MaltaToday Survey | 32,000 say they have used cannabis, but just one in five supports legalisation

The MaltaToday survey asked people whether they agreed with the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use by adults, with opposition to the proposal running at 66%

66% of those polled said they opposed the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use
66% of those polled said they opposed the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use

Support for cannabis legalisation stands at 23.6% in the wake of a more liberal discussion about the topic in recent years, a MaltaToday survey has found.

The strongest support for legalisation is found among the younger generation of adult voters, although still not a majority.

The figure represents a significant drop from the 51.2% of people who had supported the decriminalisation of cannabis use in 2014.

Back then, the government had changed the law so that people caught with a small amount of cannabis intended for personal use do not end up in court. Cannabis remained illegal.

A MaltaToday survey in 2014 had found that just over half agreed with cannabis users being warned and never prosecuted if caught with small amounts.

Laws were later introduced, making it possible for medical marijuana to be produced and sold in Malta.

But the debate has now shifted to legalising cannabis for recreational purposes, a pledge found in the Labour Party election manifesto of 2017.

The reform piloted by Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, has so far stopped at discussion level between government and the different stakeholders with very few details emerging as to what model will be adopted.

The MaltaToday survey asked people whether they agreed with the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use by adults.

While almost a quarter agreed, opposition to legalisation ran at 66.6%, and almost 10% were unsure where they stood on the issue.

Men were more likely to support legalisation than women. The survey found that 29.5% of men agreed with legalising cannabis for recreational purposes as opposed to 17.7% of women.

The strongest support for legalisation was among young adults aged between 18 and 35, where agreement ran at 38.1%. Support for legalisation progressively dropped among the older generations, with only 8.1% of those aged 65 and over in favour.

But the survey also gauged the level of cannabis use among those aged 18 and over, with 9.3% admitting having used marijuana.

The number more than tripled when people were asked whether they knew someone who used cannabis.

Educational background does not appear to be an influencing factor in how people view legalisation. Apart from those with a primary level of education – mostly elderly people – where support drops to 12.9%, across other levels of education support ranges between 23.6% and 29.8%.

There is also very little regional disparity. The lowest level of support for legalisation is in the Northern Harbour region with 19.2%, while the strongest support is the Southern Harbour region with 31.9%.

People who voted for the Labour Party in the 2017 election are almost twice as likely than Nationalist Party voters to support cannabis legalisation (27.1% PL vs 14.5% PN).

Harm, cannabis and alcohol

There was no clear-cut answer when people were asked about the harm they believe is caused by cannabis in relation to alcohol.

Although a relative majority of 36.1% believe cannabis causes more harm than alcohol, a quarter of people believe marijuana and alcohol cause the same harm.

Almost 23% of people are unsure how cannabis compares to alcohol but 16.8% believe the drug is less harmful than alcohol.

The figures for each of the categories are broadly the same for both men and women but there is a higher prevalence of young people who believe cannabis causes less harm than alcohol.

Men vs women

Men are likelier to support cannabis legalisation more than women, while there is no significant difference in how both perceive the harm caused by marijuana.

While 29.5% of men agree with legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes, the figure drops to 17.7% for women.

Men were twice as likely to have used cannabis than women with 12.8% admitting to using the drug. The equivalent number for women stood at 5.9%.

The disparity was also reflected when asked whether they knew someone who uses cannabis: 36.6% of men and 22% of women answered yes.

People born between 1984 and 2001 (18-35)

38.1% agree with legalisation

These young people who have lived all their adult life in Malta as an EU member state are the generation most likely to be accepting of cannabis as a recreational drug. Even so, support for legalisation runs at 38.1%, while 57.1% are opposed.

They are also the group with the highest number of cannabis users. There were 17.5% of young adults who admitted using cannabis at some point in time and 39.1% who know someone who uses cannabis.

But this cohort is also one that holds the most moderate views on the harm caused by cannabis. A majority (35.4%) believe cannabis causes less harm than alcohol, while only 18.9% believe it causes more harm. Young adults who believe cannabis and alcohol cause the same harm run at 28.2%.

People born between 1969 and 1983 (36-50)

26.8% agree with legalisation

This is the generation that lived its childhood in 1980s Malta when almost every household plastered the sticker warning ‘drugs are for mugs’ on its fridge. This is also a generation that started its adult life after 1987 at a time of market liberalisation, a booming economy and the political rhetoric of the 1990s against drug barons. A quarter of these people agree with cannabis legalisation for adults.

They are also the second highest cohort of people (11%) who admitted having used cannabis and 38.2% of them said they knew someone who had.

This generation largely believes that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol (38.3%) or as harmful (35.3%). Only 8.4% believe cannabis is less harmful.

People born between 1954 and 1968 (51-65)

14.9% agree with legalisation

This generation reached adulthood in the 1970s and 1980s, at a time of social change that also saw different entertainment patterns developing in line with a growing tourist sector. It was also a time of political unrest and the setting up of the first drug rehabilitation centres.

The survey found that 14.9% of people in this generation agree with cannabis legalisation. Only 3.4% of people in this generation admitted making use of cannabis but 23.2% knew someone who did.

A majority of people from this generation (37.7%) believe cannabis causes more harm than alcohol but a large section (26.7%) are unsure of how cannabis compares to alcohol. A minority of 15.9% believe cannabis causes less harm than alcohol.

People born before 1954 (65+)

8.1% agree with legalisation

This comprises the post-war baby boom generation that started its adult life in the 1960s when miniskirts made an appearance, beat groups battled it out for supremacy, the church warred with the Labour Party and people were encouraged to emigrate. It was a time when drug taking was glamorised by a booming music industry that saw the arrival of icons like The Beatles.

But that socially eruptive period is now a faraway memory, it seems. Only 2.1% of this generation admitted using cannabis with 11% knowing someone else who does.

This is the generation least likely to support the legalisation of cannabis with only 8.1% agreeing with it and 79% against.

An absolute majority (54.2%) believe cannabis does more harm than alcohol and only a meagre 3.7% believe cannabis is less harmful. A significant section (30.8%), however, are unsure how cannabis compares with alcohol.

32,000 admit having tried cannabis

There are some 32,000 voters aged 18 and over who have tried cannabis at some point in their life, the findings of a MaltaToday survey suggest.

The survey shows that 9.3% of respondents admitted to having used cannabis, with men having a higher incidence than women. The vast majority (90.7%) said they never used cannabis.

Population statistics obtained from the National Statistics Office show there are more than 342,000 Maltese people aged 18 and over (excluding foreigners), which translates into some 32,000 people who used cannabis.

It is very possible that the number may be understated, a phenomenon researchers describe as social desirability bias. This is the tendency of survey respondents to answer questions in a way they believe will be viewed favourably by others. It can lead to over-reporting of what is perceived as good behaviour and under-reporting of what is perceived as bad behaviour when dealing with sensitive issues.

Given that cannabis is illegal, it is very plausible that people tend to associate it with bad or undesirable behaviour.

The highest incidence of cannabis use was among those aged between 18 and 35 with 17.5% admitting to having used marijuana. This equates to some 17,000 young adults.

The findings also show that the highest incidence of cannabis use is in the Northern region with 14.2% admitting its use.

The survey found that 29.3% of respondents knew someone who uses cannabis, which equates to some 100,000 people who are aware of an individual who uses marijuana.

Once again, men were more likely than women to know someone who used cannabis with the highest prevalence being in the Northern region.

Methodology

The survey was carried out between Thursday, 21 January and Thursday, 28 January. 597 respondents opted to complete the survey. Stratified random sampling based on gender, region and age was used to replicate the Maltese demographics. The estimated margin of error is 5% for a confidence interval of 95%.

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