In a binding referendum, New Zealanders voted to legalize euthanasia, but preliminary results released Friday showed they would likely not legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
With about 83 percent of votes counted, with 65 percent voting in favor and 34 percent voting against, New Zealanders emphatically endorsed the euthanasia measure.
The measure of euthanasia, which would also permit assisted suicide and take effect in November 2021, would apply to adults with terminal diseases who are likely to die within six months and suffer "unbearable" suffering. The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium, and Colombia are other countries that allow euthanasia in some form.
"When we become a more compassionate and humane society, it is a victory for all of New Zealand," said legislator David Seymour of the libertarian ACT Party. "Thousands of New Zealanders who may have suffered terrible deaths will have their own bodies protected by the rule of law with choice, dignity, control, and autonomy."
But Dr. John Kleinsman, an ethicist for the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand, said the vote placed vulnerable people on a dangerous path. The mere possibility of euthanasia, he said, would be a burden and pressure for many suffering individuals and their families, as well as healthcare workers and religious workers.
With 53 percent voting against legalizing the drug for recreational use and 46 percent voting in favor, the "No" vote on marijuana was much closer. Once all special votes were counted next week, that left open a slight chance the measure could still pass, although it would require a huge swing.
The two referendums represented major potential changes to the social fabric of New Zealand, although the campaigns for each ended up being somewhat overshadowed by the pandemic of coronavirus and a parallel political race, in which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her liberal Labour Party won a landslide second term.
Special votes, including those cast by overseas voters, have tended to be more liberal than general votes in past elections, giving proponents of marijuana legalization some hope that the measure could still pass.
Proponents of drug legalization were frustrated that Ardern would not disclose how she intended to vote ahead of the vote on Oct. 17. Many thought Ardern 's endorsement could have boosted the measure's support, but she said she wanted to leave the decision to the New Zealanders. After the results were released, Ardern said Friday that she had voted in favor of both referendums.
The preliminary marijuana result was welcomed by Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party.
But Green Party liberal lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick said they had long assumed that the vote would be close and that they had to wait until special votes had been counted.
From the outset, we have said that this would always come down to voter turnout. We have had record numbers of special votes, so I remain optimistic, "she said." In this country, New Zealand has had a really mature and ever-evolving conversation about drug laws and in the last three years, we have come really far.
Proponents had argued that the measure would decrease gang profits and improve indigenous Maori social and legal outcomes. The marijuana measure would allow individuals to buy up to 14 grams (0.5 ounces) a day and grow two plants. It was a non-binding vote, so legislation would have to be passed to implement it if voters approved it. If it was necessary, Ardern had promised to respect the outcome and bring forward the legislation.
Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Georgia, and a number of U.S. states are also countries that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana.