Sixty-five per cent vote in referendum to legalize euthanasia . . .
After voting in a recent referendum, New Zealand has become the first country in the Asia Pacific, besides Canada, to show approval for the legalization of assisted dying (AD). The result will not be confirmed until November 6, after roughly half a million outstanding votes are counted. The policy will not take effect for another year, leaving time for institutions to make the necessary adjustments, including around issues of funding of AD. New Zealand’s euthanasia policy will be more restrictive than other countries that have legalized the practice. Only those who are deemed capable of making an informed decision, suffer from a terminal illness, experience unbearable suffering, or have declining physical capabilities will be eligible to apply for AD. Applications based on old age or mental illness will not qualify.
Cannabis legalization defeated by slim margin . . .
In the same referendum, 53 per cent of New Zealanders opposed the legalization of cannabis, while 46 per cent supported it. The production and sale of cannabis will remain illegal, barring an unprecedented and unlikely reversal due to the as-yet uncounted votes by those who were unable to participate in the regular voting process. In New Zealand, it is estimated that 15 per cent of the population consumed cannabis in the past year. When arrested, 90 per cent face prosecution rather than being given a health referral. Unfortunately, Māori are disproportionally affected by drug laws in New Zealand and face three times more arrests for cannabis possession than non-Māori.
New Zealand could still legalize cannabis despite low support, as Canada did . . .
Unlike the decision on euthanasia, which is binding, the legalization of cannabis will need to be debated in Parliament, regardless of the referendum’s ultimate results. The government could propose legalization if it determines that the harm caused by criminalization outweighs the effect of legalization. When Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, only 35 per cent of Canadians supported it, but support doubled by 2020. Recreational use of cannabis is currently prohibited in all other Asia Pacific countries but is decriminalized in some American and Australian states. Regarding euthanasia, New Zealand has become only the seventh country worldwide to legalize the practice. In the Asia Pacific, Canada was the first country to legalize it, in 2016.