Could New Zealand be the next country to legalize recreational marijuana? |

Could New Zealand be the next country to legalize recreational marijuana?

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's new prime minister, said the nation will hold a referendum over the next three years

By Nick Perry / The Associated Press
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's next prime minister, Oct. 19, 2017, in Wellington, New Zealand. Ardern hopes to take the country on a more liberal path following nine years of rule by the conservatives.
Nick Perry / Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand is poised to slash immigration, rethink trade deals and vote on legalizing marijuana under a new government that takes office this week. After nine years of conservative rule, liberal Jacinda Ardern was confirmed as the nation’s next prime minister on Thursday, following negotiations after a close September election.

Ardern’s Labour Party will be joined in a coalition by the small, nationalist New Zealand First party and will also get support from the liberal Green Party.

Ardern said Friday the country would hold a referendum on whether to legalize recreational marijuana at some point over the next three years. She didn’t say whether she favored legalization but said the current system wasn’t working well.

“I’ve always been very open about the fact that I do not believe that people should be imprisoned for personal use of cannabis,” Ardern said. “On the flip side, I also have concerns around young people accessing a product which can clearly do harm and damage to them.”

Ardern said she wanted to hear the view from New Zealanders and figure out the correct wording for the referendum before taking a stance.

Labour also wants to set legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The party wants the nation to reach zero net emissions by 2050 by planting extra forests to absorb the greenhouse gasses it emits. It also plans to establish an independent climate commission. Nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gasses come from agriculture, which also drives the economy. Any moves that increase costs for farmers could run into strong opposition, although Labour says it will make changes gradually. Labour says it wants to rework an existing emissions trading scheme while New Zealand First says it wants to replace it.

Ardern said her government “will be absolutely focused” on the challenge of climate change.

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