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Politics

New Zealanders to vote on legalizing cannabis and euthanasia

Prime minister supports assisted-suicide bill but silent on pot question

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seeks a second term in the Oct. 17 election.   © AP

SYDNEY -- New Zealanders will vote on whether to legalize medically assisted suicide and recreational use of cannabis alongside Friday's general election, controversial questions that are rarely put to voters in this form.

The cannabis referendum asks whether parliament should proceed with a bill allowing consumption of cannabis for nonmedical purposes under certain conditions. New Zealand already allows medicinal use of cannabis.

The legislation would let people 20 or older buy the equivalent of up to 14 grams of dried cannabis per day from approved stores, as well as allow limited home cultivation of cannabis plants.

The aim is to regulate the production, sale and consumption of the drug to combat trafficking and limit underage use. Opponents cite concerns about the drug's impact on memory and cognitive function, as well as effects on health.

The nationwide ballot also includes a question on whether to let legislation permitting medically assisted suicide come into force. The law, enacted by parliament last year, would allow citizens and permanent residents 18 or older who are likely to die within six months and are experiencing "unbearable suffering that cannot be eased" to request euthanasia.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged in a debate late last month with the leader of the opposition National Party that she had used cannabis herself "a long time ago," but she did not disclose her position on the legalization. Ardern voted for the euthanasia bill last year.

The cannabis referendum's prospects look uncertain. A poll late last month by local outlet Newshub found that 50.5% of respondents oppose the legalization, with 37.9% in favor and 10.9% undecided.

Preliminary results for the ballot questions will be released Oct. 30, with official results due out Nov. 6.

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