As an undecided voter right up until the day of the election on whether or not to vote in favour of legalising cannabis, the “yes” campaign needed me.
Their job should have been to convince people like me – someone who didn’t have a strong opinion either way but wanted to be informed before making a choice – that the legalisation of recreational cannabis was the right thing to do for society. The campaign couldn’t have done a worse job if it tried.
The most detrimental aspect of the “yes” campaign was that they were trying to persuade those who had likely already decided to vote in favour. Their messaging was not framed in a way that targeted the centre-right or more conservative Labour voters, and in some cases, ostracised them completely.
Advertisements like “To put it bluntly, if you vote no we can’t be friends” from the Make It Legal campaign while accusing such voters of being complicit in organised crime and gang activity wasn’t the best way to get them on side. The tactic certainly didn’t work on me.
The “yes” campaign also minimised and dismissed a number of my concerns, including stoned drivers on the roads, the impact of cannabis use on a person’s mental health, its addictive nature, its conflict with New Zealand’s supposed goal of smoke-free 2025, and much more. I was either told the evidence didn’t support my concerns, or that it didn’t matter because “everyone” was consuming cannabis anyway. I was left more unsettled by the end of the campaign than when it started.
Bringing out what seemed to be only centre-left advocates for legalisation (such as Helen Clark) also wasn’t going to convince traditional National or conservative voters to vote in favour. Where were the centre-right advocates? Not one proponent of legalising cannabis use with whom I share values fronted the “yes” campaign – and not because there aren’t any.
Optics aside, the arguments put forward in favour of legalisation just weren’t convincing. I don’t care about the tax revenue, or that people use cannabis regardless. I do care that its possession can result in convictions, and that Police spend far too many hours on cannabis related crime.
However, I work with children and teenagers every day, and their wellbeing and future is central to every value that I hold. Ultimately, the evidence put forward in favour of legislation did not convince me enough – or at all – that young people would be better off with cannabis legalised. Why we would experiment on a generation that is already struggling with mental health is beyond comprehension to me.
The vast majority of the country would agree that our current drug laws aren’t fit for purpose; the status quo is clearly not working. Upon weighing up the positives and negatives of both outcomes, however, this was not a strong enough argument in favour of legalisation either for me. I would have, without any hesitation, voted in favour of decriminalisation, however.
I understand some of the arguments around why the option of decriminalisation wasn’t considered and I know it’s not the perfect solution. However, it’s almost certain that a referendum of this nature would have passed. We are now left in a position where, instead of a stepping stone that would have addressed some of the concerns surrounding police time and cannabis convictions, nothing will happen at all.
Despite the frustrations I had with the “yes” campaign, this wasn’t an easy choice to make, even though I did my research. In fact, I only decided the night before I voted, which was accompanied by a moment of pause in the polling both before ticking “no”. The situation we remain in is not ideal but, whichever way I voted, I knew there would be negative consequences as a result.
I would be a fierce supporter of the decriminalisation of cannabis and I hope this becomes a reality in the very near future. This time round, however, legalisation was simply one step too far.
Monique Poirier has a Masters degree in Political Studies, and is a small business owner and former Parliamentary staffer. She is the Campaigns Manager for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.