An exploration of individual level predictors of cannabis policy preferences in the UK


  • Catherine Lewis


Cannabis, Cannabis Policy, Policy Components, Cannabis Policy Preferences, Restrictive Policy Legalisation, Decriminalisation


Background: Internationally, laws and regulations controlling the sale and use of cannabis are changing. A range of outcomes would impact upon population health should the UK government decide to change current cannabis policy. Public and political discussion often oversimplifies legalisation of cannabis into a binary choice between prohibition and a free market, yet there are a range of possible options. Public support has a crucial role in a policy’s success, but the underlying factors determining support for cannabis policy have yet to be explored. This study aims to explore and identify factors influencing cannabis policy support at an individual level.

Methods: UK adults were recruited through convenience sampling, n=373 completed an online questionnaire examining cannabis policy support in relation to participant characteristics,  demographics, cannabis use behaviours, acceptability of health policies that restrict choice and perception of government responsibility over cannabis related harms. Principle component analysis (PCA) was used to reduce policy statements into three underlying dimensions (purchasing, price and permitted activities; marketing and availability; information, treatment and harm reduction). Multiple linear regression analysis was undertaken to explore factors predicting support for these three dimensions using SPSS.

Results: Being female, younger, having a degree and holding a belief that the government should do more to tackle harms caused by cannabis were associated with higher levels of support for all policy dimensions. Policies restricting choice, price and availability were largely supported by individuals who support restrictive health policies generally. Participants scoring highly on a Cannabis Abuse Screening Test predicted lack of support for any proposed policy change. A range of demographic variables were associated with support for polices aimed at harm reduction.

Conclusion: While policy decisions may be informed by evidence of their effectiveness and cost of implementation, public acceptability plays a greater role. Understanding patterns of support for cannabis policy and the range of preferences held within the population can be used to inform future drug policy in a way that is both acceptable to the public and minimises potential harm. This study is novel and the first to explore factors determining support for cannabis policy in the UK.