SUPPORT GROWS FOR LEGALIZING MARIJUANA
Ottawa - Canadians Are Mellowing To The Idea Of Legalizing Marijuana, A New Study Shows.
Support for the outright legalization of the drug is rising in Canada, with the population now almost evenly split on the issue, says a poll conducted by a University of Lethbridge sociologist who has been studying the subject since the 1970s.
The poll, conducted by Prof. Reginald Bibby as research for a book on the habits of Canadian teens, found that 47 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement, "The use of marijuana should be legalized."
Twenty-six years ago, when Prof. Bibby began asking the question, just 26 per cent said they favoured legalization.
"It is clear from these findings that, for better or for worse, a growing number of Canadians of all ages simply do not see marijuana in negative terms," he said yesterday.
He said highly publicized court rulings and a 1999 Health Canada decision in favour of using marijuana for medical purposes likely contributed to the drug's kinder reception.
That change in attitude has recently been reflected in the House of Commons, where MPs from all five parties have said they intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.
Justice Minister Anne McLellan added fuel to the debate last week when she said she personally is "quite open" to discussing the liberalization of marijuana laws.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal also announced its support of decriminalization - which would reduce marijuana possession to the level of a parking infraction - last week, noting that 1.5 million Canadians use the drug, and that studies show "minimal negative health effects [with] moderate use."
Conducted in late 2000, the poll is part of a new book, Canada's Teens: Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow. A separate poll included in the research found that 37 per cent of teens say they are currently using marijuana, roughly double the percentage of teens that admitted to using the drug in a 1975 poll.
Prof. Bibby's research showed, however, that marijuana opponents are more passionate than its laid-back promoters.
About 21 per cent said they "strongly disagreed" with legalization, while just 12 per cent "strongly agreed."
"These findings point to a country that is almost evenly divided on the [issue]," Prof. Bibby said. "The lines are being drawn for a hotly contested debate."
The poll of 1,740 people is accurate within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. It did not ask respondents their opinions of decriminalization.
Support for legalization was highest in British Columbia, at 56 per cent, and lowest in the Maritimes, at 43 per cent.
People aged 18 to 34 were most likely to support legalization, at 58 per cent, while two-thirds of those over 55 were against it.
Support for legalization rose with levels of education, as 56 per cent of those with a university education were in favour, compared with just 39 per cent of those who didn't complete high school.
Bloc Quebecois supporters, followed by New Democratic Party voters, were the biggest proponents of legalization, while Progressive Conservative backers were largely against.
Liberal and Canadian Alliance supporters were split along the same lines as the country itself, with 47 per cent supporting legalization and 53 per cent opposing.
Those who identified themselves as members of a religious community were also likely to oppose legalization.