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The 2020 cannabis referendum: Māori voter support, racialized policing, and the Criminal Justice System

In the New Zealand 2020 cannabis referendum, 50.7% of all voters rejected the creation of a legally-regulated cannabis market and instead supported retaining the current prohibitionist policy. Although the referendum failed to pass, a majority of Māori voted in favor of cannabis law reform. This paper suggests that within the Māori community there is a more nuanced appreciation of the impact of policing cannabis. Māori perceive that greater harm is caused by the racialized policing of cannabis than by the usage of it. Following McCreanor, et al. (2014), this paper employs a thematic, content analysis of the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of the 2020 cannabis referendum to investigate the presence of race-based targeting/policing in discussions of the legislation. The results reveal that racial disparities emerged as secondary to framing both the impact of cannabis and the referendum as race-neutral and affecting everyone in society equally. This paper argues that the impact of the policing of this particular drug impacts Māori differently, wherein they bear the brunt of racialized policing. Thus, Māori possess a more sophisticated understanding that warrants consideration because it is inextricably linked to lived experiences of policing that differ from wider social narratives of policing and drug policy in New Zealand.
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