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A new survey finds that more Australians support the regular use of cannabis than tobacco. They also want tougher penalties on those who use tobacco, especially those who supply tobacco to minors.
The information comes from the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) conducted in 2019. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare just recently released an analysis of the numbers. The data, based on a survey of 20,000 people ages 14 and over, showed that for the first time respondents accepted regular cannabis use more than regular tobacco use, by 20 percent vs. 15 percent.
The survey shows that while support levels nationwide are not as high as in Canada (which legalized marijuana nationwide in 2018) and most of the United States, Australians are coming around to the idea of cannabis legalization.
The survey contained many firsts for Australia.
Support is higher for cannabis legalization in urban areas, following a pattern that has occurred worldwide. For example, 60 percent of respondents in Sydney support legalization. That number reached 57 percent in Melbourne and 47 percent in Brisbane.
In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which contains the national capital of Canberra, 66 percent of the population support legalization. The ACT decriminalized cannabis in 2020. All Australian states now practice some form of decriminalization, although they differ on issues such as the amount of cannabis people can possess.
South Australia led the world when it decriminalized marijuana possession in 1987, focusing on fining people rather than arresting them. An analysis that covered the years 1985 to 1993 found that decriminalization did not significantly increase rates of cannabis use.
In addition to accepting regular cannabis use more than regular tobacco use, 85 percent of Australians also want tougher law enforcement against those who supply minors with tobacco. About 70 percent also support restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in public places.
However, the analysis found that respondents had the highest levels of opposition against raising taxes on tobacco to discourage people from smoking or raising taxes on tobacco to support health education.
The study found that if cannabis is legalized in Australia, only 9.5 percent of respondents said they would try it. However, that number has increased from 2010, when only 5.3 percent said they would try it. Again, the numbers varied widely by location. For example, only 7.5 percent of people in Tasmania, an island state of Australia about 150 miles south of the mainland, are interested in trying cannabis. But in the ACT, that number is 11 percent.