Opinion: Cannabis legalisation not just preserve of sandal wearing Lib Dems!

A new poll just commissioned by Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform (of which I am a member) and conducted by Vision Critical shows that 70% of people are in favour of cannabis being legalised.

It also shows that more people are in favour of legalising amphetamines (speed), magic mushrooms and Mephedrone (the drug recently banned by the government) than are in favour of keeping them prohibited.

For ecstasy there is still a small majority in favour of prohibition (54%) but 39% are in favour of legalisation in some form. Even heroin and cocaine have around a third of people who want to see them legalised.

I think what these findings show is not just that over two-thirds of people think that cannabis should be legal, it is that even across drugs there is not a huge consensus in favour of prohibition either.

At the very least this can be interpreted as there being scope for a proper debate about the future of drugs policy that includes all options and that such an approach would not be so “politically toxic” as too many politicians seem to fear. Hopefully this poll will reassure them that this is not the case.

The poll took a slightly different approach to those I have seen before. It laid out three scenarios, “Light regulation”, “Strict government control and regulation”, and “Prohibition”. It then detailed what each of those categories mean and asked people to say which category they thought a number of currently legal and prohibited drugs should go into.

Some of the demographic breakdown information is interesting too. For example, there is no significant difference between the three different age ranges (18-34, 35-54, 55+) across the different drugs and categories people want to see. And there is also little difference between supporters of the main parties. This gives the lie to the claim that drug law reform is only favoured by “sandal-wearing hippies” in the Lib Dems!

Hopefully this poll can help contribute to the drugs debate and will serve as a way of demonstrating that a sizeable proportion of people in this country are open to the idea that our current legal framework for drug regulation is really not working and fresh thinking is needed.

I view the results of this poll as giving “permission” for politicians to have that full and open debate.

PS: LDDPR is trying to get a motion for an impact assessment on drugs policy debated at the Autumn conference. We feel that this poll helps to make the case that this debate needs to happen.

PPS: You can read more information including a more detailed breakdown of the poll methodology and results here.

* Mark Thompson blogs at Mark Reckons.

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29 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Jul '10 - 7:24pm

    Unsurprising results – regardless of whether they think drugs are good or bad, people are understanding that prohibition does not work.

    An option which was notably absent from the poll was: “relaxing limits on personal possession (while leaving supply chain restrictions alone)” – jailing people for possessing small amounts of drugs has got to be one of the stupidest ideas ever. An appropriate reaction to possession of drugs like heroin would be a medical evaluation, and treatment for people who are addicted.

    Also worth noting that “strict control and regulation” is the current situation for most of the opiods, not prohibition – a hospital can prescribe heroin (although they rarely do, it’s a fallback option for people who can’t be treated with the usual ones).

  • paul barker 10th Jul '10 - 9:12pm

    Agreed but there must, by the same token, be no special leniency for those who commit crimes under the influence of drugs. Ive been suffering alot of intimidation from a weedhead neighbour, he suffers from the usual paranoia but that is his doing as much as anything else he does.

  • As with most calls for action based on polls, this is almost meaningless without a description of exactly how the survey was carried out, the demographic targeted, the questions asked, that kind of thing.

    Polls are notoriously able to show almost anything, even without meaning to the questions they use can bias people to a point where they massively skew the results, and the results you do get from them don’t, unless the questions are very specific and obvious, actually prove the point you want to make. Also, whether carried out wholly impartially, practically and correctly or not, they are always going to be suspect when they show in favour of the people who commissioned them. If this had been commissioned by an impartial body then it would carry more weight to it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m of the same opinion as you guys, I just don’t hold much stock in polls as a way to prove anything, and I think most people tend to think the same way nowadays.

  • My apologies, I somehow missed the link to the relevant info at the bottom.

  • A good spread on the demographic… but seriously 2000 participants?

  • So we know that cannabis causes schizophrenia. legalising it will mean that we have lots more cannabis users and more people driven mad.
    Great result.

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Jul '10 - 9:56am

    but seriously 2000 participants?

    2000 participants in an unbiased or bias-corrected survey gives you a 3% error window at the 99% confidence level – for non-statisticians, that means we are 99% certain that the number of people in the population who favour the legalisation of cannabis is in the range 67% to 73%. Pretty solid.

  • Joe Donnelly 11th Jul '10 - 2:26pm

    SMcG in addition to the good points Mark Reckons makes I think the true Liberal point needs to be made too!

    Namely that, just because something harms somebody in someway doesn’t give somebody else the right to stop them from doing it! I play rugby fairly regularly, its a fairly dangerous sport, why don’t we ban that? People Smoke, thats dangerous, why don’t we ban that? In fact doing anything other than staying wrapped in bubble wrap will probably harm you in some way, yet we don’t ban that. At the end of the day, life has occupational hazards, every action we enjoy has SOME occupational hazards, its our individual choice whether we want to risk these hazards.

  • What use are conclusive representational polls when you’re up against the immovable object that is the parliamentary Conservative Party?

  • Although much aware of the link between cannabis and mental illness (lots of work in mental health services), it is clear prohibition doesn’t work.
    Also have many dutch friends and they report little local use (drug tourists are much more prominent)

    Cameron has apparently a pretty liberal track record on the subject so we might get some sympathetic ears from our coalition partners…

  • Barry George 11th Jul '10 - 10:51pm

    Mark Reckons

    Correlation does not imply causation

    Exactly

    I am forever reading that Cannabis causes mental health problems when it is just as likely that people with mental health problems are more prone to taking Cannabis.

    There is no evidence to justify that Cannabis causes mental illness.

  • David,
    I don’t think it’s a matter of what the tories would dare to do, I just don’t think they’ll have any inclination to do it. Unlike labour I don’t think it’s a fear of tabloid recriminations that drives their drugs policy but a genuine tendency toward cloying victorian moralism and a hatred for anything and anyone they don’t understand.

    Let’s not make the mistake of assuming that conservative mps are open to rational argument like normal people. They might be part of a coalition, but they’re still tories.

  • Two things:

    1) That fear of ecstasy legalization is probably because people are still remembering that disgraceful Leah Betts poster campaign, claiming she died of ecstasy instead of water overdose.
    2) Drug law reform has really dropped off the Lib Dem radar. We’re in government now, why aren’t we putting this back on the radar? Let’s get it in our next manifesto? We need Lib Dem ministers to start the debate on this, because Conservative ones won’t!

  • gramsci's eyes 12th Jul '10 - 10:34am

    There is no evidence that cannabis causes psychosis.

    Plenty of evidence though of vested interests and very poor sampling methods.

    If there was a link it would show up in the epidemiological data (conducted every 10 years via 20, 000 household using stratified sampling.). In fact the rate of psychosis is remarkably stable and there is nothing in the age distribution over expected rates. As the study is conducted every 10 years (mini one 5 years) you get an opportunity to look at cohorts – again nothing.

    Wider cannabis use & higher TCH levels equals higher rates of psychosis is simply not supported by the evidence. In fact, the lack of evidence points the other way, dispelling any casuality.

  • Whether cannabis does or does not cause psychosis really is not important to the argument on whether to legalise it.

    If cannabis does increase likelihood of future psychosis the best way to prevent that is to control and regulate it in order to keep it out of the hands of teenagers.

    If cannabis doesn’t cause psychosis, there ar certainly few other harms associated with the drug that justify its prohibition so we should control and regulate it.

    I regard control and regulation of drugs (amongst other things) as an excellent opportunity to increase public knowledge of serious mental illness and save the NHS a great deal of money by facilitating early intervention in mental illness. There are several drugs that can precipitate mental health problems. Cocaine, amphetamines, ketamine, cannabis and alcohol I know to have been scientifically implicated in psychosis. If someone using drugs develops mental health problems I’d hope they’d seek help earlier. If someone who doesn’t use drugs develops problems, I’d hope a friend who does will be able to recognise warning signs because of the education they have received and intervene early to save a lot of grief.

    Control and regulation has many potential benefits. We should be highlighting those benefits rather than debating cannabis harm. It doesn’t look good to be promoting evidence-based drug policy and also to be arguing amongst ourselves the evidence on the one illegal drug that is most used by the population. Can we please leave this to the experts?!

  • Darren Reynolds 13th Jul '10 - 1:56pm

    Was the survey corrected for bias in the sample? I can’t find any reference to such correction. Also the option of regulating the stuff like paracetamol (or sandwiches, for that matter) seems to be missing?

  • Hi Darren. It was corrected for bias yes. I chose to only include psychoactive drugs (although I have had some amazing psychoactive sandwiches in my time (in that they made everything feel better rather than they were made of drugs)).

  • Darren Reynolds 13th Jul '10 - 2:23pm

    Ewan, I think you missed a definite article in my implied question. I didn’t mean to suggest that paracetamol and sandwiches should have been considered in your survey. I meant that the drugs about which you canvassed opinions could perhaps be regulated in the same way as paracetamol or sandwiches. Paracetamol can be bought over the counter, but manufacturers are licensed and the maximum amount purchasable at retail is limited. Sandwiches are also regulated (for the moment, I seem to recall, by the Food Standards Agency). If a sandwich sold at retail doesn’t contain what the label says it does, action is taken by the enforcing authority, but anyone can make a sandwich. Perhaps the former is sensible a sensible approach to regulating MDMA, and the latter is sensible for psilocybin-containing mushrooms? That would be my vote on the information I have available, anyway.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jul '10 - 2:30pm

    The great problem here is how to make it not illegal but also not a marketed commodity. I’ve seen enough of the effects of cannabis on people to feel that it’s not a particularly benign drug, it does seem to have a long term damaging effect on too many personalities even if we can’t actually put a precise “psychosis” label on what it has done. I certainly would advise anyone not to become a user, so I most definitely would not want provision of it to become a big business, with any sort of sales drive to increase its use. In this way, it’s not different from many other commodities – for example, if tobacco were illegal now I would not particularly want it to be made legal, it is legal only because it has historically been legal so it is set into our culture and economy. Tobacco has the problem of unpleasantness to those in the vicinity of its users, and a pretty devastating long-term physical health effect, though it does not seem to have a detrimental mental health effect unlike cannabis. A lot of the debate on these things is bedeviled by the fact that it involves probability, which people seem to find very hard to deal with, they can’t understand why “my gran smoked 40 a day and lived till 90” is not a complete argument against the ill effects of tobacco.

  • (Sorry to double post this but the original contained a few errors, but when I read this sort of perpetuation of lies I cant help but feel some emotion that clouds my proof reading abilities)

    “SMcG
    Posted 11th July 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink
    So we know that cannabis causes schizophrenia. legalising it will mean that we have lots more cannabis users and more people driven mad.
    Great result.”

    Actually we dont know this at all. The media has misrepresented the results of some studies. Its amazing that when a study is released that has not yet been subject to any peer review but suggests a link it is blasted at us as ‘proof’. When there is a study that suggests no link we hear nothing about it.

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/09/01/2673334.htm

    “Frisher and colleagues compared the trends of cannabis use with general practitioner records of schizophrenia.

    They argue if cannabis use does cause schizophrenia, then an increase in cannabis use should be followed by an increase in the incidence of schizophrenia.

    According to the study, cannabis use in the UK between 1972 and 2002 has increased four-fold in the general population, and 18-fold among under-18s.

    Based on the literature supporting the link, the authors argue that this should be followed by an increase in schizophrenia incidence of 29% between 1990 and 2010.

    But the researchers found no increase in the diagnosis of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders during that period. In fact some of the data suggested the incidence of these conditions had decreased.”

    But dont take that study as fact either. It has limitations to. In fact all science has.

    Someone might claim to have ‘succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning’ and that will be pandered by the media as fact. It does not mean it is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwang_Woo-Suk . The media rarely can tell fact from opinion or from fiction.

    You may as well take for granted my study that shows Canabis causes delusion, gullibility and hysteria amongst the media and some non users. It is likley to be more accurate then anything you are told through the main stream media.

    Please dont be so lazy.

  • its about time cannabis is legalised, the reasons for substances being illegal are how harmful they are !
    thats says it all to me……….UNFAIR ! there are so many cannabis users out there who are being criminalised just for smoking a plant in their own home which effects no one other than themselves !
    if one is allowed to purchase alcohol which really messes with ones health and certainly effects others in some cases (just go into local town at the weekend!) why cant ones self choose whether they would like to use cannabis ? i think education in these things is a must just look at the dutch they have really low cannabis usage among 15-25 yr olds, the same applies to most drugs i believe.
    generally people do not like or want to break the law but when the law is so unfair and wrong as it is on the cannabis issue people should not have to risk the stigma of being a criminal and paying real criminals for their sometimes beneficial herbs. buying cannabis off real criminals pays for more illegal enterprises !
    legal and taxable. stop real criminals in their tracks !

  • I agree 100% with the legilslation of cannabis, and in fact most drugs. I see it as a persons choice if the want to participate in drug use. It is true, prohibition hasn’t and won’t work unless the government went comletely out of there way, but they cant because of the ecomony. I view the current drug laws as a form of extortion to be honest, that and some people think they know whats best for others, which really bugs me. Me and my Dad fight over this topic when he finds my weed (yes i do use cannabis, like it or lump it), and he primarily views cannabis as a bad thing BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL. I hate being judged for this and hope soon there will be an end to it.

    The only answer is legislation and taxation, FACT!

    If any politician reads this please look at it from my point of view. Only people who are a problem to society because of drug use should be punished. Also it is hypicritical of people who drink alcohol and then brand anyone who use illegal drugs as a junkie. You could say a chain smoker is a junkie?

  • David Raynes 11th Aug '11 - 5:58pm

    Ewan, you say:
    :”If cannabis does increase likelihood of future psychosis the best way to prevent that is to control and regulate it in order to keep it out of the hands of teenagers”.

    Ewan, this statement is fundamentally wrong, it is against logic and it is against the evidence of the tobacco/alcohol model as variously applied worldwide.

    Normalising/legalising cannabis will not make cannabis LESS available, (to anyone), than it is now. A moments thought will tell you why I am correct. How could it possibly do that?

    There is one document I reccommend you Google for, it is dated 1999 and is by Peter Reuter and another on the effect of legalistion on TOTAL HARM.

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