Public opinion and medical cannabis policies: examining the role of underlying beliefs and national medical cannabis policies

Sharon R Sznitman, Anne Line Bretteville-Jensen
Harm Reduction Journal 2015 October 14, 12: 46

BACKGROUND: Debate about medical cannabis legalization are typically informed by three beliefs: (1) cannabis has medical effects, (2) medical cannabis is addictive and (3) medical cannabis legalization leads to increased used of cannabis for recreational purposes (spillover effects). We examined how strongly these beliefs are associated with public support for medical cannabis legalization and whether this association differs across divergent medical cannabis policy regimes.

METHODS: Robust regression analysis was used to analyse data derived from two nationally representative samples of adults participating in comparable cross-sectional online surveys in one country where medical cannabis smoking is illegal (Norway, n = 2175, 51 % male) and in one country where medical cannabis smoking is legal (Israel, n = 648, 49 % male).

RESULTS: The belief that cannabis has medical benefits was more strongly related to support for medical cannabis legalization than were beliefs about addiction and spillover effects. While the support for medical cannabis legalization was stronger in Israel than in Norway (78 vs. 51 %, p < 0.01), the belief variables had, in general, more impact on the policy stand in Norway.

CONCLUSION: The belief that cannabis has medical benefits is particularly salient for support for medical cannabis legalization. It is possible that the recent surge in evidence supporting the medical benefits of cannabis will increase the belief about medical benefits of cannabis in the general population which may in turn increase public support for medical cannabis legalization. Results also suggest that once medical cannabis is legalized, factors beyond cannabis-specific beliefs will increasingly influence medical cannabis legalization support. These conclusions are, however, only suggestive as the current study is based on cross-sectional data. Hopefully, future research will be able to capitalize on changes in medical cannabis policies and conduct longitudinal studies that enable an examination of the causal relation between public opinion and medical cannabis policy changes.

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