By Rebecca Reider
Trustee, Make It Legal Aotearoa New Zealand

The cannabis referendum on October 17th is just around the corner! The polls are showing we have a decent shot at winning, but it is by no means guaranteed. All we can be sure of is that it’s likely to be a very close race. Every single vote matters.

So if we’re going to win this thing, we all need to activate the people around us to vote yes.

Does that mean you have to get into an hours-long argument with some random person who has bizarre stereotypes about ‘dopeheads’? No! There are way more effective ways to use your energy. So here are some ideas.

Enroll

Make sure all the young people in your life are enrolled to vote. Young people are by far the most supportive of legalising cannabis. But history shows that young people also have the lowest voting rates! This is a problem. We need to mobilise young voters. Send them a message, remind them when election day is. Show them how easy it is to enrol to vote on vote.nz. (Seriously, it is SO easy. I just updated my details online there because I just moved house; it took me a total of three minutes, and all I needed was my name, address and driver’s licence.)

Have a Vote Party

Once everyone’s enrolled they still need to be reminded to vote! Election Day (Sept 19) is on a Saturday. This is a historic opportunity to have our say… so why not celebrate it with a voting party? Get everyone together for an afternoon hangout or BBQ, then go vote together at 4.20pm. (But save the cannabis for AFTER you all vote!)

Talk to your elders

Polls show that the older generation are more likely to vote no. But often this is based on misinformation because they simply haven’t had anyone explain why the referendum makes sense. Talk to elder people you have a relationship with, particularly family members, in a respectful way.

Choose your moments. Don’t waste your energy on someone who is ranting, incoherent, and never in a million years going to vote yes. Talk to people who have sincere concerns and see if you can help them reconsider.

Understand your audience. Listen to people’s genuine concerns if they’re not sure which way to vote, and take them seriously.

If you’re talking to someone who’s on the fence, and they’re saying “I’m concerned about young people accessing cannabis,” it’s not going to help if you say “Hey, we all have a right to choose what we put in our bodies!”…. because if you say that, you’re not addressing the values or concerns of your audience. In this example, it would be much more helpful to explain that legalisation with a regulated market will actually keep young people safer – people under 20 won’t be able to buy cannabis, and when they do turn 20, they’ll have access to cannabis that is controlled for safety and potency rather than getting unknown stuff from a tinny house. (You could also mention that multiple overseas studies have shown that legalising cannabis for adults does not increase youth use of cannabis!)

Know your stuff.

You don’t have to become an expert on legalisation, but if you learn even a little bit, you’re going to know more than most people you talk to. Being knowledgeable can help you stay calm, and that will help reassure anyone you’re talking with. Here are some resources to check out, depending how far you want to go:

Our brief explainer of what’s in the bill

The case for yes – The Helen Clark Foundation’s explanation of why a yes vote makes sense for New Zealand

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s balanced analysis of the likely results if we pass the referendum

The government’s detailed explanation of what’s in the bill

Get out on the streets

One of the most fun ways to raise awareness for the cause is to get out in public with some Make It Legal signs. It’s not that hard – all you need is a few mates and a spare hour of time (or less – or more!). Stand on a busy street corner, look happy, wave your signs, enjoy people tooting their horns at you in support! Seeing public displays like this, from people like you, helps the public feel like voting yes is a mainstream and relatable thing to do. Contact us if you’d like a sign.

Explain the process

Understand the process, and explain it to others. Many people seem anxious about the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (that’s the legislation that the referendum would send to Parliament) because they don’t understand the process. The referendum will NOT immediately legalise cannabis.

It is only the first step, which will get the government to introduce legislation to Parliament. There will be a Select Committee process where the public can make submissions and influence the legislation. So for cannabis users who think the bill isn’t perfect and therefore don’t want to support it – relax, we need to pass the referendum first and then we can work to improve the bill. And for conservative folks who are scared this is all moving too fast – you can tell them to relax, this is only step one in the conversation. If we don’t pass the referendum, though, we don’t get to have that conversation in Parliament at all.