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This year’s cannabis referendum is one of the most significant opportunities we’ve ever had to address a range of social issues that impact Māori communities. Campaign Manager Renee Shingles explains why the 2020 referendum is so important.

Legalising cannabis will allow us to treat it as a public health issue instead of a criminal one. The harm caused by prohibition, particularly to Māori communities, can last a lifetime and in some cases spans generations. However, research we commissioned in November 2019 told us the majority of New Zealanders still don’t see legalisation as a top concern.

That’s not surprising – prohibition has allowed this issue to remain in the shadows, confined to communities that are more likely to be punished than supported.

We see this referendum as an important opportunity. It gives us permission to talk about something that has previously remained in the dark. It allows us to step away from the politicking that usually surrounds this topic and begin having informed conversations. But most importantly, it allows us to vote on an issue – not a political party – that we know needs a solution, without the political narrative that so often hijacks this subject.

We know that Māori are more impacted by prohibition than other communities, however according to Stats and Elections NZ* only 53.83% of Māori are enrolled to vote.

Younger voters (18-29) have the lowest rate of enrolment, at only 43.43%. However, our research tells us this group believes more strongly than any other that this issue is personally relevant and important to them, and would motivate them to get out and vote.

All of which means that this issue has the potential to re-engage many previously disenfranchised voters, such as younger voters, with the democratic process.

This referendum provides an opportunity to fix some of the most broken parts of our public health and justice system. But we need to make sure that those communities who are most affected actually get out and vote – particularly the younger generation. It’s the only sure way of creating a future that supports and works for them, instead of against them.


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