Yes, or no? Referendum 2020

Kerry Mitchell | Account Manager Politics Leave a Comment

The 2020 General Election is slowly creeping up on us, including the two referendums on cannabis legalisation and control, and end-of-life choice. In the shadow of COVID-19 it’s been difficult to find good information on either. Account manager Kerry Mitchell goes on a fact-finding mission.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have to vote in a few weeks time, and not only for who I want to see governing the country for the next three years. I have to decide whether I want to see cannabis legalised and whether I want to give people with a terminal illness the option to request assisted dying. It’s heavy stuff and just seems a bit much on top of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

I got to thinking about it after a quiz appeared in my Facebook feed asking me what I knew about the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. As it turns out, not much. I failed the quiz miserably.

I instinctively thought I would vote yes for legalising cannabis as I have a close friend who has successfully used it for medicinal purposes for more than 15 years. It’s probably kept her alive. I know the referendum is not about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes – that’s already legal – but the legal products are so expensive they are out of reach for many people.

But then I saw how much people would be allowed to buy per day. Fourteen grams – that’s a lot. And the increased exposure of young people to cannabis worries me. I have three teenagers, who despite being pretty sensible most of the time, might want to give it a try. As with alcohol, it wouldn’t be too hard to get it from someone 20 years or older who can freely buy it from a licensed premises.

Again, I was instinctively leaning towards a ‘yes’ for assisted dying. Why should people have to live out their last days in pain? I’ve seen good palliative care in action, so I know it can be managed, but not everyone wants that. I’ve heard people suggest it’s just an easy way to get rid of our aging relatives, but I think the criteria that states the person must be suffering from a terminal illness that’s likely to end their life within six months will put paid to that.

I’m guessing the tricky bit will be, however, making sure that a person’s choice to ask for assisted dying is their own. The law would allow people aged 18 years and older to make a decision to receive assisted dying without discussing it with their family if they want to (although doctors must encourage them to do so). I think I’d feel pretty gutted if someone close to me made that decision without discussing it first.

My quest for information on the two referendums has left me more informed, but possibly more undecided than ever. One thing I did do though was look for information from a reputable source. As with COVID-19, there is just too much misinformation floating around on social media to make an informed choice (including the Facebook quiz I took).

The official referendums.govt.nz site is a good place to start, with summaries, FAQs and full versions of the legislation if you want to get your head around it. The Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor also has a page on its website dedicated to looking at the evidence on legalising cannabis in New Zealand. The work was informed by a panel of New Zealand researchers and clinicians.

Whichever way you’re leaning, make sure to get out and vote. Happy voting!

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