The latest Reid Research poll was a disaster for the National Party. They hit their lowest polling numbers since the 2017 General Election, a dismal 25.1 percent. This result raised fears of an electoral humiliation like 2002. In order to avoid this, National will have to convince the electorate that they have learned the lessons of the past.
The Labour Party scored over 60% in the Reid Research poll, an incredible result less than two months out from a General Election. Unless there are major changes in sentiment between now and then, a second term for the Sixth Labour Government is all but assured. The same poll also suggested that Jacinda Ardern is seen as a much more competent leader than Judith Collins.
The reason why Labour and Ardern are doing so well is primarily because of their leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. It might sound simple, but when faced with a medical crisis, Ardern’s Labour listened to the scientists. The spread of an infectious virus is too complicated a subject to be understood by someone with a public relations degree, so they listened to people with medical degrees.
It does sound simple, but it’s not always that case that politicians follow the advice of relevant experts. Often they put political considerations ahead of reality.
It’s impossible to know whether a Judith Collins-led National Party would have listened to the scientists on the matter of COVID-19. What we do know is that she is currently completely ignoring the scientists on the matter of cannabis law reform. This attitude does not inspire confidence.
The scientists have been saying, for many years now, that the medicinal properties of cannabis are sufficiently well understood to know that the plant is not dangerous if used correctly. Even when used irresponsibly, it’s not worth locking people in cages over. The danger comes from prohibition, which creates a black market with no quality control.
The National Party has resolutely ignored these experts, opting instead for the politics of hate that served the Fourth and Fifth National Governments so well. National has always known that a large proportion of crusty old Boomers hate cannabis users and are happy to see the law destroy them. It is to them that Collins is signalling when she supports prohibition.
The problem for National is that many of those people are now dead.
It’s not the 1990s anymore. Opposing cannabis law reform has always been wrong, but in the 1990s it looked prudent. Back then, there was so little available science that it made some sense to err on the side of caution. Cannabis was always medicinal, but in the absence of a body of empirical evidence precisely detailing its effects, it seemed wise not to open the floodgates.
By 2020, opposing cannabis law reform seems pointlessly antagonistic and vindictive. Today there’s ample evidence that, not only is cannabis not really harmful, it’s a beneficial medicine to a great many people. It’s clear now that cannabis prohibition achieved nothing but cause misery to the many people who needed it to alleviate suffering.
If the National Party would change their approach on cannabis, from a “punishment and pain” model to one that put business interests first, they could win back a lot of the centrist voters that they have lost since the previous election. Abandoning their commitment to cannabis prohibition would signal that National is letting go of old prejudices and is ready to move forwards.
Already, some 67% of Americans want legal cannabis, and more Australians want it than don’t want it. Cannabis law reform in New Zealand is inevitable – National will not win another General Election while they oppose it. If they were smart, they’d steal a bunch of centrist voters off Labour by coming out in support of it today.
Vince McLeod is the author of The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, the comprehensive collection of arguments for ending cannabis prohibition.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.