Cannabis legalisation: 47% support sale of drug through licensed shops, poll reveals

Exclusive: Lib Dems adopted the proposal after they commissioned a study which found the move could generate £1bn of tax revenue

Andrew Grice
Saturday 09 April 2016 21:46 BST
In the Netherlands, 'coffeeshops' serve as licensed premises permitting the sale and personal consumption of cannabis
In the Netherlands, 'coffeeshops' serve as licensed premises permitting the sale and personal consumption of cannabis

Strong support for legalising the sale of cannabis through licensed shops has emerged in an opinion poll for The Independent. Some 47 per cent of people back the idea, while 39 per cent oppose it and 14 per cent are “don’t knows”, according to the survey of 2,000 people by polling company ORB.

The proposal has been adopted by the Liberal Democrats, after they commissioned a study by experts which found that controlled sales of cannabis to over-18s in specialist shops could generate £1bn of tax revenue by cutting out the criminals who profit from the trade in the drug.

In the first measure of what the public thinks about the Lib Dem policy, those polled were told about last month’s study before being asked whether they backed licensed sales.

The findings were welcomed as a breakthrough by campaigners for reform of drug laws because they suggest that public support for such a change could grow if people become aware of the possible benefits.

Although the British Government opposes relaxing the laws, there is a growing political debate around the world about what critics call the “failed war on drugs”. The United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs later this month.

ORB found that men (53 per cent) are more likely to back licensed sales of cannabis than women (41 per cent). Support is higher among the top AB social class (50 per cent), declining down the scale to 44 per cent among the bottom DE group. Backing for the proposal is highest in Scotland (58 per cent) and London (54 per cent) and lowest in the North-east (37 per cent).

Four out of 10 people (41 per cent) who voted Conservative at last year’s general election back licensed sales of cannabis, only just below the level of support among Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip voters.

One in three people (33 per cent) thinks that possession of the drug should be decriminalised and its supply restricted, while a further 14 per cent think it should be legal and freely available to buy and sell. Again, men are more likely to back reform than women.

A majority of people (53 per cent) think that poppers should be illegal to buy or sell even though the Government has dropped plans to include them on a banned list of “legal highs”. They are sometimes used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure.

Perhaps surprisingly, one in 10 people (10 per cent) thinks it should be illegal to buy or sell tobacco, while seven out of 10 people believe tobacco should be legal and freely available to buy and sell.

ORB asked people, on a confidential basis, whether they had tried certain drugs. Three out of 10 people (31 per cent) said they had tried non-skunk cannabis but only half as many (15 per cent) had used skunk. Some 11 per cent had tried cocaine and the same proportion poppers, while 10 per cent has taken ecstasy. Some seven per cent had tried LSD, five per cent nitrous oxide and three per cent ketamine. The actual level of drug-taking could be higher as previous surveys have suggested people play down their personal use.

About two out of three people (64 per cent) said they had tried tobacco but 35 per cent had not. Nine out of 10 people had tried alcohol but nine per cent had not.

Norman Lamb, the former Health Minister who set up the Lib Dems’ expert panel, said ORB’s findings about licensed cannabis sales showed that the public were way ahead of most politicians who, he claimed, doggedly support prohibition despite its disastrous consequences.

He told The Independent: “The introduction of a legalised, regulated market would deprive organised crime of billions of pounds every year. It would protect people’s health far more effectively because you would know what you are buying – and potency could be controlled. And it would stop the ludicrous criminalising of so many people – which blights their careers and their life chances.”

Mr Lamb added: “I hope now that this poll might encourage the Prime Minister to reflect further on the wisdom of his change of heart since becoming Tory leader. He was once a reformer. He should follow the lead of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Canadian Prime Minister, and commit to legislating to introduce a regulated market for cannabis.”

Professor David Nutt, a member of the panel and former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said the people surveyed had “a rational attitude to cannabis” but rather less so towards other drugs. Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “Millions of us want the Government to take control of the cannabis trade. Yet neither Jeremy Corbyn nor David Cameron will genuinely discuss legal regulation. Unless and until they show leadership on the issue the drugs trade will remain in the hands of organised criminals and unregulated dealers.”

Poll Results

Do you agree or disagree that cannabis should be legal to sell in some licensed shops?

Agree 47%

Disagree 39%

Don’t know 14%

Of the following, which should be legal and freely available to buy and sell...?

Alcohol 83%

Tobacco 70%

Skunk 7%

Cannabis (non skunk) 14%

Ecstasy 3%

Nitrous 7%

Heroin 2%

Cocaine 2%

Poppers 9%

Mephredone 3%

LSD 3%

Ketamine 2%

Khat 2%

Spice 4%

DMT 2%

Have you ever tried...?

Alcohol 90%

Tobacco 64%

Skunk 15%

Cannabis (non skunk) 31%

Ecstasy 10%

Nitrous 5%

Heroin 1%

Cocaine 11%

Poppers 11%

Mephredone 2%

LSD 7%

Ketamine 3%

Khat 1%

Spice 1%

DMT 1%

Source: ORB/The Independent

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