Support for the personal use cannabis referendum has plummeted, with just 39 per cent of responders to a new survey saying they will vote yes.
And a growing number of Green Party voters - whose party has pushed for the referendum - are saying they are now opposed to the bid to make pot legal.
Voters will have their say at next year's election over a potential legal cannabis market; which would allow for special bars for consumption, special outlets and sales and strict rules for home-grown cannabis.
But just 39 per cent of those who take part in a new survey carried out by Horizon Research – commissioned by New Zealand's largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics – have said they support legalising the personal use of cannabis.
Support in the survey – which featured 1003 respondents - is down from 52 per cent in April, and 60 per cent in November last year.
It is the third such survey the company has commissioned on the referendum.
"On the current trajectory, the referendum is heading for certain defeat," Helius Therapeutics executive director Paul Manning told the Weekend Herald.
"The numbers all point to the non-medical use of cannabis remaining in a gang-controlled black market. Unless there's a public information campaign to help Kiwis make a more informed choice around the pros and cons of legalisation, organised crime is set to be the only referendum winner."
The referendum at the 2020 election will ask about support for a bill that would include:
• Allowing products to be bought only in a licensed premises from a licensed and registered retailer, and banning online or remote sales,
• Banning the use of cannabis publicly, allowing it only in a special licensed premises or on private property,
• Controlling the potency of cannabis in available products,
• Introducing a legal purchase age of 20, and
• Banning advertising of cannabis products, and requiring products to carry health messages.
The survey carried out for Helius Therapeutics is broken down into seven age groups, from 18-24, through to 75 years +.
The first age bracket were the biggest backers of a yes vote (56 per cent), while the 75-years and older age group had the least support for the proposed reform (24 per cent).
Respondents who said they will definitely vote no are at 47 per cent, up 10 per cent from April and nearly double the number in November (24 per cent).
Those who said they were still undecided stood at 14 per cent.
Manning said he believed support was dropping because those backing the move had failed to properly get their message across.
"A vaccum of information in recent months has been filled by fear," he said.
"This is the first set of comparable independent surveys, conducted by the same research company, and the downward trend is staggering. Those pushing for liberalisation will be particularly alarmed to see the substantial drop-off in support, particularly from Green Party voters and younger Kiwis."
Green Party voters who said they would vote yes dropped from 83 per cent in the April survey, to 64 per cent in the latest poll.
Support from 18-24 year-olds had dropped from 68 per cent in April, to 56 per cent. Other big drops feature among 25-34 year-olds (18 per cent), 35-44-year-olds (22 per cent) and 45-54-year-olds (14 per cent).
Broken down into gender, 40 per cent of women respondents said they would vote yes, compared to 39 per cent of men.
Manning said there was merit in the regulation changes, and those who wanted the referendum to succeed had to put forward their case sooner rather than later.
One upside of a yes vote, he said, would mean the more than 320,000 people reported to use cannabis on a daily basis would not be committing a crime.
"Rather than waiting until next year to tell Kiwis how cannabis reform could benefit New Zealand, the time for more balanced education is now," he said.
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said the poll demonstrated "there's a lot of work to do to show New Zealanders that criminals should not be controlling the distribution of cannabis in this country".
She said legal regulation would allow for the control of access, potency and "ensure people help when they need it".
"Underground dealers don't check ID," she added.
"As is the nature of a referendum, this conversation is now owned by New Zealanders. We've got to get out there and continue communicating why we believe legal regulation is best for improving wellbeing in our communities.
"We must also continue to encourage everyone to do their own research and listen to the experts, not talkback radio hosts and politicians seeking to cast doubt".
Legal cannabis poll
• All respondents: 39 per cent for, 47 per cent against, 14 per cent have no opinion
• Sex: Male 39 per cent for, female 40 per cent for
• Age group: 18–24 years 56 per cent for, 25–34 years 50 per cent for, 35–44 years 33 per cent for, 45–54 years 39 per cent for, 55–64 years 27 per cent for, 65–74 years 35 per cent for, 75yrs or over 24 for
• Party vote 2017: ACT 58 per cent for / 25 per cent agains, Green Party 64 per cent for / 31 per cent against, Labour 46 per cent for / 40 per cent against, National 27 per cent for / 64 per cent against, NZ First 47 per cent for / 42 per cent against
- The Horizon Research poll was commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and surveyed the views of 1003 New Zealanders aged 18 and above