25 October 2015

How Australians Feel About Legalising Cannabis

UPDATE 26 October, 2015

Only 7% of Australians surveyed for their views on medical cannabis said they were opposed to the 'drug' being made legal for medicinal purposes, a new survey shows. In a poll released by Roy Morgan Research, 644 Australians aged 14 and above were asked: “In your opinion should the use of marijuana* for medicinal purposes be made legal or remain illegal?” Most – 91% – said it should be made legal, while 2% were unsure. The strongest support for legalisation came from the 50-plus age group, with 94% of respondents in favour. The age group least likely to support it were 14-to-24 year-olds, but even so, 85% of that group said it should be legalised for medicinal use. Michele Levine, the CEO of Roy Morgan Research, said it was not surprising that Australians aged 50-plus were the strongest supporters.

“This group is most susceptible to several of the conditions that medicinal marijuana* can provide relief from: Parkinson’s disease, cancer, glaucoma and more”, she said. “It should also be noted that the special telephone survey found that only one third of the population believes that the smoking of marijuana* should be made legal. This demonstrates that Australians understand that smoking and consuming marijuana* for medicinal purposes are two very separate issues”. Sussan Ley, the Federal Health Minister, announced earlier this month she would seek parliamentary support to change the Narcotics Drugs Act of 1967 to create a regulatory body to oversee the cultivation and importation of medical cannabis for state trials. This would make it easier for researchers in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales – where clinical trials for the use of medicinal cannabis have been announced – to obtain the plant locally.

ORIGINAL 25 October 2015

In January 2015, Roy Morgan Research asked Australians 14+ the question, "In your opinion should the smoking of Cannabis* be made legal - or remain illegal?". Judging by more recent media reports, the use of Cannabis for medical purposes could become legal in Australia in the foreseeable future. Politicians such as New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews expressed their support for the idea, and clinical trials are to start in 2016. But how do Australians feel about the legalisation of Cannabis?

Over the last decade, the proportion of the population who believe it should be made legal has grown from 26.8% (2004) to 31.8% (2014). In this time, the 65+ age bracket has seen the largest proportional increase in favour of legalisation, rising from 16.9% to 25.5% (a 50% growth rate). However, this is still well behind young Australians aged 18-24 (35.7%), the age group with the most support for making smoking Cannabis legal.

How Australians of Different Ages Feel About Legalising Cannabis

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), January 2014–December 2014 (n=51,969). Base: Australians 14+

The belief that smoking Cannabis should be made legal has become more widespread across all ages except 25-34 year olds (among whom it has declined fractionally). Even 14-17 year olds, traditionally the least likely to support legalisation, seem to have become more open to the idea in the last 10 years, having gone from 15.5% in favour to 20.7%. University-educated Australians are more likely than those who didn’t complete high school to agree that smoking Cannabis should be made legal: 35.8% of people currently at university and 32.3% of tertiary graduates are in favour, compared with 30.9% of people who finished at year 10 and 28.4% of people with ‘some secondary’ education.

Of course, Aussies’ growing conviction that Cannabis smoking should be made legal means the proportion who want it to remain illegal is declining. In 2004, 64.1% of the population thought smoking Cannabis should remain illegal; by 2014, it sat at 56.8%. Still a majority, it has to be said, but not such a large one. Meanwhile, the proportion of Australians who are undecided on this issue has risen from 9.2% to 11.4%.

Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan Research, said:

“Whether someone feels that smoking Cannabis should be made legal or not often indicates how progressive or traditional their social attitudes are in general. In fact, the gradual increase in the proportion of Australians who support legalisation corresponds with an increase in the proportion who describe their ‘viewpoint with regard to social issues and social trends in Australia’ as somewhat or very progressive.

However, the current debate is centred on medical use rather than personal recreational use, so this casts a different light on the issue, and may provide a clue as to why there has been significant growth in support for legalisation among Australians aged 50 and over. Medical Cannabis has been found to provide relief from, or slow the progress of, several conditions that are not uncommon among older people: glaucoma, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and more (of course, it’s also worth noting that many Aussies aged 50+ would have been part of the hippy movement in the 1960's and 1970's, which had very liberal views on Cannabis use).

Having measured Australians’ attitudes to societal, political, environmental and health issues for many years, Roy Morgan Research has accumulated data that can assist government departments wishing to gauge how the population is feeling about particular issues at any given time”.

Adapted from; How Australians Feel About Marijuana* and Legalised Medical Marijuana
*Roy Morgan Reseach actually used the North American colloquialism 'marijuana' in their questioning, which is botanically incorrect and just shows their lack of knowledge regarding the herb, Cannabis sativa L.

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