News & Politics

New Zealand Votes to Legalize Euthanasia But Keeps Ban on Pot

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP

There was a strange result from a referendum in New Zealand where voters endorsed euthanasia by a 65-34 margin. But they have also apparently rejected legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

The vote on legalizing pot was much closer, but with some votes still outstanding, it was losing 53-47.

New Zealand is no European social democracy. It’s a fairly conservative nation with a strong market economy. It ranks third in economic freedom. It has incredibly low unemployment at 3.7 percent.

But the Labour Party just won a resounding victory at the polls, giving their liberal Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a mandate for change.

Associated Press:

The two referendums represented significant potential changes to New Zealand’s social fabric, although the campaigns for each ended up getting overshadowed somewhat by the coronavirus pandemic and a parallel political race, in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her liberal Labour Party won a second term in a landslide.

In past elections, special votes — which include those cast by overseas voters — have tended to track more liberal than general votes, giving proponents of marijuana legalization some hope the measure could still pass.

Proponents of legalizing the drug were frustrated that Ardern wouldn’t reveal how she intended to vote ahead the Oct. 17 ballot. Many believed an endorsement by Ardern could have boosted support for the measure, but she said she wanted to leave the decision to New Zealanders. Ardern said Friday after the results were released that she had voted in favor of both referendums.

It appears that voters separated the two measures into the personal and the political. The wrenching decision for any family to make at the end of life doesn’t get much more personal. And while some euthanasia laws aren’t drawn carefully enough and leave room for mischief by the state or by relatives, this particular law requires a terminal diagnosis, not just the “wishes” of the patient.

But weed is still weed. And there are still enough conservatives in New Zealand to keep a ban on it.

Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party, welcomed the preliminary marijuana result.

“This is a victory for common sense. Research shows cannabis causes mental health problems, reduced motivation and educational achievement, and increased road and workplace deaths,” he said. “New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would normalize it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm.”

It seems a foregone conclusion that here in the U.S. pot will be legalized sooner rather than later. The cannabis lobby is strong in most Democratic states and many Democrats are on record supporting legalizing the drug. It won’t be a high priority if Democrats take over the Senate and White House, but an attempt at national legalization will be made eventually.