New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern admitted to using cannabis "a long time ago" after being pressed during Wednesday's live debate. Ardern's admission comes right before the Oct 17 general election, where New Zealanders will also vote on legalizing recreational cannabis.

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The Blunt Response

When the moderator asked the prime minister if she had ever used cannabis, Ardern didn’t beat around the bush.  "Yes, I did," Ardern said. "A long time ago."  The moderator paused, looking shocked. The audience applauded.  However, what Ardern didn’t reveal is how she'll be voting on the cannabis referendum. "I made a clear decision that I want the public of New Zealand to decide this and I want this not to be about politics," she said during the debate. Ardern's opponent, Judith Collins of the National Party, reacted to Ardern's response on legalization with a snide "come on." The conservative candidate and her caucus have committed to voting against legalization, and unsurprisingly, Collins claimed to have never tried it.  Ardern is New Zealand's most popular prime minister in a century and has been hailed for her effective response to the pandemic.  She's expected to secure a comfortable victory in the October election.   In the past, Ardern wouldn’t confirm nor deny ever using cannabis, only saying, "I was once a Mormon, and then I wasn't. That's how I'll put that." 

New Zealand's Cannabis Referendum

Currently, cannabis is only legal medically in New Zealand. It's classified as an illegal drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1975. Penalties for cannabis possession, use and supply vary from fines to years of prison time. If the referendum is passed, New Zealand's Legalization and Control Bill will allow anyone 20 years of age or older to buy up to 14 grams of cannabis per day from licensed dispensaries and will allow for consumption on private property or licensed premises. Individuals will also be allowed to grow up to two plants, with a maximum of four plants per household. Additionally, the bill will remove past marijuana-related convictions. The New Zealand government will be in charge of controlling and regulating cannabis.  Approximately 80 percent of New Zealanders over the age of 25 have tried marijuana according to independent studies, far more than what Americans report. The vast majority of Kiwis have admitted to getting high, including their prime minister.   Although Ardern hasn’t backed legalization, Helen Clark, the former Labor prime minister is encouraging people to vote ‘Yes.’  "Let's get real here. This is a widely used recreational drug that is less harmful for individual health than tobacco and alcohol,” Clark said in an interview with the New Zealand Drug Foundation. 

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