How the broader political agenda could skew the New Zealand cannabis...

THEOne of the curiosities of the 2020 election campaign is Jacinda Ardern’s refusal to reveal her personal position on the cannabis referendum. Next Saturday, New Zealanders can vote in two referendums: the end of life decision on euthanasia and referendums on the legalization and control of cannabis; The latter a vote on whether recreational cannabis use should become legal.

Ardern said she would vote yes to make the End of Life Choice Act law, but she wants the public to decide on cannabis, claiming that “the view of the public around me equals … mine” . Your main competitor, national leader Judith Collins, has issued a resounding no.

Ardern tried to justify their different referendum positions in terms of how they came about. She said she was already known as a supporter of the End of Life Choice Act, which narrowly passed its third reading in a conscience vote in November 2019 after New Zealand’s first MPs called for a binding referendum.

In contrast, Ardern has never had a similar obligation under the Greens’ Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labor to express her opinion in parliament on the non-binding draft law to legalize and control cannabis.

The subtlety of Ardern’s justification will be lost to most. In addition, there is a distinct element of smoke and mirrors. Nothing could stop the former national prime minister John Key from advocating his personal request for a flag change through the 2015/16 referendums. Regardless that Key’s personal preference for a silver fern design ultimately contributed to the failure of the 2016 referendum, nothing is set in stone to suggest that a prime minister may not express a personal position on a referendum, whether binding or not.

Jacinda Ardern, right, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a strong supporter of referendums to make policy decisions.
Jacinda Ardern, right, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a strong supporter of referendums to make policy decisions. Photo: Hagen Hopkins / AP

In fact, voters find signals from political parties and leaders helpful when they come to referendum decisions. In deciding to vote for a political party, voters can use history, experience, habit, political poll trends and media views. Voters have far fewer clues in stand-alone referendums, which is why the leadership of the party leaders is an important piece of the puzzle.

As a progressive political party, Labour’s refusal to take a collective stance on cannabis and instead make it a conscience vote for individual members contradicts its record of advancing major social reforms and even its 2020 campaign slogan, “Let’s Keep Moving.”

It would be easy to explain that the party is proceeding cautiously so as not to offend the party’s more conservative support base for the Pacific and Māori. At the same time, Labour’s deliberate position of not having a position holds the potential to mobilize people to vote against the proposal and protect the status quo. Research from overseas shows that this is the default position for people who do not have enough information about the consequences of a referendum. Labor’s position is practically no different from the National Party’s no.

And that’s because keeping cannabis criminalized fits the electoral capacity of our major political parties. Over the past 50 years, New Zealand elections have become events where parties deliberately defeat fear by promoting “law and order” (increasingly referred to as “criminal justice”), electoral platforms built on the promise to keep the streets clean Stirring the public for political gain and communities safe from gangs.

Since gangs have been linked to making illegal money from drug trafficking, gangs are maintained through the criminalization of cannabis as the criminal underclass necessary to justify the frequent bidding wars that take place in police-figure elections. Being perceived as “tough on crime” is one of the most important ways in which parties legitimize their claim to power.

With gangs predominantly from Māori and the Pacific, the criminalization of cannabis has left generations of families from these communities trapped in a cycle of poverty and incarceration due to the associated consequences of cannabis-related crimes. If you vote no, the criminalization of cannabis remains both a legal and a political issue with racist ramifications.

This finding, however, seems to be of minor importance to a debate dominated by a well-intentioned anti-cannabis lobby awash with pious statements from many people who have admitted to smoking cannabis in the past – studies show that they by age 21 80% of New Zealanders have tried cannabis at least once, including our 40-year-old prime minister. He argues that cannabis must remain criminalized to protect the health of our young people.

It doesn’t matter that the supposed negative effects of cannabis on young people such as depression, psychosis, retarded brain development, and driving disorders are also due to other legal addictive substances like cigarettes, alcohol, glue, and prescription drugs. as well as foods like sugar, fat, and salt and activities like studying, working, and playing computer games. Nobody is demanding that these be criminalized in order to help young people.

Viewing cannabis differently is a classic example of a decision bias known as “superconscious”. This occurs when people become too confident in believing that they are more ethical or competent than others in dealing with events. In this context, this is a tendency that predominantly older people believe that their lives may not have been seriously influenced by cannabis use in their own youth, but that they were and are more responsible today than young cannabis users. Older voters feel that this gives them the right to judge the health consequences of younger people until they are criminalized for “their own good”.

In theory, a referendum gives people decision-making powers directly. However, when people have incomplete information, are biased in their decision-making processes, or do not vote for a wider range of reasons, there is always a risk that the referendum result will be skewed. The most vocal and long-standing supporter of parliamentary referendums, New Zealand First Chair Winston Peters, supports them as “a more meaningful democracy where people can make decisions about these issues,” not as politicians who and who are absent in the long run I don’t have the right to pretend that they know they are speaking for their constituents. When the polls come up, that choice could be Peters’ final standpoint, but if voters go to the polls with his words in mind, the decision on the referendum should be made by the people directly affected by the outcome, not others with one completely different agenda.

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