Drug Legalization, Democracy and Public Health: Canadian Stakeholders’ Opinions and Values with Respect to the Legalization of Cannabis

Public Health Ethics 16 (2):175-190 (2023)
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Abstract

The legalization of cannabis in Canada instantiates principles of harm-reduction and safe supply. However, in-depth understanding of values at stake and attitudes toward legalization were not part of extensive democratic deliberation. Through a qualitative exploratory study, we undertook 48 semi-structured interviews with three Canadian stakeholder groups to explore opinions and values with respect to the legalization of cannabis: (1) members of the general public, (2) people with lived experience of addiction and (3) clinicians with experience treating patients with addiction. Across all groups, participants tended to be in favor of legalization, but particular opinions rested on their viewpoint as stakeholders. Clinicians considered the way legalization would affect an individual’s health and its potential for increasing rates of addiction on a larger scale. People with lived experience of addiction cited personal autonomy more than other groups and stressed the need to have access to quality information to make truly informed decisions. Alternatively, members of the public considered legalization positive or negative in light of whether one’s addiction affected others. We elaborate on and discuss how scientific evidence about drug use impact values relates and how can different arguments play in democratic debates about legalization.

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