Preferences for policy options for cannabis in an Australian general population: A discrete choice experiment

Marian Shanahan, Karen Gerard, Alison Ritter
International Journal on Drug Policy 2014, 25 (4): 682-90

BACKGROUND: Policy choices for illicit drugs such as cannabis entail consideration of competing factors such as individual health, societal views about pleasure, and criminal justice impacts. Society must weigh up these factors in determining the preferred cannabis policy; although often cast as a contest between legalisation of cannabis or full prohibition the actual policy choices are not so black and white. This study assessed societal preferences for different cannabis policies and multiple consequences.

METHOD: A discrete choice experiment (DCE) quantified value-based preferences for alternative cannabis policies described by the five key attributes legal status, health harms, criminal justice service costs, rates of cannabis use and purchase location. An online survey was conducted on a population sample of 1020 Australians. The analytical model was based on stated choices for Policy A, B or Current Policy.

RESULTS: The results revealed a strong general preference for either civil penalties or legalisation compared to cannabis cautioning (Current Policy) and a strong dislike of criminalising possession and use of cannabis. Results also demonstrate difference in preferences among those with different demographics and beliefs. Understanding these nuances help to quantify the range of preferences held within the population and can be used to inform policy.

CONCLUSION: This is the first known DCE survey applied to the area of illicit drugs policy. It demonstrates the public hold disparate views on the most appropriate status for cannabis offences and they are able to make trade-offs between policy choices and outcomes in complex areas of social policy.

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