dope

Campaign spokesperson Aaron Ironside said there’s not a lot left on the agenda other than a few media engagements. He’ll be talking with Leighton Smith, and a debate on Magic Talk radio has been proposed.

He said he’s still encountering a few people who are undecided, or at least curious, but at this stage he’s seeing more instances of people’s convictions being strengthened.  

The big reasons he’s hearing from people who are voting no is a concern around retail outlets. 

“People are nervous at the idea of there being a cannabis shop in every community. They’re nervous about what that means for the young people, what it means just for the presence and visibility of cannabis in everyday life.”

The second big reason he’s hearing is a worry that if cannabis is legalised, adolescent use won’t go down.

The topic ‘yes’ voters are bringing up is social justice. 

Should Ardern say how’s she’s planning to vote?: “If you have a referendum, you’ve signalled that you wish to hear from the people. So I’m happy to leave it in the hands of the people.”

Yes campaign: NZ Drug Foundation

The NZ Drug Foundation has television and online ads running, as well as a social media presence, which will continue for the final few days.

Executive director Ross Bell said he’s seen a lot of undecided voters swing toward a ‘yes’ vote when they learned more about the rules in the legislation and had thought legalisation would be a free-for-all.

“They actually weren’t aware of what it is they’re voting for. People are quite surprised to learn how strict a lot of the public health controls in the bill actually are, no advertising, the purchase age of 20, potency limits.”

He also said the current situation with medicinal cannabis has swayed people. Only one product is available and it’s very expensive.

“I think people do have compassion for people who use cannabis for medical reasons.”

Bell thinks voters likely to vote no include about 25 percent of the population who are anti-drugs.

“They have this really strong reaction against drugs, that drugs are bad and they must be kept illegal … on the margins of that I think there are concerns about young people.”

Bell wrote an opinion piece recently saying he thinks Ardern’s a yes voter. 

“Selfishly I want her to come out as a yes voter, because I think that would reassure those Labour voters, which is now quite a big group of people, based on current polling – a lot of them are still undecided.”

Bell thinks Ardern’s leadership during the Covid-19 crisis has shown her to be someone who relies heavily on public health evidence. If she came out as a ‘yes’ voter Bell believes it would reassure undecided voters. 

No campaign: Family First

Family First’s director Bob McCoskrie was getting on a plane to get to an event in Christchurch when Newsroom caught up with him. At the event, he was promoting a set of values which included a push for a ‘no’ vote in the cannabis referendum. 

He said activity was winding down because “people have made their mind up probably a week ago”.

He said the biggest piece of feedback he’d noticed from people who want cannabis legalised is that the current system is racist and legalising cannabis will help solve this.

For those opposing legalisation, the main reasons he hears is the contradiction between legalising cannabis and Smokefree 2025 goals, a worry that legalising cannabis will increase use, and a belief the black market will still thrive even if the substance is regulated.

He doesn’t mind that Ardern is keeping quiet about her vote. He said he’s looked over her past arguments about the topic and thinks she tends toward decriminalisation, not legalisation. 

“She may be a ‘no’ voter, and that’s why she’s keeping quiet about it. I would encourage her to be a ‘no’ voter because I think a huge amount of the Pacific vote and the Asian vote that may be coming to Labour might think twice if they heard she was a ‘yes’.”

He wasn’t keen to make a prediction, noting polls have shown different outcomes. He just hopes people get out and cast a vote to “exercise their democratic right”.

Leave a comment