The high figure supporting some form of decriminalisation has surprised researchers, given that neither the legalisation debate nor the problem of supply has been given widespread publicity.
Nevertheless, the fact that there was virtually no support for comprehensive decriminalisation will reinforce the Government's determination to maintain current controls. Only 1 per cent were in favour of legalising all drugs without any restrictions whatsoever.
The survey was conducted for the Home Office by academics from Sheffield University among 5,000 people in Nottingham, Bradford, south London and Glasgow, and included a booster sample of young people considered at high risk of having tried drugs.
Drug users and those at high risk were, not surprisingly, more likely to favour loosening the law. However, perhaps because of their greater awareness of the effects of addiction, those in the high-risk group were more emphatic that some harder drugs should not be allowed, while being convinced that others, such as cannabis, required no restrictions at all.
Under-35-year-olds - especially men - were far more likely to favour decriminalisation than older people. Similarly, a higher proportion of those in professional and managerial jobs (lawyers, surgeons and bank managers, for instance) were in favour of lifting some restrictions than semi-skilled or unskilled workers.
Those from ethnic minorities were also more sympathetic to the argument for decriminalisation.