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Drug Legalization and Decriminalization Beliefs Among Substance-using and Nonusing Individuals

Hammond, Alexis S. MD, PhD; Dunn, Kelly E. PhD; Strain, Eric C. MD

doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000542
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Objectives: There has been advocacy for legalization of abusable substances, but systematic data on societal beliefs regarding such legalization are limited. People who use substances may have unique beliefs about legalization, and this study assessed whether they would be in favor of drug legalization/decriminalization. It was hypothesized that those who use particular drugs (especially marijuana) would support its legalization/decriminalization, but that this would not be the case across all classes (especially opioids and stimulants).

Methods: A nationwide sample of 506 adults were surveyed online to assess demographic characteristics, substance misuse, and beliefs regarding drug legalization/decriminalization. Legalization/decriminalization beliefs for specific drugs were assessed on an 11-point scale (0, strongly disagree; 10, strongly agree).

Results: For persons with opioid misuse (15.4%), when asked about their agreement with: “heroin should be legalized,” the mean score was 4.6 (SEE = 0.4; neutral). For persons with stimulant misuse (12.1%), when asked about their agreement with: “cocaine should be legalized,” the score was 4.2 (0.5). However, for persons with marijuana misuse (34.0%), when asked about their agreement with: “medical marijuana should be legalized” the score was 8.2 (0.3; indicating agreement), and for “recreational marijuana” the score was also 8.2 (0.3).

Conclusions: These results suggest that persons who used marijuana strongly support the legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana, whereas persons who primarily have opioid or stimulant misuse have less strongly held beliefs about legalization of substances within those respective categories. By including those who misuse drugs, these data assist in framing discussions of drug legalization and have the potential to inform drug policy considerations.

Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit (BPRU), Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.

Send correspondence to Alexis S. Hammond, MD, PhD, Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit (BPRU), Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 5510 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224. E-mail: Ahammon9@jhmi.edu.

Received 30 August, 2018

Accepted 13 March, 2019

This work was supported by internal funding from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citation appears in the printed text and is provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (www.journaladdictionmedicine.com).

© 2019 American Society of Addiction Medicine