Final votes confirm New Zealand won't legalize marijuana

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FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2020, file photo, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gestures as she gives her victory speech to Labour Party members at an event in Auckland, New Zealand. Ardern announced her new Cabinet lineup Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, after her liberal Labour Party won reelection in a landslide victory last month. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

WELLINGTON – New Zealand won't be legalizing marijuana after the final votes counted Friday in a referendum failed to overturn the result from election night — although it got close.

The referendum to legalize the drug ended up with 48% in support and 51% opposed, a tightening from the election night split of 46% in favor and 53% against. The special votes tallied after the Oct. 17 election included those cast overseas and accounted for about 17% of the total vote.

The special votes also slightly increased the majority of liberal Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party, which ended up with just over 50% of the total vote, and 65 of Parliament's 120 seats.

It is the first time any single party has commanded a majority in Parliament since New Zealand introduced a proportional voting system 24 years ago. And it's the first time any single party has won a majority of all votes since 1951.

The landslide victory reflected widespread approval of Ardern's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The conservative National Party, the main opposition, ended up with just 26% of the vote and 33 seats in Parliament.

Ardern and top lawmakers in her Cabinet were sworn in Friday in a ceremony conducted by Governor-General Patsy Reddy. Ardern warned her colleagues about the difficulties they faced with the virus and economic downturn.

“You will govern thorough one of the most difficult times in New Zealand history," Ardern said.

New Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will be the first openly gay man to hold the role. He will also continue his previous job as finance minister.