How much did the Yes campaign spend on the cannabis referendum

The pro-drug YES campaign are trying to suggest that the NO campaign outspent them in the recent cannabis referendum campaign.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And part of the problem is that most of the YES campaign groups kept their spending just under the $100k threshhold for having to do a return. So we will never know for sure.

BUT we do have some significant hints

Firstly, here’s the big number of group on the YES side


Even the media couldn’t avoid this huge imbalance – although it took academics to call it for what it was. From a Stuff article

The research paper, which is described as commentary, was included in the Drug and Alcohol Review. In it, Rychert and Wilkins explored numerous reasons as to why the referendum did not pass.

The authors noted the NZ Electoral Commission had 15 registered referendum campaigners, with two clearly against the reform and 11 in favour.

Those registered had to anticipate spending more than $13,600 on the campaign, and the authors said the numbers suggested pro-legalisation campaigners outnumbered anti-legalisation groups with regard to a greater allowable campaign promotional budget.

The authors found the leading pro-legalisation reform group, Make It Legal, spent nearly four times more on social media as Say Nope to Dope, the leading anti-cannabis group.


So here’s the (declared) spending of the Yes side



Declared spending $337,241.67

They also spent a buckletload just before the regulated period with a campaign that annoyed virtually every New Zealander – even the ones from their side.

“Up until the election, we are only allowed spend about $300,000. That is about what we have raised at the moment, and we have spent that much on the campaign so far.” NZ Drug Foundation defends pro-cannabis advertising




Make It Legal didn’t do a return at first – even though the research showed that they had spent close to $100,000 on Facebook advertising alone. This doesn’t include production costs of their video campaign (see further below).

There is now a statement made that yes they did spend more than $100,000. It was $104,000 (which still seems well short of the reality.)

Here’s the reason their costs will be understated. They used the same campaign production group as the Drug Foundation. Notice the same couch etc. $80,434 was paid to Augusto by the Drug Foundation. The costs incurred by the Drug Foundation will be similar to both groups.


They also had significant costs on large posters

Let’s be charitable. They say they spent this amount.

TOTAL FOR MAKE IT LEGAL: $104,000 (declared)



It’s helpful that they have provided a summary of their campaign. They’re trying to argue that they didn’t go above the $100k mark (which is highly questionable).

Most of it was donated by pro-drug mates in the industry. But it’s not too hard to calculate their likely costs….

“Cleve had been offered a three-week nationwide billposter campaign by Phantom Billstickers, who have a history of helping out on these issues. My friends, graphic designer Roxanne Hawthorne (the one who originally pointed Cleve my way) and festival production maestro Fred Kublikowski came aboard too….. A PledgeMe campaign brought in another $5000-odd, which meant we could also do a campaign with A3 “retail” posters to go in cafes, bars, bakeries and the odd church. That cost money to execute because Phantom contracts out that part of its business, but Stuart Shepherd and Fred Soar at Soar Print did the posters for free for us. ………Later in the piece, we were offered digital billboard inventory by MBM, Lumo, Locky Docks and Go! Media and, with multiple national outdoor campaigns, we’ve wound up looking quite a lot bigger than the four or five munters trying to keep up with their day jobs that we actually are.”

TOTAL FOR WE DO CAMPAIGN: $75,000+ (estimated based on market rates)



Probably one of the worst websites in the history of campaign websites (!!) but they did have a significant social media presence – including the production of videos encouraging a Yes vote. Although we just noticed that these videos were authorised by ACTIONSTATION, and JUSTSPEAK and VUWSA!!! All registered groups. All dividing the total cost amongst themselves to keep under the $100k reporting cap.




What’s interesting about this one is that they didn’t even register as a 3rd party promoter – despite their clear campaigning.



There was also plenty of cross promotion from the Yes side – as shown below…






TOTAL FOR THE YES CAMPAIGN (not including the Drug Foundation pre $300k spendup in one weekend)




SAM-NZ  $320,000

FAMILY FIRST $47,000   ($140,000 in total but spread over the Cannabis, Euthanasia and General Election campaigns)


One other important point.

Also on the YES side was the mainstream media.

In the cannabis referendum analysis of the media coverage (203 news items and 78 opinion pieces):

  • More than a third (36%) of all headlines promoted the YES position, while only 18% promoted the NO position.
  • Advocates promoting the YES position were quoted twice as often as NO advocates.
  • More than half (126) of the 203 articles did not quote anybody from the NO side of the campaign, compared to only 64 articles not quoting someone from the YES side. While the NO position was mentioned in 44% of stories, it was typically deep in the story or a very small focus of the overall article.
  • 51% of all Op-Eds were YES-biased while only 27% presented a NO position.

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