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New Zealand to hold cannabis referendum within three years

New Zealand to hold cannabis referendum within three years

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Image caption Ms Ardern was given a rapturous welcome by Labour Party members on Friday, after she clinched a deal to rule in coalition

New Zealand will hold a referendum on legalising the recreational use of cannabis in the next three years, its prime minister-elect has pledged.

Jacinda Ardern said she did not personally support imprisoning people for using cannabis but wanted to hear New Zealanders' views.

Ms Ardern received a standing ovation at a meeting of her Labour Party.

She will head a three-way coalition with the Greens and nationalist party New Zealand First (NZF).

Ms Ardern, 37, emerged as the surprise new leader after weeks of negotiation following September's inconclusive election, which resulted in a hung parliament.

The incumbent National Party won 56 seats – two more than the Labour-Green bloc – but was unable to agree a governing coalition.

The coalition sees an uneasy alignment between the Greens and NZF, which have previously clashed over issues including immigration policy.

But Ms Ardern has denied her government is a "coalition of the losers" and says she is hopeful it will see out its term.

Detailed discussions on policy will take place next week but Ms Ardern promised a "government of change" in remarks on Friday.

She reiterated her support for a referendum on legalising personal cannabis use, saying she had "always been very open" about her opposition to criminalisation.

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Media captionJacinda Ardern becomes New Zealand's youngest female leader

"On the flip side," she added, "I also have concerns around young people accessing a product which can clearly do harm and damage to them."

She said she wanted to hear New Zealanders' views and would consider carefully the wording of any referendum question.

Using cannabis remains illegal in most countries. However, possession of small quantities is legal in some US states, Canada, Colombia, South Africa, Spain and in Dutch coffee shops. In Uruguay, it is legal to grow, sell and consume marijuana.

Other policies which the new coalition look likely to agree are:

  • Slashing annual immigration by up to 30,000 from the current 70,000 (in a population of nearly five million)
  • Restricting property sales to foreigners, which have been blamed for pushing up house prices
  • Renegotiating a trade deal being considered by 11 Pacific nations
  • Legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal of a net-zero carbon emissions policy by 2050

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