New Zealand’s marijuana legalization referendum picks up major backer

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is supporting the nation’s binding 2020 referendum on ending cannabis prohibition.

In an opinion piece published in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper titled “Cannabis prohibition doesn’t work anywhere; It’s New Zealand’s turn to legalize it,” Clark urged voters to make New Zealand the first Group of 20 nation in Oceania to legalize marijuana.

Such a move would open the door to a market valued at almost 1 billion New Zealand dollars ($630 million), according to an estimate by U.K.-based analytics firm Prohibition Partners.

“The time has come for New Zealand to face up to the widespread use and supply of cannabis in the country and to legalize it and regulate it accordingly. No useful purpose is served by maintaining its illegal status,” she wrote.

A report published by her think tank, The Helen Clark Foundation, earlier this week noted that New Zealand would then be able to choose between Canada’s for-profit model and the largely state-run approach adopted by Uruguay.

In the paper, “The Case for YES,” the foundation urged the government to “develop a structure for a legal market which prevents and/or discourages the emergence of large, commercial, for-profit cannabis producers and retailers.”

Separately, the New Zealand government solicited feedback on proposed medical cannabis regulations until Aug. 9.

The government aims to finalize by mid-December the regulations to implement a medical cannabis program in the first quarter of 2020.