While Australians increasingly frown on habitual cannabis use, local experts are warning the bigger problem -- alcohol -- is hiding in plain sight.
Public support for legalising cannabis has declined from a 1998 high as the country takes an increasingly dim view of the drug.
A new study by the University of NSW's Drug Policy Modelling Program shows only 10 per cent of
Australians now approve of regular cannabis use, compared with one-quarter just four years ago.
"The high watermark for support of cannabis legalisation was around 1998, and since that time support for legalisation has progressively decreased," program director, Associate Professor Alison Ritter, said.
But while a more drug-aware public recognised the health hazards associated with chronic cannabis use, a culture of alcohol consumption was doing far more damage, a leading Northern Rivers drug and alcohol counselling service said.
Barry Evans, director of The Buttery Inc at Binna Burra, said there had been a spike in people with alcohol-related problems seeking help in the past five years.
"We have an increasing culture which condones alcohol use and there needs to be more resources allocated," he said.
Mr Evans supported ongoing education around the dangers of cannabis use, particularly for those with pre-existing mental health problems. But an equivalent level of attention should be dedicated to alcohol use, he said.
Mr Evans said the immediate impact of alcohol abuse, such as road accidents, physical and verbal fighting, and inappropriate social behaviour -- combined with the longer-term health risks of alcohol and its widespread consumption -- suggested public awareness could be improved.
The new research showed Australians now favoured education and harm minimisation measures over tough penalties for drug users.
By Saffron Howden
28th January 2009
The Northern Star