Gone to pot: New Zealand cools on legalising cannabis

With a crowded election cycle, non-committal politicians and a pandemic to worry about, public support for a yes vote in the referendum is eroding

It is believed to be the first country in the world to put the legalisation of recreational cannabis to a national public vote. But amid a pandemic, an election concentrated almost entirely on the Covid-19 crisis, and a simultaneous vote on euthanasia, New Zealand’s upcoming marijuana referendum has not captivated the mainstream public attention that it might have in an ordinary year.

New Zealand would join Canada and Uruguay on the list of countries legalising the sale and use of cannabis for adults if more than half of voters approved it – but public backing for the measure has eroded in polling during 2020, reversing growing support in recent years. In a debate plagued by claims of misinformation from both sides – and taking place during an overcrowded election cycle – some politicians have shied away from the matter altogether, fearing they will end up on the wrong side of a divisive topic.

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