Europe: Scottish Attitudes toward Drugs, Drug Users Harsh and Getting Harsher, Annual Poll Finds

Scottish public opinion is taking a harder line toward drug use and drug users, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2009. Support for marijuana legalization has declined by half since 2001, while attitudes toward heroin users are harsh, and support for harsh punishments is stronger than support for harm reduction measures.

The poll comes after several years of a full-blown Reefer Madness epidemic in the United Kingdom press, where sensational assertions that "cannabis causes psychosis" have gained considerably more traction than they have in the US. It also comes as Scotland confronts an intractable, seemingly permanent, population of problem heroin users and increasing calls from Conservatives to treat them more harshly.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, support for marijuana legalization rose in Scotland, as if did throughout the UK, reaching 37% by 2001. Last year, it was down to 24%. The decline was especially dramatic among young people, with 62% of 18-to-24-year-olds supporting legalization in 2001 and only 24% last year.

Support was down even among people who have used marijuana. In 2001, 70% supported legalization; now only 47% do. Similarly, attitudes toward pot possession also hardened among the Scots public. In 2001, 51% agreed that people should not be prosecuted for possessing small amounts for personal use. In 2009, this figure fell to just 34%.

Scots don't have much use for heroin users, either. Nearly half (45%) agreed that addicts "have only themselves to blame," while just 27% disagreed. On the obverse, only 29% agreed that most heroin users "come from difficult backgrounds," while 53% disagreed. People who are generally more liberal in their values, people who have friends or family members who have used drugs, and graduates were all more likely to have sympathetic views toward heroin users.

Fewer than half (47%) would be comfortable working around someone who had used heroin in the past, while one in five would be uncomfortable doing so. Similarly, just 26% said they would be comfortable with someone in treatment for heroin living near them, while 49% said they would not be. Only 16% think heroin use should be decriminalized.

When it comes to policy toward heroin use, Scots were split: 32% wanted tougher penalties, 32% wanted "more help for people who want to stop using heroin," and 28% wanted more drug education. And four out of five (80%) agreed that "the only real way of helping drug addicts is to get them to stop using drugs altogether."

Those tough attitudes are reflected in declining support for needle exchanges, the survey's sole measure of support for harm reduction approaches. In 2001, 62% supported needle exchanges; now only 50% do.

It looks like Scottish harm reductionists and drug reformers have their work cut out for them.

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scapegoating cannabis users for the destruction caused

by alcohol users, and proud of it. Thanks for caring about justice so much, Scotland.

McD's picture

The News and Cannabis Prohibition in the UK

Yes, as you point out, the mass media, or yellow press, has had great fun with cannabis for several years now. They blame this 'new' skunk for most of humanity's shortcomings. Not once in the mainstream press have I seen the simple and, generally, most accurate explanation for the existence of skunk: If you were going to smoke vegetable matter, which would you rather smoke: 1/8 or 1/2 of a gram? OK, so cannabis isn't carcinogenic, in fact the most recent research would seem to show quite the opposite, but smoking any vegetable matter isn't particularly good for you, which is why most people prefer to smoke 1/10 -1/8, maybe a 1/3 for a good reason, of skunk, rather than 1/3, 1/2 and sometimes even closer to a full gram of brick weed or soapbar (cheapo hashish which would usually be smoked with tobacco). They haven't tried explaining the reasons for the existence of higher potency cannabis, just frighten the masses with silly scare stories, like 'I Lost My Son/Daughter to Skunk.' and 'Skunk Crazed Carnage at the Club' or 'Tragic Suicide of Skunk-Induced Schizophrenic'. Then they pay these mothers ridiculous sums for exclusive interviews detailing the tragedy of an ill-adjusted malcontent who blames it all on something else, anything else; how convenient a relief cannabis ('skunk') becomes for them. Actually, it's really quite irresponsible of the newspapers, for example, to encourage these people to fabricate and hide behind these frightening stories of denial. Much to my surprise and chagrin, the BBC has been as poor as most others in its reporting about cannabis. Unfortunately, as these latest statistics from Scotland would seem to show, the masses just don't get it.

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