The cannabis legalization referendum is closer than it’s ever been in New Zealand. According to a statement released by Helius Therapeutics, who has been tracking public opinion on the upcoming vote, public opinion is now at a dead heat.
The company polled 1,300 adult New Zealanders in August, using pollsters Horizon Research. They removed the “don’t know” option and found that 49.5 percent supported the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, while 49.5 percent were against it. A mere 1 percent gave no response.
“This could be the closest vote since 1919, when alcohol prohibition was defeated by just 10,362 votes,” said Paul Manning, Chief Executive Officer of Helius Therapeutics in a statement. “Regardless, it’s increasingly clear it will come down to voter registration and election turnout, particularly if younger adults lift their current intention to vote.”
He continued: “Personally, I would prefer to see wider control of cannabis through strict regulation, although Helius will not be entering the recreational cannabis market if legalised. Our focus remains on producing world-class cannabis medicines which will be available to Kiwi patients, via prescription, from next year.”
Manning noted that if medical cannabis's control shifts from the illicit market to the private sector, it could be an economic boon to New Zealand. “For businesses like ours, it could open up the potential to commercialise non-prescription CBD wellness products for the domestic market,” wrote Manning.
Helius also supports the harm reduction objectives set out in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. According to Manning’s statement, a health-based approach would help hundreds of thousands of Kiwis from having issues with law enforcement on a yearly basis. Survey data shows that 9 percent of all adults in New Zealand use cannabis often. Six percent say they use it daily, with those numbers being equivalent to over 200,000 adults. Another 3 percent use cannabis weekly, equaling 106,500 adults.
“Don’t for a second assume usage is skewed towards the youth, university students, underprivileged, and unemployed,” writes Manning. “Horizon Research discovered there are just as many regular users of cannabis who are aged between 55 and 64 as there are aged between 18 and 24. The well-educated, professionals, self-employed, and those enjoying good incomes are well represented among regular users.”
Last February, Helius found that 83 percent of adults in New Zealand think prohibition is a failure. Furthermore, 72 percent said that growing and selling it for personal use would be better for society.
“While legalisation isn’t perfect, a regulated environment for cannabis would offer improvements on the status quo. It would see the development of locally-owned businesses, delivering jobs and tax revenue for our stretched healthcare sector,” wrote Manning.
He continued: “Released earlier last month, two reports prepared for the Government by Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) revealed that wider cannabis reform would generate $1.1 billion in taxes and create 5,000 new jobs across the country. BERL also reported that 74 tonnes of cannabis is currently consumed annually in New Zealand’s illicit market, with a retail value of up to $1.5 billion.”