Surge in support to decriminalise marijuana, multi-decade survey finds
There has been a sharp switch in attitude towards recreational marijuana use since 2013, the survey found. For the first time more Australians support decriminalising the use of marijuana than those who back retaining its classification as an illicit drug, a survey conducted over three decades has found.
There has been a significant shift in sentiment around marijuana use since 2013, research has found, with experts pinpointing two critical factors: the legalisation push sweeping the United States and official acceptance by federal and state governments that cannabis has a part to play in pain relief for sufferers of disease.
The Australian National University's 30-year election study found a sharp switch from 2013 when 44 per cent of those surveyed said the use of marijuana should remain a criminal offence compared to 34 per cent who supported legalisation and the remainder, 22 per cent, undecided. By 2016, that had flipped to 43 per cent backing legalisation and just 32 per cent support for the criminal status quo. Alex Wodak, president of the Drug Law Reform Foundation, said Australia appeared to be tracking the United States where 60 per cent of the population back marijuana being taxed and regulated by government. On the same night that Americans voted Donald Trump into the White House, four US states - California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine - voted to legalise recreational marijuana, joining four other states. In Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas, voters backed medical marijuana while in Montana an existing medical marijuana law was softened. Of the 50 US states, 28 have now legislated for the use of medicinal cannabis. "Our level of support is not as high as in the US but it is obvious which way it is going," said Dr Wodak. "In Australia, one of the consequences of making cannabis legal for medical purposes is that people start to ask the question: 'Why then do you have to criminalise the recreational use of the drug?'." He is part of a group brought together by the University of NSW, and including senior legal experts, which will present a "sensible policy for Australia" by the first half of 2017. Having secured the authorisation of the Turnbull Government this year, NSW is conducting clinical trials for medical applications for cannabis such as chemotherapy-related nausea and has developed a "compassionate use scheme" for people with terminal illness. The federal government has also passed laws creating a licensing system for future supply of medicinal cannabis. It is estimated that the regulated US marijuana market will be worth $22 billion by 2020. While the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have backed medical marijuana, a number of micro-parties, including Senator David Leyonhjelm's Liberal-Democrats, the Sex Party, Drug Law Reform Australia and Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) all actively support legalising the recreational use of cannabis. Victorian Sex Party MP Fiona Patten this week appeared in a video interview with Vice magazine in which she appeared to smoke a joint and explained her personal use of marijuana. In Australia, a large part of the $1.5 billion spent fighting drug use goes to cannabis at the expense of drugs like ice. Ian McAllister, a professor of political science at ANU said the survey results showed the sharp rise in support for legalisation is linked to the drug's use in medical treatment. "Otherwise the trend has been towards legalisation but it would have been far more modest," he said. Professor McAllister said the 30-year survey had found a population that was generally becoming more "permissive, tolerant and small-L liberal" on issues from marijuana to euthanasia and same-sex marriage. "The problem with the political institutions and politicians is they are not responding to this. We found 70 per cent of people support same-sex marriage and yet the government wanted to spend $250 million on an advisory plebiscite when we know what the result will be," he said. "Political parties need to cotton on to these things or they will be in trouble. We've already seen in the US and Britain that there is a popular reaction against career politicians who are not seen to be listening to people." Fairfax Media has partnered with the Global Drug Survey for its fifth year to help understand how and why people take drugs in Australia. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/surge-in-support-to-decriminalise-marijuana-multidecade-survey-finds-20161220-gtf5b9.html