SYDNEY, Australia — The question from the debate moderator in New Zealand was simple and to the point: “Jacinda Ardern, have you ever used cannabis?”
“Yes I did,” said Ms. Ardern, the country’s popular prime minister, “a long time ago.”
The moderator paused, looking surprised. Then the audience applauded.
Ms. Ardern later declined to say whether she supported the legalization of marijuana, which New Zealanders will decide in a referendum with the national election on Oct. 17. But by that point in the debate on Wednesday, she had already won another smiley-face emoji from the global left, while reminding voters that she hadn’t always been so earnest.
Before leading the coronavirus lockdown that worked and becoming New Zealand’s unifier-in-chief after the deadly shootings last year at two mosques in Christchurch, Ms. Ardern was, it seemed, like most of her constituents: a toker, at least once or twice.
Roughly 80 percent of New Zealanders have tried marijuana,…