In yet another sign that the times really have changed, at least in some parts of the world, New Zealand’s popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a recent debate that she has used cannabis in the past.
What would have been a showstopper just a decade ago received a different greeting in 2020: the audience broke into applause. They literally applauded their leader for her cannabis use.
Otherwise, the revelation, as noted by the New York Times, elicited little more than a proverbial shrug. “Most people will have just smiled to themselves, as most have had a puff,” Peter Williamson, 67, a Methodist minister in South Auckland, told The Times.
That’s interesting because New Zealanders will vote in October 2020 on whether the legalize cannabis nationwide. And right now, it doesn’t look like it will get approved.
New Zealand Has a Different History With Cannabis
In New Zealand, which The Times called “democracy’s relaxed parallel universe,” people have a different attitude toward cannabis than they do in other parts of the world. That’s because most of the five million people who live there have tried it.
About 80% of all adult residents of the nation have tried cannabis, according to the New Zealand Drug Foundation. Around 12% have used cannabis in the past year. The drug foundation even lists the pleasant effects of cannabis, including “relaxed,” “giggly” and “less pain,” which neatly sums up the cannabis experience for many.
By comparison, while most Americans support legalization, only about 52% of the nation’s adults have tried cannabis. Or, rather, admit to having tried it when taking a survey. It’s a reminder that in large sections of the country, using cannabis remains something of a taboo. Attitudes toward marijuana in the United States often revolve around political affiliation and age.
Politicians and Legalization
With use of cannabis more widespread in New Zealand, Ardern’s admission is expected to cause few waves (although the moderator of the debate seemed surprised). For the record, she said she used cannabis in the past but does not do so currently.
What’s more interesting is whether her admission will help tip the scales in the upcoming legalization vote.
The latest polls show that while a large majority of New Zealanders have used cannabis, only about 35% support full legalization. As in the United States, there are divisions by age and political party affiliation. Those between 18 and 29, many of them members of the Green and Labour parties, support legalization. Those over 50 and members of the National Party tend to oppose it.
The non-binding referendum is meant to provide guidance to elected officials. The referendum establishes details for legalization, including making the legal age 20, allowing marijuana “coffee shops” and allowing personal cultivation of up to four plants per household.