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The challenge to the reeferendum result

Written By: - Date published: 7:53 am, December 8th, 2020 - 57 comments
Categories: democratic participation, drugs, election 2020, referendum - Tags:

It was announced yesterday that a number of New Zealanders were going to take the reeferendum result to court.

From Radio New Zealand:

A legal bid is under way to get the results of the cannabis referendum thrown out.

A group of more than 350 people is asking the High Court to void the vote on the Cannabis and Control Bill, claiming poor and inaccurate information generated confusion among voters.

It also claims the Electoral Commission reinforced that misinformation.

The bill that would have legalised cannabis was narrowly defeated, with 50.7 percent of voters voting against it, and 48.4 percent for it.

Drug Reform advocate Blair Anderson is one of the people taking the case. He told Checkpoint New Zealanders heard far too much from the “no” vote during the campaign and said there was a failure to correct misinformation.

“We saw ads in the mainstream newspapers of things like dopey dairies, which people will remember had cannabis leaves all over it, with kids on skateboards in front of it.

“There was no such provision within the actual legalisation and control bill to do that. In fact, it was specifically excluded.

“There were the things like ‘gummy bears, the menu for kids’ and various others that were publicised in mainstream media and social media and so forth.

“Notwithstanding the fact there was also what I call almost stage-managed presentation of people that were obviously smoking a joint in hoodies, whereas in actual fact, we have a mainstream concurrence with the use of cannabis. Our own health and development study here in Christchurch – four out of five respondents in that study have used cannabis in their life. And obviously, most of them have come to no harm,” he said.

“There was an expert committee that was assembled, and part of its function was certainly to correct any misinformation.”

But Anderson said problems extended beyond what he calls the failure of that committee.

“Even to the extent that we heard that the Medical Association didn’t approve of the bill, and then at the end of the period, just after the bulk of people had voted, had come out and said quite the converse.

“That opportunity to explore these things was not taken by mainstream media for the greater part. We never saw the advocacy, anywhere in the electoral process, for instance, of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party that had participated in nine MMP elections, and no one was consulted as to what they thought the referendum should look like.”

The proposal is an interesting and novel use of the law.  Under the Citizen Initiated Referenda Act 1993 the Court has “jurisdiction to inquire into and adjudicate on any matter relating to the application in any manner that the court thinks fit”.  At the conclusion of the hearing the Court  “must determine whether the indicative referendum is void because of some irregularity that in the court’s opinion materially affected the result of the indicative referendum”.  It can also effectively do a recount but the grounds advanced here do not suggest that the count itself was inaccurate.

There certainly was a one sided feel to the campaign and as noted by Weka the New Zealand Medical Association did a somewhat impressive about face on its view of the referendum.  But I do not think that a private organisation changing its view is going to be reason to upset the referendum.

The case will be interesting.  But cases involving judicially analysing the democratic process tend to be somewhat fraught affairs as America is currently showing.

57 comments on “The challenge to the reeferendum result ”

  1. Andre 1

    That's the best exercise in irrelevance I've seen for a while.

    Just for starters, referendums are completely non-binding …

  2. Phillip ure 2

    I am still trying to get past/over that 'one-sided campaign'..

    we had the no-campaign peddling reefer-madness bullshit…outright lies..

    and where were the refuters of that bullshit..?

    where were all those usual suspects we have seen over the decades being the/a face of pot ..

    at the time they were most needed ..their fucken 'moment'..

    they were nowhere to be seen..

    the pro-cannabis campaign was beyond useless ..

    it was bloody invisible..

    leaving the stage/pulpit solely to the reefer-madness peddlers..

    I want to know w.t.f. happened..?

    (and a special bucket of contempt for that patrick gower..

    for that (boomer-ex-user scare-tactic) of peddling that big fucken lie..

    that weed now is much stronger than it used to be..

    it isn't..

    but just that lie from gower likely swung the referendum ..

    but really..the reason the no's won was down to the screaming incompetencies for those meant to be running the pro-campaign….

    who were they..?

    does anyone even know that ..?

    • Tricledrown 2.1

      Phillip the pro cannabis lobby lost all its money due to covid19 so could not put up a decent campaign

      • cricklewood 2.1.1

        The yes campaign was awful, pretty much an example of how not to run a campaign if you ask me…

        Messaging like this "To put it bluntly if you vote no we can't be friends," was never going to bring people around from no to towards yes. It would more likely entrenched the no vote.

        A better campaign would have no doubt swung the few percent they needed.

      • Phillip ure 2.1.2

        @ tricledown ..

        do you how covid made them lose all their money .

        and were their lips sewed shut…?

        did they lose all the media contacts they have ammassed over the decades..?

        I don't believe they had no ways to refute/call out those reefer-madness lies..

        like I said…

        it was their moment..

        supposedly what they have been agitating for/working towards for decades…

        and they fucken choked..

        • gsays

          Apologies to Afroman:

          I was going to help organise in support of the referendum, but I got high..

          • Phillip ure


            yeah..I have had that thought…

            I just can't figure how/why they so choked..

    • Chris T 2.2

      (and a special bucket of contempt for that patrick gower..

      for that (boomer-ex-user scare-tactic) of peddling that big fucken lie..


      How hard is it for people to Google what a fricken boomer is?

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    It seemed a bent process in terms of the advertising that is for sure, would be interesting to find out the Nope campaign funding sources–USA? Liquor industry? Family First? Destiny Church? The pro lobby mainly got funding from its public appeals.

    NORML, ALCP, Make it Legal, Greens and others, all seemed to just stop campaigning during the COVID Lockdowns, and maybe ran low on money too going by my email inbox. As the election neared the traffic seemed all Nopes way. And the PM playing coy likely denied the few percent needed to get legalisation over the line.

    RNZ had some very dodgy “experts” interviewed, telling straight out lies about mental health effects of Cannabis. Paddy Gower really is the journalistic version of dog shit on your shoe. A shame as this was the most information rich Referendum ever held in NZ–with longitudinal studies, and all sorts of information from Drug Foundation and some years of overseas experience.

    It seemed that the Govt. once they had satisfied their agreement with the Greens to hold a referendum, just went silent and hung it out to dry. The proposed legislation dealt with just about any possible eventuality involving Cannabis use, manufacture and sale. Excellent, but, it made it hard to have a strong focus on any one aspect of Cannabis to run a coherent campaign on. Andrew Little and the PM’s strong statements within seconds of the specials vote count being announced revealed their true position on weed in my view.

    But whether this court action will get anywhere…it was a combination of factors that led to such an annoyingly close vote, and a great shame for personal freedom and scores of start up businesses who were awaiting “Green for Go”.

  4. Sabine 4

    IF we only had a government, with a full majority and no pesky coalition partners, that would do great things with the capital it has.

    In the meantime in the US under Biden they have a good chance to legalise weed on a federal level. Never mind all the other countries that seem to have understood that weed is not a reason to fuck up peoples lifes for ever.

    If only we had a government, with a full majority and no pesky coalition partners, that could do great things with the capital it has. Sadly, that is not what we have in NZ. We have a government, with a full majority and no pesky coalition partners that can do fuck all it appears. And besides, hey, its not hte comfortable white middle class that will be thrown in the slammer, burdened with a permanent police record for growing a bit of weed, smoking or eating it, or gasp even selling a tinny to make a bit of cash, right? Now that sad fate is for the others, the ones that are not white and middle / upper class with access to good lawyers.

    If only we had………………………………..

    • Tiger Mountain 4.1

      Yes, if President Biden gets effective control of the Senate via Georgia and his Deputy’s casting vote, then weed will be legalised and a whole lot of Trump’s damage hopefully undone.

      I don’t buy the majority Labour Govt. line that they have to govern “for all New Zealanders”, I knew it was trouble ahead on election night when the PM uttered those words.

      They should be governing for the working class of this country not placating big business and Nat switchers. After all NZ Labour can go back to the Greens next election if they will have them…

      • ken 4.1.1

        100%, T.M.

        National never governed for "all NZers".

        This ought to be the time for Labour to do the right thing by it's long suffering supportewrs.

    • mickysavage 4.2

      NZ First is the main reason for the referendum.

      • James Thrace 4.2.1

        No. They aren't. The Green Party made the referendum their coalition requirement right from the outset in 2017.

        • mickysavage

          Right you are I was thinking of the right to life referendum.

          • solkta

            It wasn't Green policy to have a referendum but it was NZF policy to do so. From what i understand NZF would not support a law change without one.

            • froggleblocks

              Not according to Chloe Swarbrick:

              First thing’s first: why did cannabis legalisation go to a referendum? Since the early 2000s, Green MPs like Nándor Tánczos and co-leader Metiria Turei have tried and failed to decriminalise or legalise cannabis in a deeply conservative parliamentary arena. Nándor even faced police raids for his openness as a Rastafarian, instigated by his fellow MPs.

              To finally get political movement on cannabis when we were negotiating to form a government with Labour after the 2017 election, the Greens suggested that we take it out of the hands of politicians and into the public sphere.


              • solkta

                To finally get political movement

                They didn't want to do it that way but it was the only way to get the support of Winston First.

  5. NOEL 5

    So the Medical Council did an about face.

    Initially the Drug Foundation and the Greens were claiming it was a health issue and we had create avenues for the addicted.

    When the decriminalisation option was discounted by Cabinet on the grounds there would remain an illicit supply the Drug Foundation started promoting a study that supported legalisation.

    Then it became a choice issue and magically the Gummitt promoted a legal supply chain that was need for the addicted.

    More than one hypocrite here.

    • tc 5.1

      Yup and had JA backed it publicly IMO that would've been enough to carry the 50% as she had the political capital to do so.

      The spectre of patricia bartlett lives on in conservative NZ heartland and that's the hurdle you have to clear.

      • greywarshark 5.1.1

        Too true tc. I have just realised that it is respectability that is of most concern to middle NZ. And that has eaten the heart out of the country, so that thought and desire for fairness, and reviewing strictures against the 'other' doing something that one does not do, are the barriers to forward movement in a rational way.

        When religion is closely examined, it isn't Jesus' teachings that drive Christians and those who think they are sort of morally aligned to those principles. Jesus would never be acceptable today; if he had smoked weed his words would have been received as the utterings of an unstable pot-head.

  6. mac1 6

    Here's a view of the situation from Prof Jack Vowles of Victoria Uni.


    Note the criticism of the quality of the pro-lobby arguments and strategy. "As well, the campaign in favour of change was ill-organised and ineffective, if not naive."

    I voted for change, so I'm not celebrating the failure of this non-binding referendum. But, next time, as Vowles suggests, be prepared to counter what was shown- misinformation, poor strategy, restricted debate.

    I was persuaded by the official presentation of the referendum on an official website, now forgotten- but probably not hugely accessed.

    At the moment, I'm struck by the similarities in the reaction to the referendum result with National here in NZ and some Republicans in the US as they search for blameworthy targets.

  7. And yet — Labour will not use any political capital on this….sad

    • Ed1 7.1

      And that is as it should be. Labour played fair with minor parties, did not allow the referendum to distract from the election (and that is perhaps a good reason why referendums should be help at a different time of the year – perhaps in conjunction with local body elections), and have since shown that they will respect the wishes of the people. The Bill put together for the referendum will not be proceeded with, but there is an opportunity to fix the process for assessment and provision of cannabis for valid medical reasons, including a process of secure domestic production for supply of effective drugs through Pharmac without the appalling blame game and fence-sitting of the Peter Dunne era. Meantime, Labour have other priorities, with inequality and housing being top of mind, but fixing getting ports working; charging trucks the true cost of road destruction, improving rail capacity (with perhaps good rail links between ports around Auckland), as well as Health and Education, where many projects are now underway.

      • Phillip ure 7.1.1

        fascinated to hear that they can't both walk and chew gum at the same time ..

        and this is 'cos they are beavering away at poverty/housing..?…really…?

        and when do you reckon we will be hearing about the results from all that beavering.?

        (colour me surprised . .to hear that..)

        • mac1

          The thing about beavers is that they beaver away a lot of the time under water and out of sight.

          They're great engineers, their change is gradual and long-lasting, beneficial and accurate, using local, natural resources. Their teeth are incisive, self-sharpening and strong. Their endeavours address issues of housing, food and safety.

          They teach their young their skills, continue to work even in winter, and are a great analogy for a political party and its processes.

          • Phillip ure

            sounds like an analogy in support of incrementalism..

            • Ed1

              In these circumstances, I agree it is. What do you think the reaction would be if Labour / Green pushed through the Bill that was rejected by the referendum now? I have identified one issue that I believe could not be said to have been rejected; there may be others, and it is not as if there is not plenty to get on with – some of which does not need to be incremental.

          • Robert Guyton

            Nice allusion, mac1. I concur.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    You'd think that a government dedicated to impoverishing the mass of New Zealanders by corruptly supporting property speculation would recognize the value of soma in their unsustainable dystopia. But that would require a level of joined up thinking we haven't seen in decades.

    Discredited and disheartened, mainstream support for democracy faded away.

  9. bwaghorn 9

    So going to the courts to overturn democracy huh!!

    Donald Trump ould be proud of them.

  10. Ad 10

    If pro-dope lefties cannot respect our democracy, they are no better than Donald Trump.

    We fought hard on the massive petition and referendum against selling state asset sales, and it was a total slap in the face to have the government totally ignore it and sell it anyway. And yet that's what this lot are asking for. Shame on them.

    The more believable path would be to celebrate the medicinal cannabis industry that is now growing and is well regulated, as it should be. Just north of Kaikoura as of yesterday we now have a marijuana plantation the size of 10 football fields. The company is http://www.puro.co.nz


    Stop rebuking voters and start supporting our new and well regulated local companies with their medicinal products.

    • RedLogix 10.1

      Indeed, regardless of how you sit on this issue, it surely demands better than this.

      Frankly I'd like to see referendums like this have a somewhat higher hurdle to leap over … say a 65% majority for change.

      • Herodotus 10.1.1

        And what does it say about previous referendums that the governments at the time ignored. And from memory all but 1 previous referendums have a convicting majority supporting them 80%+, unlike this one that was 50:50. And many of a vast minority were happy that the governments at the time did OPPOSE the referendum results.🤫

    • ken 10.2

      You think that 50.7% of the voters should be able to criminalise 48.4% of the voters because they don't approve of what people do in the privacy of their own homes?

      Only 3.5% of NZers identify as LGBTQ, but we were decent enough to stop persecuting and prosecuting that very small minority with the law.

    • froggleblocks 10.3

      and it was a total slap in the face to have the government totally ignore it and sell it anyway. And yet that's what this lot are asking for. Shame on them.

      No, they're asking the court to declare the referendum null and void.

      What happens next is up to the government since this was never a binding referendum anyway. I'm 98% sure they will not have another referendum or even talk about decriminalisation.

  11. Bazza64 11

    I’m not surprised the yes campaign couldn’t get it’s shit together, heavier users of the stuff don’t usually feature that high up on the productivity ladder.

    You could apply this sort of stunt to any election result ( the people were misinformed, lied to, yada yada yada) & it does have Trump like overtones to it. Where do you stop ?

  12. Bruce 12

    From your comment, forgive for assuming Heroin users would feature even lower on the productivity ladder, yet today I read Bob Dylan sold his lifes work for 400 odd million, not a bad earn for someone so unproductive.

    • Robert Guyton 12.1


    • WeTheBleeple 12.2

      Many of our 'stars' on the international stage smoke weed. Can't name names because it's illegal, but these are people bringing in big bucks and PR to the place.

      Heavy users are medicating whatever it is that ails them in many cases, not applying for productivity bonuses.

  13. ken 13

    Very disappointing of our government at first glance, but I think that we're actually in a 'golden age' of cannabis.

    The police have been instructed to not prosecute (if you can believe that), and the government has washed it's hands of any notion of regulation or control.

    Basically, we now have a situation where the government is looking the other way, the police are looking the other way, and the multi million (billion?) dollar underground cannabis economy rolls along unhindered, with tax-free profits only rivaled by the real estate market.

  14. RobbieWgtn 14

    Pot…Kettle. The yes vote advocates for legalization certainly put out at least as much misinformation & inaccurate information to advance their own purposes.

    [lprent: If you want to make an assertion of fact, then provide examples or links to supporting information. If you’re expressing an opinion – then express it as an opinion. What you did here made you look to me as a simple troll. You wasted my time reading your previous comments, and concluding that you weren’t a troll.

    All because you made an unsubstantiated assertion of what could be a fact. Ambiguity carries penalties around here. And as most ambiguity seems to be a tactic, it leaves it completely up to a moderators personal choice about how they want to treat it.

    As a penalty for wasting my time, I’m changing the time on this comment so that it is not the first in this post. That is purely because it looked to me that getting the pole position was your intent – and I don’t like that either. In fact I’m going to make a particular note to myself to observe if you go for first comment again with a throw-away line, and to be hyper-critical about it. ]

    • aom 14.1


    • Phillip ure 14.2

      how about just one feckin' example of these pro-lies…eh .?

    • Chris T 14.3

      The one thing I did see a bit from the yes people was a tendency to try to mix legalisation with medicinal which was already legal.

      Which was frankly misleading imo

      Can't be bothered spending to much time looking on a phone screen, but stuff like this.


      Improve access to patients

      Cannabis can be an effective medicine for some serious conditions.

      Patients should be able to access the medicine that works for them without fear of prosecution. Legal cannabis would mean easier, cheaper access for patients to a wider range of products.

      • Incognito 14.3.1

        Confusing, perhaps, but misleading, no, not if you actually click on the link and read the info instead of a superficial glance at a snippet. Those who want to be misled will be misled and mislead others; those who want to be informed, inform themselves as well as others.

        The evidence is clear that cannabis can be an effective medicine for a range of conditions, including epilepsy, chronic pain and nausea from some cancer treatments.

        While medicinal cannabis is technically legal in New Zealand with a prescription, there are few products available and they are very expensive because they are not subsidised. Medicinal cannabis products are out of reach of most New Zealanders, even those who have a life threatening or debilitating condition.

        Despite the medical scheme patients are still forced to source illicit products, even though they face the risk of conviction. Legal cannabis would mean easier access to a wider range of products, and would make prices more affordable. Patients will be able to access the medicine that works for them without fear of prosecution.


        • Chris T

          Fair enough, but think we might have to disagree on that one.

          Mind you, there is a fine line between confusing and misleading with lobbying from all sides when it comes to agendas.

          • Incognito

            Yeah, it occurred to me that you might have an agenda.

            • Chris T

              Come on.

              You yourself admitted it was at best confusing.

              The only difference is I think it was probably on purpose.

              Unless of course you think one side is evil liars and the other is the epitome of purity.

  15. Incognito 15

    Andrew Geddis thinks it has zero chance of succeeding in Court.


  16. Patricia Bremner 16

    Actually, that is the Court's role, to examine evidence and give a verdict.

    So why anyone would consider such a case a waste of time perhaps is their stance?

    The issues should be examined, and if unfair, another referendum held.

    Personally, the medical evidence about teens nearly saw me vote no.

    Then the Medical fraternity made a declaration that to me was shockingly late and I realised all was on a knife edge because of pressure from unrepresented Doctors who had started to complain of the issues. So all of that should be examined. IMO.

    • Pat 16.1

      None of that is for the courts to examine (as Geddes points out)….those are in the realm of politics.

      "in short, this legal challenge to the referendum stands no chance of success in court. If the 350 people who apparently have backed it are hoping that three High Court judges might overturn the “no” vote’s 67,662 majority, they are going to be sorely disappointed.

      Alternatively, if they are simply using this case to try and cast public doubt on the referendum outcome by citing various, nebulous “irregularities” with how it was held, then that’s their prerogative. Provided, that is, they’re happy to be running with the same tactic as Donald Trump."


  17. swordfish 17

    Arrogant anti-democratic elitism of an obnoxiously pompous little Upper-Middle Cadre.

    Reminds me of the elite response to Brexit & it's decidedly ugly derision of the majority view (no I didn’t personally back Brexit, but the majority clearly did & the mandate should have been respected without question).

    Indeed, it dovetails with the inherent authoritarianism of the currently ascendant Intersectional Cult, with its mix of crude, cartoonish understandings of reality, aggressive power-seeking self-interest, & a sickeningly smug & self-righteousness tone. Spoiled Brats who never learnt Right from Wrong or how to share is the terminology that instantly comes to mind. But, then, that kind of glib response underplays the on-going anti-democratic danger of this fake, self-interested segment of the “Left”.

  18. Nic 181 18

    The government has no obligation to follow the indication given in the Cannabis referendum. When John Key had a referendum on the sale of assets, ie power company shares, 67% of New Zealanders voted no. John Key sold them anyway. He had to in order to fund tax cuts for his rich mates and donars to the National Party.

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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 19 projects will clean up and protect waterways
    $36 million of Government funding alongside councils and others for 19 projects Investment will clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs Boots on the ground expected in Q2 of 2021 Funding part of the Jobs for Nature policy package A package of 19 projects will help clean up ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand Government acknowledges 175th anniversary of Battle of Ruapekapeka
    The commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ruapekapeka represents an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the role these conflicts have had in creating our modern nation, says Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan. “The Battle at Te Ruapekapeka Pā, which took ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago