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Cannabis referendum on knife edge

2 Sep 20

Credit: Stuff
Cannabis referendum on knife edge
Dead heat among all respondents, No ahead among committed voters

The referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis is on a knife-edge.

When asked to make a choice between supporting or opposing the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, 49.5% of all respondents in a nationwide Horizon Research survey said they were in favour, 49.5% were against, and 1% gave no response.

The survey of 1,300 adults, conducted between August 20 and 25, 2020, was ommissioned by New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics. It is the seventh in a series of comprehensive surveys tracking nationwide opinion on cannabis law reform.

For the third time running, survey respondents were forced to take a position to better emulate the stark yes/no choice people will have when they vote. The referendum options and the information provided to respondents were the Electoral Commission’s.

When given Not Sure option:

When respondents were initially given an ‘I’m not sure’ option, 12% chose it, 44% supported the bill and 41% opposed it, with males more strongly supportive. This shows that when later forced to take a yes/no position, of those unsure, slightly more opted for no. 

Definite voters 50.8% against:

Survey respondents were also asked if they were both registered to vote and 100% likely to vote. From those that were, 48.4% supported the bill and 50.8% were against, meaning committed voters at the time of the poll would have defeated the bill by a slender majority of around 67,900 votes.

Unregistered, less likely to vote:

For those who are either not registered or less than 100% likely to vote, 53% supported the bill, with 45% against.

Paul Manning, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics, which commissioned the survey, said: “This could be the closest vote since 1919, when alcohol prohibition was defeated by just 10,362 votes."

Intended vote by users and non-users:

The survey found that those who have used cannabis at any time in their lives are primarily supportive of the bill, with 70% for.

Respondents were asked, in confidence, whether they had used cannabis at any time in their life. It revealed that 9% of all adults use cannabis often (18% of those who have ever used it), with 6% (12% of those who have ever used cannabis) saying they use it daily (equivalent to 201,100 adults) and a further 3% (6% of those who have ever used cannabis) using cannabis weekly (106,500).

A higher percentage of males than females had used cannabis at some time in their lives, and above average use of cannabis at some time in their lives was recorded among those aged between 35 and 64 years.

In the previous June survey, legalising the personal use of cannabis had achieved majority support among all respondents aged 18 to 64 years. The latest survey, however, showed majority support is now only held among the 18 to 44-year-olds, with support the highest at 63% (down from 72% in June) among 25 to 34-year-olds.

In fact, support has fallen among all age groups, except those aged 75 or older where support has steadily grown - now at 33%, up from 27% in June. Opposition peaks at 68% among those aged 65 to 74 years.

Voters for three of the five parties currently in Parliament now support reform, down from four in June, but up from two in February. National voters remain strongly opposed with 83% against the bill, while 58% of ACT voters are now also against. Green Party voters continue to strengthen their support with 94% in favour; 61% of Labour voters are in favour, as are 58% of New Zealand First voters.

Respondents were members of Horizon Research’s HorizonPoll panel and a third-party nationwide research panel, both of which represent the adult population at the 2018 Census. Results are weighted by age, gender, highest education, personal income, employment status and party vote at the 2017 election. At a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is ±2.7%

Helius and Horizon’s tracking of public opinion on the referendum over the past 22 months makes it the most significant series of surveys on the issue. Support was first recorded at 60% in November 2018. Last year support was at 52% in April; 39% in August; and 48% in November. This year it was at 54% in February; 56% in June; and 49.5% in August.  

Key results for all respondents:

Referendum options: Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.


All respondents:

  • 49.5% - for
  • 49.5% - against
  • 1% - no response

Age Group:

  • 18 – 24 years: 54% for / 45% against
  • 25 – 34 years: 63% for / 36% against
  • 35 – 44 years: 59% for / 41% against
  • 45 – 54 years: 48% for / 52% against
  • 55 – 64 years: 49% for / 49% against
  • 65 – 74 years: 30% for / 68% against
  • 75yrs or over: 33% for / 66% against

Party Vote 2017:

  • ACT: 39% for 58% against
  • Green: 94% for 6% against
  • Labour: 61% for / 39% against
  • National: 17% for / 83% against
  • NZ First: 58% for / 42% against


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