Support for Cannabis Legalisation Lifts to 56% Ahead of Referendum

Less than three months out from the General Election, an independent survey of nearly 1,600 Kiwis shows 56% will vote for legalising the personal use of cannabis at the referendum – up from 54% in February.

“This result will energise both the yes and no camps. It shows just how close the vote will be, with 81% of Kiwis also declaring that prohibition has failed to limit cannabis access and use. The opportunity for wider reform is something all New Zealanders must start thinking about,” says Paul Manning, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics.

“This is a polarising debate but despite prohibition, cannabis is already widely accessible in New Zealand. September’s referendum is fundamentally a decision about who we want to control cannabis. Government-led control would weaken the stranglehold gangs have on our communities. Reform transfers cannabis access to regulated, locally-owned businesses, delivering jobs and tax revenue, while ushering in quality standards and strict access controls,” says Mr Manning.

The Horizon Research survey, conducted this month, marks the sixth in a series of comprehensive surveys tracking nationwide opinion on cannabis law reform. The research is commissioned by New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics.

September’s referendum

With overall support at 56% and those against at 43%, down from 45%, the June survey also reveals women favour legalisation more than men. Since February, support for legalisation among women has risen 4% to 59%, with 52% of men set to vote yes.

Legalising the personal use of cannabis achieves majority support among all Kiwis deemed young adults or middle-aged - 18 to 64-year-olds.

Senior New Zealanders are the only group opposed, but support among older demographics has been steadily increasing throughout Horizon’s series of tracking surveys.

Support among those aged 65 to 74 years is now at 39% - up from 30% when the first survey was conducted in November 2018, while support among those aged 75 or older is at 27%, up from 24% in February.

With support peaking at 72% among 25 to 34-year-olds, youth turn-out will be important for proponents, particularly young adults who support centre-left and liberal parties.

Notably, New Zealand First voters have now shifted to support reform. In fact, based on survey respondents’ 2017 party vote, voters for four of the five parties currently in Parliament now support legalisation, up from two in February.

53% of New Zealand First voters and 70% of ACT voters will now tick yes at the referendum – up from 46% and 45% respectively in February.

Support continues to firm up among supporters of the two main centre-left parties, with 72% of Labour voters and 81% of Green voters intending to vote in favour of cannabis legalisation – up from 64% and 78% respectively.

Only National voters remain opposed, although nearly one-third say they will vote yes. Among National voters, support is now at 31% – up from 27% in February.

With overall support now at 56%, the large public survey has tracked support steadily returning for personal-use cannabis legalisation, after it bottomed out 10 months ago.

Support was first recorded at 60% in November 2018. Then last year support was at 52% in April; 39% in August; 48% in November; and 54% in February 2020.

To better emulate the choice voters will have when they vote at the upcoming referendum, the two latest surveys removed the previous ‘no opinion’ option, forcing a yes or no response. This equally lifted both support and opposition to reform.

Prohibition of cannabis is failing

For the second time in the series, two questions were asked about whether prohibition is working to limit the availability and use of cannabis, and whether controls over growing and selling cannabis would deliver a better outcome for society. The latest results show New Zealanders’ strong views on both issues have barely changed since February.

Researchers asks if the prohibition of cannabis was limiting access and use, only 17% said it was. A staggering 81% said cannabis is available and used by many New Zealanders, and 2% gave no response.

On whether respondents believed controls over growing and selling cannabis for personal use would deliver a better outcome for society, 71% said yes, 27% supported continuing with no controls, and 3% gave no response.

Mr Manning says Kiwis of all ages are unified in their belief that prohibition is failing, and controls would be preferable.

“Interestingly, older and conservative Kiwis believe New Zealand can do better. 75% of National voters support controls over growing and selling cannabis, yet they don’t support the referendum. I suspect that’s because the issue is largely seen as politically partisan, but we all need to put party politics aside and think seriously about the issue of control,” he says.

The medicinal cannabis entrepreneur says it’s important that opponents read the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which will be introduced into Parliament if the September referendum passes.

“New Zealanders have less than three months to decide who they want to ultimately control the cannabis market. There are only two choices: Gangs or government.

“Today, hundreds of thousands of Kiwis are accessing cannabis illicitly. Wrestling regulatory control away from the black market would bring about product quality, safer communities, job opportunities, and significant tax revenue for healthcare,” says Paul Manning.

Commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and carried out independently by Horizon Research, the results are from a nationwide online survey of 1,593 adults representing the 18+ population at the 2018 census, conducted between 10 and 14 June 2020.

Respondents were members of Horizon’s HorizonPoll panel and a third party representative nationwide research panel, both of which represent the New Zealand adult population at the 2018 Census. Results are weighted by age, gender, highest education, personal income, employment status and party voted for at the 2017 general election. At a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is ±2.5%.

Helius and Horizon’s tracking of public opinion on the referendum over the past 20 months makes it the most significant series of surveys on the issue.

A cannabis flower, ready for harvest in Helius' cultivation facility

Key results

Question: At this time, do you think you will vote for or against legalising cannabis for personal use in New Zealand?

All respondents:

  • 56% – for

  • 43% – against

  • 2% – no response


  • Male – 52% for

  • Female – 59% for

Age Group:

  • 18 – 24 years: 62% for / 36% against

  • 25 – 34 years: 72% for / 26% against

  • 35 – 44 years: 60% for / 39% against

  • 45 – 54 years: 56% for / 37% against

  • 55 – 64 years: 53% for / 47% against

  • 65 – 74 years: 39% for / 61% against

  • 75yrs or over: 27% for / 73% against

Party Vote*:

  • ACT: 70% for / 30% against

  • Green: 81% for / 19% against

  • Labour: 72% for / 28% against

  • National: 31% for / 69% against

  • NZ First: 53% for / 47% against

* Party vote based on the most recent election, 2017

Question: Currently, producing cannabis for personal or non-prescription use is prohibited in New Zealand, with the intention of limiting its availability and use. Do you think prohibition of cannabis is working in New Zealand society?

All respondents:

  • 17% – Yes, cannabis is hard to access and rarely used in New Zealand society.

  • 81% – No, cannabis is available and used by many New Zealanders.

  • 2% – No response given.

Question: Currently, growing cannabis for personal use is prohibited in New Zealand. Which one of the following options do you think will have a better outcome for New Zealand society?

All respondents

27% – Continuing with no controls over growing and selling personal use.

71% – Controls over growing and selling personal use.

3% – No response given.

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