Study Finds Australians Support Cannabis Use Over Smoking Tobacco

A new study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports on perceptions and attitudes toward drug usage in the Land Down Under.

We’re all well aware that attitudes around cannabis are shifting around the world. Now, a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study analyzing 2019 data from Australia’s 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) sheds new light on just how much progress the Land Down Under has made surrounding cannabis perception, as well as beliefs around other substances.

The NDSHS focuses on the attitudes and perceptions of people across Australia on a variety of drug-related issues. In addition to gauging public perception on a variety of substances, it asks people about the measures the country takes to reduce drug use and drug-related harm, including government laws, taxes, and government funding of rehabilitation and withdrawal management treatment programs.

The 2019 data asked around 20,000 people aged 14 and up about their attitudes toward drugs, finding that for the first time, 20% of respondents supported regular cannabis use, more than the 15% who support tobacco use.

Piggy-backing off this belief, as cannabis use becomes more widely acceptable, according to the study, more Australians were in favor of greater penalties against tobacco use. Another finding notes that 72% of people in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) supported restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, compared with 61% in the Northern Territory (NT).

As a whole, 85% of respondents supported stricter enforcement of laws against supplying minors with tobacco and stricter penalties for the sale or supply of tobacco to minors. Though, respondents were largely opposed to increasing tobacco taxes to discourage smoking or increase tobacco taxes to pay for health education, with 18% and 17% showing support for these policies, respectively.

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

In comparison to the 2010 numbers, Australians have also eased their stances on punishing folks who possess cannabis. In 2010, 34% of those surveyed said that possession of cannabis should be a criminal offense, compared to 22% in 2019. When asked if penalties should be increased for supply of cannabis, 60% of respondents in 2010 said yes, while 44% answered the same in 2019. When asked if they approve of regular cannabis use by an adult, the number jumped from 8% approval in 2010 to 20% in 2019.

Though, nearly four in five (78%) of respondents said they still wouldn’t use cannabis, even if it was legal. The proportion of people who said they would try it if it were legal has increased, from 5.3% in 2010 to 9.5% in 2019. Additionally, 11% of respondents in the ACT would try cannabis if it were legal, compared to 7.5% in Tasmania.

The study also explores issues around alcohol use and other illicit drugs.

Australians most supported more severe legal penalties for drunk driving and stricter enforcement of the law against supplying minors with alcohol, boasting 84% and 79% of approving respondents, respectively. Respondents most opposed increasing the price of alcohol, with 47% saying the price should go up, and reducing trading hours for pubs and clubs, with 40% showing support.

Though, 45% of people approved of regular alcohol use by adults in 2019, an approval level higher than any other drug. It was also the only drug for which the level of approval was higher than disapproval.

The support of legalization of other drugs increased slightly since 2010, with support for cocaine legalization increasing from 6.3% in 2010 to 8% in 2019 and support for legalization of ecstasy increasing from 6.8% to 9.5% over the nine-year period. Support for the legalization of heroin (5.6%) and meth/amphetatmines (4.6%) has remained roughly the same.

Nearly three in five Australians (57%) supported allowing people to test pills and drugs at designated sites, though support varied widely based on region. People most commonly supported referral to treatment or education programs as the best action for people in possession of small quantities of selected drugs.

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

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

Looking ahead, the study notes, “The 2022 survey is currently in the field and will be completed in early December 2022. Households are randomly selected to complete the survey and have their say.”

A lot has changed in nine years, and with the global cannabis industry showing few signs of slowing down, attitudes around cannabis will continue to shift, both in Australia and around the world. Bring it on.

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