Community attitudes towards the legalisation of cannabis have shifted in recent years, with more and more people calling for marijuana to be legalised in Australia.
However, research by North Carolina State University has suggested that women are less likely than men to support cannabis legalisation because they tend to be more religious and conservative, and are less likely to have used illegal drugs.
Researchers looked at a nationally representative 2013 political survey by the PEW Research Centre.
The survey of around 750 men and 750 women asked six questions about cannabis policy and personal use, including “Should marijuana be legal?” and “Is marijuana a gateway drug?”
The responses were used to create a “support for marijuana” scale, running from zero to 100.
The outcome was that men scored an average of 67 on the scale, while women scored a 61, meaning men were more likely to support the legalisation of cannabis.
Reasons for disparity
The researchers were surprised to find that, contrary to popular perceptions, mothers were not less likely to support legalisation.
“One hypothesis we saw in popular media was that women are less supportive of marijuana due to their role as mothers — but the data didn’t bear that out at all,” co-lead author Steven Greene wrote.
“In fact, mothers were no different from women without children in terms of either their support for marijuana policy or their reported use of marijuana.”
Rather, Greene and co-lead author Laurel Elder identified two factors that strongly influenced views on legalisation – which were personal use and religiosity.
In that regard, the researchers found that the degree to which respondents reported attending Church and identified as born-again Christians was a strong indicator of opposition to cannabis legalisation.
“When we ran a statistical analysis that accounted for religiosity, the gender gap shrank, so it appears to play a role in attitudes toward marijuana,” Greene wrote, adding that the gender gap disappeared altogether when both religiosity and past use were factored into the equation.
Support for legalisation of cannabis is growing
The researchers compared their study with previous ones, finding that the percentage of people who support cannabis legalisation has dramatically increased since the 1970s.
In that regard, they noted that only 12% of people surveyed in 1969 answered yes to the question, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?”, compared to 61% in 2017.
They further noted that only 35% of those born between 1926 and 1945 were in favour of legalisation, compared with 70% of millennials.
In Australia, the latest 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSH Survey) found that 73.9% of Australians are against the possession of cannabis being a criminal offence. do not support the possession of cannabis being a criminal offence.
And when asked how cannabis possession should be dealt with by the courts, 46.6% of Australians reported they would prefer either “a caution, warning or no action”, while 27% said users should be referred “to treatment or an education program” rather than given a criminal record.
Just 4.5% of those surveyed felt a prison sentence was appropriate for the possession of cannabis.
Gender and cannabis use
According to the NDSH Survey, 1.2 million (or 63%) of the 1.9 million Australians over 14 years old who used cannabis in the previous year were men.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, the same survey found that women were more likely to be daily users, at 14% compared to 12% of men.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons men are more likely to use illicit drugs is that they are more inclined to engage in risky, anti-social behaviour – although this is difficult to substantiate.
Greens push to legalise recreational cannabis
The Greens Party has promised to introduce a private members bill seeking to legalise cannabis use within the first 100 days after the NSW state election.
This proposal would, if passed, allow people over the age of 18 years to own up to six cannabis plants and smoke the substance any where it is legal to smoke tobacco.
The Greens also promised to push for a parliamentary inquiry into the establishment of a NSW cannabis agency which would regulate and licence marijuana.
“It makes no sense to treat the consumption of cannabis as a crime,” said Greens MP David Shoebridge. “We are wasting millions each year and missing out on licencing revenues that the state desperately needs. It’s time we stopped taking such a backward approach to a drug that over one-third of Australians have used.”
The Greens say their plan will generate an estimated $200 million per year in additional revenue for the State Government by a mix of licensing fees, GST and savings on criminal justice spending.
Other countries around the world have already moved to legalise cannabis, including Spain, Uruguay and Canada. In the USA, nine states as well as the District of Columbia.