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Cannabis vote likely to be close

Editorial

The two referendums being run alongside the general election next month should support a good turnout and could even be a factor in helping to secure victory for Labour and the Greens.

Both issues being tested — voluntary assisted dying for adults with a terminal illness and six months or less to live, and cannabis legalisation — evoke strong emotions and opinions. They also both involve a great deal of complexity in the background to what can appear black-and-white.

For instance, a response to the start of today's brave and heartfelt lead letter is that the the main purpose of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is to reduce harm to individuals, families/whanau and communities.

Cannabis has much worse health impacts for an individual, as well as significantly increasing the likelihood of addiction issues, when use starts as a teenager. The bill addresses this by restricting sales to people aged 20 and over, aiming to eliminate illegal supply, requiring health warnings on packaging, and raising public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use. It also aims to limit the public visibility of cannabis, limit harm by improving access to health and social services, and control the potency of legal cannabis.

When measured against the much worse health and social impacts of our most popular and widely-used drug, alcohol, it is easy to view the evidence as stacking up behind a “yes” result in this referendum.

Polling on the topic this year has been mixed and indicates that the result hangs on a knife-edge: a Research NZ poll last month had 43 percent support, 39 percent against and 18 percent undecided; a One News Colmar Brunton poll in June had 40 percent for, 49 percent against and 11 percent undecided.

Not surprisingly, Labour and especially Green Party supporters are most likely to back cannabis legalisation and this cause will help get them to the polling booths, as well as probably a sizeable group of usual non-voters who will also be more likely to vote green or red.

The outcome of the end-of-life-choice referendum appears clear-cut. Polls over the past 20 years have shown support for some kind of assisted dying for the terminally ill averaging about 68 percent; the Research NZ poll in July garnered 64 percent for the End of Life Choice Act, 18 percent against and 18 percent undecided.

Preliminary referendum results won't be released until two weeks after election night.

Click here for more information on the referendums.

  1. Renee Joubert, Waikato says:

    How many voters know what assisted dying actually means?

    The study examining assisted dying polls over the last 20 years failed to mention an important one: A Curia Market Research Poll in 2017 found that New Zealanders are confusing assisted dying with end-of-life choices that are already legal.

    The stronger a person supported assisted dying, the more likely they were confused. Of those who strongly supported assisted dying, 85 percent thought it involves turning off life support, 79 percent thought it involves making a ‘do not resuscitate’ request; and 67 percent thought it includes stopping medical test, treatments and surgeries. All the above choices are already legal. (https://euthanasiadebate.org.nz/poll-widespread-confusion-about-assisted-dying/)

    How many voters will realise that assisted dying is only about the administration of a lethal dose of medication?

    Here’s how the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice described the End of Life Choice Act we’re voting on: “The Bill uses ‘assisted dying’ to refer to both euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia refers to a patient being administered a lethal drug by a medical practitioner [or nurse practitioner]. Assisted suicide refers to a patient receiving lethal drugs at their request, which they take by themselves.” (Departmental Report on the End of Life Choice Bill, page 2)