Attitudes of regular injecting drug users towards the legal status of the major illicit drugs

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Introduction and Aims

The study aimed to determine injecting drug users' (IDU) attitudes, and correlates of attitudes, towards continued prohibition, decriminalisation or legalisation of the major illicit drugs.

Design and Methods

This study used structured interview with 300 IDUs who had injected on at least a weekly basis over the preceding 12 months.


Methamphetamine was rated the most harmful of the five illicit substances and cannabis the lowest. By far the highest level of support for legislative change was for cannabis, with only 8.7% supporting continued prohibition. While there was majority support for change to the legal status of heroin, the modal position was for decriminalisation. Support for changing the status of the three illicit psychostimulants was low, with the majority believing that methamphetamine (63.3%), cocaine (53.3%) and 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (53.3%) should remain illegal. Demographic characteristics were largely unrelated to attitudes. Lower levels of perceived harm were associated with increased likelihood of support for legalisation of all substances. Recent use was positively related to support for both decriminalisation and legality of heroin, but was not associated with views on other substances. Higher lifetime polydrug use was associated with support for the legalisation of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine.

Discussion and Conclusions

IDUs expressed nuanced views on different substances. In policy debates, care should be taken not to speak for IDUs by imputing their beliefs. It is clear that the fact that a group uses illegal drugs does not necessarily imply that they support changes to their legal status.

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