Hundreds seek court dismissal of New Zealand cannabis referendum results

New Zealand Flag National - Free vector graphic on Pixabay
credits pixabay

A group of more than 350 electors filed suit against the Electoral Commission in the High Court of New Zealand Sunday seeking to have the results of the country’s recent cannabis referendum dismissed.

In October, 50.7 percent of New Zealand voters responded “No” to the cannabis referendum question “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?”—a margin of 2.3 percent on the “Yes” vote. According to a Checkpoint radio broadcast, the group has asked the High Court to void the “No” majority result. Specifically, it has challenged the cannabis referendum result under Subpart 4 of the Referendums Framework Act 2019 (the Act). Under the Act, groups of 200 or more electors who are “dissatisfied with the result of the referendum” are empowered to petition the High Court to inquire into the conduct of the referendum or those associated with it.

Blair Anderson, one of the petitioners who advocates drug reform, told Checkpoint that misinformation surrounding the cannabis referendum had not been corrected. Namely, the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill lacked provisions to correct misinformation in the mainstream media and the “expert committee … assembled … to correct any misinformation” failed to do so. Anderson pointed to the example 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.”

If the petitioners are successful in getting the High Court to declare the cannabis referendum as void, section 32 of the Act requires a new referendum on the issue to take place on a date appointed by the Governor-General within six months of the declaration.

“If the judge thinks this was inherently wrong and it influenced the outcome, he’s probably on a bound to say the referendum is null and void,” Anderson commented, emphasizing that “[i]t’s not the result of the referendum we’re disputing. We’re disputing the conduct of that referendum”.

Not all commentators are as optimistic. Professor Andrew Geddis of the University of Otago wrote in an article for The Spinoff that “this legal challenge to the referendum stands no chance of success in court” and highlighted vagueness in the petitioners’ allegations.

Anderson believes that making cannabis reform an issue for Members of Parliament to debate and hear evidence upon at a Select Committee is “the right thing to do” rather than having another referendum.