During the General Election in September this year, voters will be asked to express their views on two important and contentious conscience issues. The issues voters need to decide in the two referendums are:
- whether or not to support the End of Life Choice Act coming into force; and
- whether or not to support the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
The End of Life Choice Act gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying. While Parliament has already passed the End of Life Choice Act, it has not yet come into force and will only do so if more than 50% of voters vote 'Yes' in the referendum.
Under the provisions of the End of Life Choice Act, to be eligible for assisted dying a person must meet all of the following criteria:
- be aged 18 years or over;
- suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within 6 months;
- be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability;
- experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that they consider tolerable; and
- be competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
The second referendum is on the draft law for the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which will allow the legal purchase of cannabis products for recreational use.
Key restrictions on cannabis included in the draft Bill include:
- A minimum purchase and use age of 20;
- A ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis products;
- A requirement for harm minimisation messaging in the retailing of cannabis;
- A ban on consumption in public places with use limited to private homes and specifically licenced premises;
- The sale of cannabis products to be restricted to specifically licenced physical stores (not online or remote sales);
- Strict controls and regulations on the potency of cannabis; and
- The establishment of a state licencing regime so that all stages of the growing and supply chain are licenced and controlled by the Government.
In order to decide whether to vote yes or no to each of these questions it is important that voters are well-informed about what they are actually voting for. It is my hope that voters will invest some time in finding out about the issues involved in each referendum and the specific detail of what is being proposed, rather than relying on pro- or anti- campaigns on either issue as their only source of information.
A good place to get an understanding of the key terminology and provisions of both Bills and an overview of the issues is the Government referendums website https://www.referendum.govt.nz/. This website contains sections on both the Cannabis referendum and the End of Life Choice Act and also contains links to the relevant sections of the Parliament website https://www.parliament.nz/en/ and the New Zealand Legislation website http://www.legislation.govt.nz/.
Explanatory material on both referendums will also be sent to voters prior to the election.
I encourage you all to give these issues some thought and make sure you know exactly what you are voting for or against in September.