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Let's Talk Weed flag next to green marquee. Kali Mercier, wearing a Let's Talk Weed t-shirt, speaking to a man in a blue shirt as families and other festival-goers walk past or talk nearby.
Kali Mercier talking about weed at the Island Bay Festival.

We've been out and about talking to people about the upcoming referendum. Our Policy and Advocacy Manager Kali Mercier explains why it's so important to her personally, and urges people to get out and vote.

With just 31 weeks to run until the cannabis referendum, 2020 is set to be the Drug Foundation’s biggest year yet. While I’m cautiously optimistic that New Zealanders will vote yes to legal control of cannabis, it’s going to be a tough race and I’m in no way complacent – the polls show that we can’t afford to be.

There's a lot riding on this referendum. If New Zealanders vote ‘no’, we’ll be waiting another generation for the politicians to grow brave enough to try again. Can we wait that long? I can’t.  I’ve been expecting legal cannabis to happen any minute since I was 18, studying law at Otago University and listening with outrage as my lecturer laid out the social justice impacts of convicting drug users. Since then I’ve become increasingly focused on the public health benefits of legalisation and I’m convinced that regulating cannabis is the best and most compassionate way to reduce the harm it causes in our country.

So I’m going all-out to win, as are my fabulous colleagues at the Drug Foundation, and our many committed partner organisations.  We’ve been out in force over summer running stalls to let people know the referendum is happening and tell them about the public health model of regulation the government has proposed. Research tells us the best way to win this will be through face-to-face conversations, and by providing clear and balanced information.

Last Sunday I was at the Island Bay festival wearing my “Let’s talk Weed” t-shirt, sitting in the shade of our lime green marquee, and chatting about cannabis to anyone and everyone. As a parent of children at the local primary school, I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous about setting up shop to talk about cannabis - probably because it’s an issue which has historically carried so much stigma and moral judgement.

But as a parent, I’m also clear that the proposed changes would be a positive thing for my children as they grow older. They’ll almost certainly find it harder to buy cannabis before the age of 20. If they do use it despite that, they’ll do so in an environment of health warnings, standardised products and controls on potency and portion size. And they’ll hopefully feel comfortable talking to me about their choices too, because there won’t be the added stigma of illegality to get in the way of good advice.  My reading of the draft bill is that voting yes will mean a safer, more sensible and compassionate world for my kids. What’s not to like about that?

As it turned out, my concerns about running a local stall were ill-founded. Apart from one old lady who angrily shook a stick at me (!), the reception in Island Bay was overwhelmingly positive. As it has been at the many stalls that volunteers have been holding around the country this summer. People just seem pleased to be able to talk about the issue and to hear what public health protections will be put in place with legalisation.

What I found most interesting about the day was this: around fifty percent of those I spoke to hadn’t heard that there is to be a referendum. 

Once they knew what it was about, most people were keen to vote yes."

This was a great confirmation of the research we’ve done, which shows that the more people know about the referendum, they more likely they are to vote yes.

Talking to people abut cannabis really pays off. Momentum for the campaign is growing and we are starting to build a core of committed volunteers getting out there and doing the work. But everyone who understands why this is so important needs to play a part. For example, you could make it your mission to ensure that your family and friends know about the referendum, that they know what they’re voting on, and they know why it’s such a good idea to vote yes. Make sure they are enrolled, answer any questions they might have.

Even better, run a stall at your local market or festival day. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking everyone knows what’s going on, because there’s a lot of work to be done before we reach that point.

And….we need to act fast, because September 19 will be upon us before we know it.

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