SYDNEY – New Zealand will hold a binding referendum in 2020 to decide whether to legalize recreational cannabis, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced on Tuesday, a week after Parliament gave the green light to the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“We need to fine-tune some details, but we are informing the Election Commission when it has to be held,” the Labour party minister informed reporters that the referendum will be held alongside the 2020 general election.
Among the details still being discussed is the wording of the question that will be posed in the referendum, which comes as part of the agreement with the Green Party, one of the partners in government.
The leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, in statements to Radio New Zealand, criticized that the referendum is called at the same time as the elections, considering it a “cynical” gesture that seeks to distract the electorate from “central issues” such as governance and the economy.
The New Zealand Parliament on Dec. 11 approved the medical use of cannabis, which will soon be available in the country with a prescription for patients with chronic pain.
The amendment to the Drug Abuse Law, which passed the third and final reading in the legislature, eliminates the definition of cannabis as a controlled drug and converts it into a prescription drug.
Some 52 percent of New Zealanders aged between 15-45 have used cannabis at some point in their lives, of which 16 percent are frequent users, according to NORML NZ, an organization seeking legalization of this substance in New Zealand, one of the countries with the highest rate of consumption.
The government of the Labour Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, also plans to submit to popular consultations issues such as electoral reform and euthanasia.