Cannabis is the most widely-used drug world-wide, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that 35% of Australians aged 14 years and older have tried it at least once in their lives.
Under current legislation, cannabis possession is against the law, but the debate surrounding the legalisation of cannabis has featured prominently in the media, and the idea has been growing in popularity.
But what proportion of Australians support the legalisation of cannabis in some shape or form?
Surprisingly, while support for cannabis legalisation is growing, a new study suggests it is not as popular as some thought.
A study done by Roy Morgan in December 2014 found that 31.8% of Australians believe that cannabis should be made legal, which is up from 26.8% in 2004.
The survey asked 51,969 of Australians aged 14 years and older: “in your opinion should the smoking of marijuana be made legal – or kept illegal?”
The age group most in favour of legalisation was 18-24 year olds, at 35.7%.
The group least in favour was 14-17 year olds, with only 20.7% believing that the drug should be legalised.
That category is traditionally the least likely to support legalisation.
Support for legalisation has been growing fastest amongst those aged 65 and over, and that group now makes up a 25.5% of the population – having grown by a whopping 50% over the last decade.
Michele Devine, CEO of Roy Morgan believes that the increasing support for legalisation of cannabis amongst older people is due to awareness of its medicinal benefits, including its ability to reduce pain, combined with the fact that those over 65 grew up in the 1960s and 70s when a liberal attitude towards drugs was prominent amongst the youth.
University educated people were also found to support legalisation.
Would the results be different if the question had been confined to medicinal use?
Mid last year, several months before the Roy Morgan report, a smaller survey undertaken by ReachTel found that two-thirds of Australians supported the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The survey asked: “do you support the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes?”
Although the sample was considerably smaller, at 3,431 participants, 65.9% supported legalisation, while only 14.4% opposed it. 19.7% remained undecided.
The survey also looked at the political views of participants.
Not surprisingly, those who supported the Greens demonstrated the most support for legalisation, at 79.4%.
69.9% of Labor supporters and 56.9% of Liberal and National party were in favour.
Overall, women were slightly more likely to support the move than men – 66.5% compared to 65.3%.
Unsurprisingly, a much higher percentage of the population appears to support legalisation of cannabis for medical use rather than general legalisation.
Legalisation for medicinal purposes
Unfortunately for many who suffer from chronic pain, the use of cannabis has still not been legalised for medicinal purposes.
Another recent study has found that one in six people who suffer from chronic pain are using cannabis for pain relief – which means that we are currently classing these people as criminals.
But with trials now underway for the medicinal use of cannabis, it looks like the limited legalisation of the drug is finally on the horizon.
Meanwhile, we may have to wait some time for Australia to catch up with many other parts of the world that have already decriminalised or legalised the use of cannabis generally.