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Cannabis policy and policing: User perceptions

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Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

Australian Government Department of Health

Drug Type:
Project Members: 
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Postdoctoral Research Fellow
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Honorary Professor
Ph 02 9385 0231
Project Main Description: 

The state of cannabis legalisation varies between countries and there has been a recent increase in those which legalise medicinal cannabis use and regulate its use and production for recreational use. In contrast, the classification of cannabis as an illegal drug has not changed in Australia although the proportion of the public who associate cannabis use with a drug problem declined while approval for adult use and the proportion of recent users increased between 2007 and 2010 (AIHW 2011). Surprisingly in this climate, the perceived impact of legalising medicinal cannabis use is rarely investigated and the opinion and attitude of cannabis users is largely unknown. Scant research from Europe and the US suggests that drug policy has little impact on cannabis use practices or attitudes (Cohen& Kaal, 2006; Reinarman & Cohen, 2007) and that users share a low perceived risk of arrest (Van der Maas et al. 2013) and few are aware of roadside sobriety testing for cannabis (Looby et al., 2007). This study addresses this gap in research by examining the opinions and attitudes of cannabis users regarding cannabis drug policy and policing, or the perceived risk of arrest.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Michael Balderstone
Nimbin Hemp Embassy, NSW


To examine the opinions and attitudes of cannabis users regarding drug policy and policing, or the perceived risk of arrest.

Design and Method: 

Individuals who approach the Hemp Embassy Information Booth during the MardiGrass festival (3rd and 4th of May, 2014, in Nimbin, New South Wales) will be questioned on inclusion criteria and, where appropriate, will be invited to complete the information and consent form and short survey.


Data collection is complete at N=216 and data has been analysed.  Findings have been presented to APSAD, NDSC, and NCPIC conferences. Preliminary findings have been presented to APSAD. The results showed that most participants reported chronic recreational smoking for over a decade. The survey included forms of administration and showed high rates of vaporiser use (29%), although traditional methods were most popular. Participants believed it likely that they would be tested for DUIC, however; cannabis was uniquely thought to improve driving skills. Law reform proponents cited a lack of harm compared to benefits from using and were less likely to cite extraneous factors such as crime rates and economic change. Rates of police contact and subsequent arrest were low in this group. Public health messages specifically regarding the harms and negative impacts of cannabis use are not reaching existing heavy users who enjoy recreational use and attribute societal harms from substance use to other drugs.


The study will assist NCPIC to assess emerging trends in aspects of cannabis use amongst a sentinel group of heavy users and their assessment of risk associated with use while driving and policing issues.

Project Research Area: 
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