SYDNEY, Australia – The question from the moderator of the debate in New Zealand is simple and to the point: “Jacinda Ardern, have you ever used cannabis?”
“Yes I did,” said Ms. Ardern, the country’s most popular prime minister, “at first.”
The moderator stopped, looking surprised. Then the audience applauded.
Ms. later refused. Ardern to say if he supports the legalization of marijuana, which will decide New Zealanders in a national election referendum on October 17. But at that point in Wednesday̵7;s debate, he won another smiling emoji from around the world left, while reminding voters that he was not always enthusiastic.
Prior to leading the coronavirus lockdown that worked and became New Zealand’s unifier-in-chief after last year’s deadly shooting at two Christchurch mosques, Ms. Ardern is, it seems, like most of his constituents: one implies, at least once or twice.
Nearly 80 percent of New Zealanders try marijuana, according to independent studies – more than double the rate for Australians, and even higher than what Americans report. So when Ms. Ardern, 40, his own past drug use, the country of five million – where many things green and dank – simply shrugged.
“Most people just smile at themselves, like most had a puff,” said Peter Williamson, 67, a Methodist minister in South Auckland. “Maybe I was one of the few people who didn’t really have a chance.”
That is New Zealand for you – the relaxed parallel universe of democracy. As President Trump and Joe Biden release comparisons to the dumpster fire during a train wreck this week, Ms. Ardern and his opponent, Judith Collins, leader of the conservative National Party, are arguing in a heated debate over only a few interruptions (and one calls for a point for “behavior”).
The upcoming New Zealand election is an anomaly in other ways. It has the potential to be historic – as a marker of consensus, not division.
Ms. Ardern is a favorite whose only question is whether his Labor Party will win enough support to form the first government of most of New Zealand since the election reform in the 1990s, or whether he will need to form of a coalition with the Greens.
Marijuana has become a hot issue definitely for that reason. With the majority to be reached, Ms. reminded. Ardern to the world that his policy on virtue also includes steely calculation.
Helen Clark, the former prime minister of Labor who is a vocal supporter of legalization, said “the indication she used it was of itself a strong signal.”
But polls show a closely divided voter legalization. Some observers see that as the reason why Ms. refused. Ardern to say which way he leaned on the issue.
“He needs voters on the right,” said Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University in Palmerston North. “The concern is that the National Party could use it against him as a weapon.”
So far, the “I smoke but you may not want to be” approach has changed its critics left and right.
In the debate on Wednesday night, Ms. Collins, a second female lawyer who led the National Party, exploded with a sarcastic “come on” when Ms. Ardern that he wants to let the public decide whether marijuana should be legal.
Her own answer is more specific: Ms. Collins, 61, said he has not used cannabis yet and will vote no in the referendum.
“I want to protect the mental health of young people in particular,” he said.
Many New Zealanders seem to, like Ms. Ardern, arguing not about the intent of the law, but how far it will go and how it should be passed.
Mr. Williamson, the Methodist pastor, who is also a former criminal barrister, said he would prefer the possession of marijuana to be decriminalized. Indigenous New Zealanders are three times as likely to be arrested and charged with marijuana offenses as are white New Zealanders.
“An ordinary person with a small amount of marijuana should not be afraid to be stopped by the police,” he said.
Even legalization supporters wondered if the referendum was the best way to go. It laid out in detail how to control the drug: Cannabis will be sold through licensed retailers; it will be legal for about 20 upwards; and people are allowed to grow up to four plants at home, and share up to 14 grams of society.
But because Ms. Ardern in 2017 that he supported the public health strategy in the use of recreational marijuana, many asked, why the decision was reversed in people?
“They’re committed to writing a very good law, but they let it hang out with nobody,” said Ross Bell, executive director of the Drug Foundation, who has worked for decades to reduce the harm of alcohol and drugs through advocacy. in education and policy.
Nandor Tanczos, a former lawmaker of the Greens party who now sits on the district council in Whakatane town, agrees and runs a social change organization called He Puna Whenua.
“Parliament should only legislate these reforms, based on science,” he said.
Hoping for a referendum, he argued, allowing misinformation to flourish. One example he cited: The antilegalization lobby displayed images of dairy farms with marijuana ads plastered on them – although the new law would ban advertising.
“It’s an attempt to scare people into thinking we’re getting something different than we really are,” Mr. Tanczos said.
That kind of fear can have long-term consequences, Mr. Bell said.
“A ‘no’ vote means no politicians will touch cannabis for a long time,” he said. “And that law will remain, doing evil to the youth and Maori.”
Amanda Saxton contributed a report from Auckland, New Zealand.