According to a new research report, “Changes in and correlates of Australian public attitudes toward illicit drug use,” published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, attitudes towards cannabis have rather dramatically shifted in Australia.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (or NDSHS) is a national cross-sectional survey of drug and alcohol use in Australians aged 14 and older. It excludes those in hospitals, nursing homes, those with no fixed addresses and or serving in the military, in prison and those who do not speak English. Conducted every three years, it normally samples about 20,000 people using random sampling spread across 15 different regions.
Specific Findings for Australia
The first finding is the most interesting if not exactly surprising. Namely, support for legalization of cannabis rose only a few points between 2007 and 2013, but much more dramatically from 25.5 percent of the population in 2013 to 41.1 percent by 2019. Support for legalizing other forms of drugs, like cocaine and ecstasy also rose dramatically, although not as much as for cannabis. Support did not change noticeably for a change in the legalization of heroin.
The study also found that support for legalization is unaffected by age except those older than 50. Men are still more supportive of legalization than women, as are university graduates. Native Australians are also more supportive of cannabis use than expats. Employment status is unrelated to the support of legalization.
Finally, the number of people supporting punishment for possession of small amounts for personal use has continued to drop.
Meanings and Interpretations
The most significant findings of the study are no surprise. Australia has moved forward steadily on medical reform for the past several years. This in and of itself has always changed the conversation—and in every legalizing jurisdiction and country so far. See North America as well as Europe to date since 2013.
While support for the legalization of other “illicit” drugs also was found to have increased, which is in part a generational response to the punitive nature of the War on Drugs, support is also markedly greater for cannabis.
Support across generations is also consistent with other studies elsewhere, despite the Boomers’ reputation as the generation which “rediscovered” cannabis (as well as other illicit drugs).
The Impact of North American Reform
It is undeniable that the impact of reform in North America (in both Canada and the U.S.) has impacted the discussion about cannabis reform elsewhere since the turn of the century and even more since the start of the last decade’s events, which saw legalization movements take hold in both the U.S. and Canada. This also has everything to do with how news of reform has spread—namely carried through digital, social media channels.
However, one thing is clear. In the last decade, cannabis reform has become a global topic, including of course in Australia.
What is Likely to Happen Next Down Under?
The answer to that question is very much up in the air, particularly now.
As of just last December, the last national German poll on the topic showed that just under 50 percent of Germans now supported recreational reform. As of this year, full-boat legalization is high on the agenda of the new political coalition.
Given the fact that cannabis reform generally in Australia has been influenced by, if not has tracked German developments, this could mean that as early as next year, the issue could be brought up again on a national level here too.
Last year, the first cannabis legalization specific political party was formed in Queensland. This year, a “territory” effort in Victoria was squashed in August. The issue has been heating up there for the last several years, gaining more steam, unsurprisingly, on the national level, as medical reform has progressed.
The fact that Australia is also, like other countries, beginning to consider cannabis reform as a valuable source of domestic taxation beyond a high value crop designed for export, is clearly another reason why the issue will undoubtedly continue to progress.
Interestingly, the study was also published as the national health regulator in Australia rejected psychedelics for therapeutic use.
The Impact of English-Speaking Cannabis Reform
One thing is also undeniably clear during the period this study has taken place—namely the importance also of English-speaking, global digital, pro-cannabis media. This in turn has absolutely driven the largest countries in the world where English is the spoken language to forward the issue in every case since Uruguay.
The fact that Germany will become the largest industrial country to legalize recreational use as soon as potentially next year, at least legislatively, will also make an impact. Starting with the fact that Deutschland is already of interest to those in the Australian medical industry seeking to sell to this market.
No matter what, in other words, the Aussies appear now to be on the brink of greater reform. And like New Zealand, which also narrowly defeated recreational reform last year in the general election by just over two points, not to mention in other countries, steady as she goes at this point means that majorities in most democratic, Western nations will be in the “for” column within the next couple of years.
In the meantime, a burgeoning industry will find a way to make its way through the regulatory spaces and developments. And that includes, of course, the conversation down under.
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