One In Four Believe Sale Of Cannabis Should Be Legalised

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The Home Secretary's decision to downgrade cannabis from a class B to a
class C drug has majority support among the public, according to YouGov's
survey for The Telegraph.

The survey reveals that more than half of all adults would be happy to see
its sale and possession decriminalised or even legalised.

The great majority reserve their fear and detestation for hard drugs such
as heroin and crack cocaine. Nearly everyone believes these to be
seriously addictive and almost invariably harmful to users.

The survey also reveals a gap amounting to a chasm between those under the
age of 35 and older generations. Those born in the Seventies and Eighties
share their elders' abhorrence of hard drugs but are much less convinced
that the country suffers from a serious drugs problem or that soft drugs
are a scourge.

The gap even extends to beliefs about which "drugs" are addictive. The
young, by a wide margin, reckon that tobacco, alcohol and coffee are all
more addictive than cannabis and ecstasy. The old agree about the first
two but are not so sure about coffee.

YouGov's survey is one of the most comprehensive to be conducted into the
public's beliefs about drugs.

The pollsters began by asking people to assess the extent of the drugs
problem in Britain. As the figures at the top of the chart show, roughly
half of YouGov's respondents, 51 per cent, believe "there is a serious
drugs problem in this country and it affects practically the whole
country".

Somewhat fewer, 42 per cent, agree there is a serious problem but believe
"it is largely confined to certain neighbourhoods and certain kinds of
people". Already, however, the generation gap emerges. As the figures
show, the under-35s are far more likely than their elders to reckon that
there is no nationwide problem.

The young also differ sharply from the middle-aged and older people in
wanting to distinguish clearly between hard and soft drugs. Opinion among
the over-35s is almost evenly divided on the issue. Among the younger
generation a substantial majority, 73 per cent, believe "a distinction
should be made between 'hard' drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine and
'soft' drugs such as cannabis".

Asked which drugs are seriously addictive, people agree on putting heroin,
crack cocaine, tobacco and alcohol at the top of the list and cannabis and
ecstasy towards the bottom, though, once again, older generations are more
suspicious than the young of so-called softer drugs.

On the connection between cannabis use and the abuse of hard drugs, the
old and young are more closely aligned. Both groups broadly agree that
cannabis users are more likely than others to use hard drugs but whereas
only half of the 18-34 age group, exactly 50 per cent, believe cannabis
users are "a lot" or "somewhat" more likely than others to resort to hard
drugs, that proportion among older people rises to nearly two thirds, 63
per cent.

In other words, younger people are considerably more likely than their
elders to see drug abuse as varied and complex rather than uniform.

Asked what they believe establishes any connection that exists between
hard- and soft-drug use, an overwhelming majority of YouGov's respondents,
83 per cent, appear to be clear that the problem arises not from cannabis
creating a craving for harder drugs but "because some people who use
cannabis find themselves part of a 'drug culture' with dealers pushing
both hard and soft drugs".

The belief that pushers have a financial interest in selling both soft and
hard drugs - and in encouraging soft-drug users to move on to the hard
stuff - may help explain the widespread support for cannabis being
decriminalised and even legalised. Almost everyone believes that hard
drugs harm all or most of those who use them.

However, there is nothing approaching unanimity on the issue of whether
soft drugs such as cannabis also cause harm. Among the young, 53 per cent
reckon cannabis harms either none of those who use it or only a minority
but among the over-35s, almost exactly the same proportion, 50 per cent,
reckon that cannabis, on the contrary, harms all or most of those who use
it.

No one disputes that the sale and use of drugs leads to the commission of
additional drug-related crimes. The main issue in dispute is the link
between the two. As the figures in the chart make clear, the great
majority of YouGov's respondents are in no doubt. Fully 91 per cent
believe drug addicts turn to crime "because they steal to get money to buy
drugs". Only a small minority, seven per cent, attribute drug-related
crime primarily to "mental instability". The section of the chart headed
"Drugs and the law" presents probably YouGov's most striking findings:
only a minority of people, 43 per cent, believe that "the sale and
possession of soft drugs such as cannabis should remain a criminal
offence".

A clear majority, 51 per cent, including no fewer than 64 per cent among
the under-35s, believe that cannabis should either become a minor offence
("decriminalised") or even no offence at all ("legalised"). Almost exactly
the same proportion, 52 per cent, applaud David Blunkett's decision to
reclassify cannabis as a relatively harmless class C drug. That said, the
present very hard line on hard drugs remains. As the figures in the chart
show, fewer than 10 per cent of YouGov's respondents favour changing the
law in any respect.

If the laws on drugs were changed, a large proportion - 56 per cent among
the young rising to 67 per cent among older generations - reckon that drug
use would increase. The fact that many of these same people favour
relaxing the existing laws on cannabis probably means that they think the
increase would be mainly among cannabis rather than hard-drug users.

YouGov elicited the opinions of 2,536 adults across Britain online between
Jan 20 and 22. The data have been weighted to conform to the demographic
profile of British adults as a whole.


Author: Anthony King
Source: Daily Telegraph
Contact: dtletters@telegraph.co.uk
Website: Telegraph
Pubdate: Monday, January 26, 2004