At 2pm today New Zealand will learn the preliminary results of the referendum on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. Was New Zealand swayed by Reefer Madness fearmongering, or comforted that other places have already done this, and the sky did not fall?

“Today we discover if myths or facts won the referendum,” says Chris Fowlie, spokesperson for NORML New Zealand Inc.

Polls on the cannabis referendum have been notoriously volatile, with some showing the vote losing, some winning and others too close to call.

“We gave it everything and are feeling quietly confident,” says Mr Fowlie. “But with such a close vote we will need compromise and consensus moving forward,”

“Whichever side gets the most votes should recognise almost half the country voted the other way. So I’d expect, if Yes wins, that the Bill would change to reflect the concerns some people had. Likewise if No wins there must still be reforms, just not this Bill in that form.

Special votes will be added next week, on Friday 6 November, and are expected to tip the results in favour of Yes, because they include overseas voters, prisoners, late enrolments and those who moved address. A close loss today could be overturned next week.

In a year dominated by Covid, there is an irony that a century ago while also in the grip of a pandemic New Zealand voted to reject national alcohol prohibition – and the special votes decided the result.

Prohibition had won on the day, but that was overturned by the special votes of soldiers returning from WW1. They didn’t fight for freedom just to have their tipple banned by puritanical wowsers. Prohibition was defeated by just 13,000 votes.

Writing on The Daily Blog, Chris Fowlie has proposed several ways reform could still occur under a No-majority scenario, and also how reforms may change to reflect concerns raised during the campaign.

“A ‘no’ vote to that Bill doesn’t also mean no to everything else. It was non-binding, after all!”

Whatever the result today, campaigners and advocates can take heart they have raised the level of discussion and progressed dialogue around drug policy reform, and have shifted hardcore puritans to conceding prohibition does not work.

It’s also clear that the work of reformers will continue regardless. Under a Yes scenario we move into lobbying mode, shepherding the draft Bill through parliament. Under a No scenario, we regroup and keep moving forward with other reforms.

New Zealand’s oldest cannabis reform group, NORML was a registered Third Party Promoter for the cannabis referendum and ran a strong “Vote Yes” street level campaign featuring eye-catching billboards, leaflets and online advertising.

NORML is holding a cannabis referendum results viewing party today at 2pm today at The Hempstore, 253 Karangahape Road, Auckland. This is open to media, the public and Vote Yes supporters.