‘Individuals being criminalized for possession is not something I think most New Zealanders support’

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the decriminalization of cannabis is “just a rung below” legalization and she does not view it as a rejection of last year’s referendum on the plant, reports Newshub.

A recent poll found that 69 per cent of New Zealanders either support full legalization or decriminalization of cannabis.

In a referendum held late last year, cannabis legalization was narrowly defeated, when 50.7 per cent of voters said “no” to legal weed.

Ardern faced criticism for not revealing her stance during the referendum. After voting was completed, she said she voted in favour of legalization.

In an interview last week, Ardern said, “I share the view of many that the idea of individuals being criminalized for possession is not something I think most New Zealanders support,” according to Newshub.

“That’s why we’ve already made substantial changes to our drug laws so that if police find someone in possession of cannabis, the assumption has to be that it’s treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue,” she continued.

Writing in The Guardian, Fiona Hutton, an associate professor in the Institute of Criminology at New Zealand’s Victoria University, said the “no” vote was a victory for misinformation.

“Nowhere was the stigma so clear than in the advertisements of the no campaign — based on outdated moralized notions of those who use drugs, influenced by right-wing religious groups from the U.S.,” Hutton wrote last year.

The “Say Nope to Dope” campaign was one of the loudest critics of the referendum and received its information from the U.S. organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). SAM is led by Kevin Sabet, a former advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control.

“We’re 100 per cent funded by concerned Kiwi families, we’ve got nothing to hide,” Aaron Ironside, leader of the SAM-NZ campaign, told RNZ  last July, after allegations of receiving U.S. funding surfaced.

“We simply went to them as a group of like-minded organizations in New Zealand and said, ‘You guys have done all the homework and you’ve done the research. Would it be okay if we presented that same data under your name?’ And they said that would be fine,” Ironside said.

Green Party politician Chloe Swarbrick led the campaign to legalize cannabis and told Newshub she’s open to the idea of decriminalization as a harm-reduction measure, but adds it doesn’t deal with the issue of supply.

Swarbrick has vowed to keep the conversation about drug reform going. “I am interested in more than just winning,” she told New Zealand media last year in the lead-up to the referendum.

“I am interested in meaningful conversation with New Zealanders about how to reduce harm, a far more complex and nuanced debate than simple, binary chanting of ‘we will win,’” she said at the time.

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