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New Zealand votes against legalizing cannabis, preliminary results show

A CPlant employee organizes a box of hemp for export at the company's farm on the outskirts of Tala, Uruguay, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico

New Zealanders voted to legalize euthanasia in a binding referendum, but preliminary results released Friday showed they likely would not legalize marijuana.

With about 83 per cent of votes counted, New Zealanders emphatically endorsed the euthanasia measure with 65 per cent voting in favour and 34 per cent voting against.

Read more: Assisted dying bill passes House of Commons vote in principle

The “No” vote on marijuana was much closer, with 53 per cent voting against legalizing the drug for recreational use and 46 per cent voting in favour. That left open a slight chance the measure could still pass once all special votes were counted next week, although it would require a huge swing.

In past elections, special votes — which include those cast by overseas voters — have tended to be more liberal than general votes, giving proponents of marijuana legalization some hope the measure could still pass.

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Proponents of marijuana legalization were frustrated that popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t reveal how she intended to vote ahead the Oct. 17 ballot, saying she wanted to leave the decision to New Zealanders. Ardern said Friday after the results were released that she had voted in favour of both referendums.

Click to play video 'Former illicit drug user credits cannabis with saving her life' Former illicit drug user credits cannabis with saving her life
Former illicit drug user credits cannabis with saving her life – Aug 21, 2020

Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party, welcomed the preliminary marijuana result.

“This is a victory for common sense. Research shows cannabis causes mental health problems, reduced motivation and educational achievement, and increased road and workplace deaths,” he said. “New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would normalize it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm.”

But liberal lawmaker Chloe Swarbrick, from the Green Party, said they had long assumed the vote would be close and they needed to wait until the specials were counted.

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Read more: COVID-19 pandemic a ‘boon’ for legal cannabis in Canada as marijuana industry turns two

“We have said from the outset that this would always come down to voter turnout. We’ve had record numbers of special votes, so I remain optimistic,” she said. “New Zealand has had a really mature and ever-evolving conversation about drug laws in this country and we’ve come really far in the last three years.”

The euthanasia measure, which would also allow assisted suicide and takes effect in November 2021, would apply to adults who have terminal illnesses, are likely to die within six months, and are enduring “unbearable” suffering. Other countries that allow some form of euthanasia include The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and Colombia.

The marijuana measure would allow people to buy up to 14 grams (0.5 ounce) a day and grow two plants. It was a non-binding vote, so if voters approved it, legislation would have to be passed to implement it. Ardern had promised to respect the outcome and bring forward the legislation, if it was necessary.

Other countries that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana include Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Georgia plus a number of U.S. states.