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'New study shows lack of majority support for cannabis law change'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Middle-aged New Zealanders are more likely to be opposed to the legalisation of cannabis than in favour of it, a new study from the University of Otago, Christchurch shows.

Almost half of them opposed the legalisation of cannabis compared with almost 30% of people who supported a law change, when asked about it during interviews with University of Otago, Christchurch researchers. In September, New Zealanders will vote on whether to legalise cannabis, which would mean it was widely available for sale.

Researchers also gauged the level of support among its middle-aged participants for decriminalisation - where the drug is not sold legally or widely available but those caught with it would not be prosecuted. Almost half of participants supported the decriminalisation of cannabis. The issue of decriminalisation will not be voted on in September.

While there was not an overwhelming majority of people on either side of the debate for either legalisation or decriminalisation, participants overwhelming supported the medicinal use of cannabis. More than 80% of participants felt doctors should be able to prescribe cannabis products for medicinal purposes.

The study is published in this week’s New Zealand Medical Journal.

Researchers from the University’s Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) interviewed almost 900 people on their attitudes on cannabis harm, legalisation or decriminalisation, and the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The participants in the study were all 40-years-old at the time of interviews. CHDS researchers have followed a group of more than 1000 Cantabrians since their birth in 1977 and have data on most aspects of their lives, including drug use.

The study found:

- More participants said they were against the legalisation of cannabis than in favour of it. (49.8% against versus 26.8% for). The remaining participants said they were ‘neutral’.

- A vast majority (90%) felt it should remain illegal for those aged under 18 years to use cannabis.

- The groups most likely to be opposed to the legalisation of cannabis were women and those with dependants. The groups more likely to be in favour of legalisation were those with prior use of cannabis and other drugs, a history of depression, Maori ancestry, parental drug use and higher educational attainment.

- More than 70% of participants believed it should remain illegal for private individuals to sell cannabis, and more than half (54.4%) believed cannabis use is harmful.

- Researchers also asked participants about the decriminalisation of cannabis. Almost half of participants support decriminalization (47.8%) - where the drug is not sold legally or widely available but those caught with it would not be prosecuted. Almost a third of participants were opposed to decriminalization (27.2%), and the remainder were ‘neutral’.

- More than 80% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis and a similar percentage of people believed cannabis products were an effective form of relief from chronic pain or physical health problems.

Christchurch Health and Development Study director Professor Joe Boden says the study is an ideal way to gauge attitudes towards cannabis in New Zealand and help predict the outcome of September’s 2020 Cannabis Referendum. It suggests that middle aged, and older New Zealanders, who are more reliable voters, may be more inclined to be opposed to legalizing cannabis, he says.

Professor Boden says the study showed no clear wish for law change in this section of the community, with less than half of participants in favour of either legalisation or decriminalisation.

"We have extensive knowledge about this group’s cannabis use and, as a group, they have reported relatively high levels of cannabis use. But these results show their attitude to cannabis and cannabis legalisation can best be described as ‘conservative’."

This may be due to the fact that many of the 40-year-olds in this study have dependent children at home, which is often predictive of a negative attitude toward cannabis and cannabis law change.

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