Study shows Australians support cannabis use over tobacco smoking

We are all aware that attitudes towards cannabis are changing around the world. Now, a new study from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, analyzing data from Australia’s 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), sheds new light on just how much progress the country down under has made in terms of cannabis perceptions as well as the beliefs made in relation to other substances.

The NDSHS focuses on people’s attitudes and perceptions across Australia on a wide range of drug-related issues. In addition to measuring public perceptions of a variety of substances, people are asked about the measures the country is taking to reduce drug use and drug-related harm, including state laws, taxes, and state funding for rehabilitation and withdrawal treatment programs.

The 2019 data surveyed around 20,000 people aged 14 and over about their attitudes towards drugs and found that for the first time 20% of respondents supported regular cannabis use, more than the 15% supporting tobacco use.

As cannabis use becomes more acceptable, more Australians support tougher penalties against tobacco use, the study found. Another finding found that 72% of people in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) supported restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in public places compared to 61% in the Northern Territory (NT).

Overall, 85% of respondents supported stricter enforcement of laws against the supply of tobacco to minors and tougher penalties for selling or supplying tobacco to minors. However, respondents were broadly opposed to increasing tobacco taxes to discourage smoking or increasing tobacco taxes to fund health education, with 18% and 17% respectively supporting these measures.

Conversely, community support for cannabis legalization has increased from 25% in 2010 to 41% in 2019. This was also the first time more people supported than opposed to legalizing cannabis in Australia (41% vs. 37%).

Compared to 2010 figures, Australians have also relaxed their stance on punishing cannabis owners. In 2010, 34% of respondents said possession of cannabis should be a criminal offense compared to 22% in 2019. When asked whether penalties for supplying cannabis should be increased, 60% of respondents said in the year Yes in 2010, while 44% answered the same in 2019. When asked if they approved of regular adult cannabis use, the number rose from 8% approval in 2010 to 20% in 2019.

However, almost four in five (78%) of those surveyed said they would still not use cannabis even if it were legal. The proportion of people who said they would try if it were legal has increased from 5.3% in 2010 to 9.5% in 2019. Additionally, 11% of respondents to the ACT would try cannabis if it were legal, compared to 7.5% in Tasmania.

The study also examines issues surrounding alcohol use and other illegal drugs.

Australians were the most in favor of stricter legal penalties for drunk driving and stricter enforcement of the Underage Alcohol Act with 84% and 79% of respondents respectively. Respondents were most opposed to increasing the price of alcohol, with 47% believing the price should go up, and reducing trading hours for pubs and clubs, with 40% expressing support.

However, 45% of people in 2019 agreed to regular adult alcohol use, an agreement rate higher than any other drug. It was also the only drug for which approval outnumbered disapproval.

Support for legalizing other drugs has increased slightly since 2010, with support for cocaine legalizing growing from 6.3% in 2010 to 8% in 2019 and support for ecstasy legalizing from 6.8% to 9% in 2019 .5% over the nine-year period. Support for heroin (5.6%) and meth/amphemine (4.6%) legalization has remained about the same.

Almost three in five Australians (57%) supported allowing people to test pills and medicines at designated locations, although support varied widely by region. Most commonly, people advocated referral to treatment or education programs as the best course of action for people in possession of small quantities of selected medications.

Cannabis was the only exception, with more than half (54%) of the exponents favoring “caution/warning or no action,” with 24% favoring referral to treatment or education programs.

In addition to these myriad findings, the NDSHS also shared an interactive data map to break down reactions to alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drugs by region.

Looking ahead, the study states: “The 2022 survey is currently in operation and will be completed in early December 2022. Households will be randomly selected to take part in the survey and give their opinion.”

Much has changed in nine years and with the global cannabis industry showing little sign of slowing down, attitudes towards cannabis will continue to change both in Australia and around the world. Bring it on.

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