Marijuana should stay illegal, young Europeans say
By Benjamin Fox
A narrow majority of Europe’s youth would ban cannabis, according to new research published by Eurobarometer.
Opinion was divided on whether cannabis should be banned. Forty five percent believed that it should be regulated, while 53 percent felt it should be banned. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of respondents added that hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy should be illegal.
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Eurobarometer interviewed more than 13,000 15-24 year olds across the bloc in June for the survey, which was released on Thursday (21 August). It focused on levels of drug use, perceived risk of certain substances, as well as opinions on regulating drugs and dealing with drug problems in society.
Although a majority called for tougher action against drug dealers and traffickers, they were divided on whether drug users should be punished or receive more medical treatment.
One in three stated that treatment and rehabilitation should be offered to users, while one in four called for tougher sanctions including jail-terms.
Possession and distribution of cannabis and other drugs is illegal across the EU, although most national authorities turn a blind eye toward possession and personal use of small amounts.
More than two thirds of young Europeans surveyed claimed never to have smoked cannabis. Just 31 percent of respondents admitted to having used the drug, while less than one in five said they had used cannabis in the past year.
Youngsters in France, the Czech Republic and Ireland appear to be Europe’s most likely marijuana smokers – more than 40 percent of respondents in all three countries had used cannabis, while one in six in Ireland said they had smoked it in the past month.
For their part, fewer than one in 10 Maltese, Romanian, and Cypriots said they had tried cannabis.
Meanwhile, the use of so-called legal highs – new substances which imitate the effects of illicit drugs - hit 8 percent, up from 5 percent in a similar survey conducted in 2011. Twenty two percent of respondents in Ireland said they had tried new ‘legal highs’.
The EU has little competence over drug policy, with national governments solely responsible for how they classify substances.
However, the European Commission has taken aim at legal highs, tabling plans last September aimed at making it easier to detect and ban the new drugs.
The legislation, which will need the approval of MEPs and governments, seeks to cut the time needed to ban a substance under current procedures from two years to 10 months. Seventy three new substances were identified by EU governments in 2012, up from 24 in 2009.
Three in 10 people surveyed said that they had not received any information about legal highs over the past 12 months.
Data collected by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction suggests that drug-taking and alcohol abuse starts during school years.
The Centre estimates that one in five 15-16 year olds have used drugs, with lower rates in Europe’s south-eastern and Nordic countries.