New EU Poll Finds Strong Opposition to Marijuana Legalization in Europe

That’s the headline now at the Drug Czar’s “blog”.
Yes, I know. I can’t stay away, but I have an excuse — they taunted me.

Turns out, the widely-used argument used by drug legalization groups that Europeans are much “more open and accepting of marijuana legalization” just isn’t true.

Whoa. The drug czar is bringin’ it! Accusing me and my ilk of playin’ fast with the facts. Of course, their characterization of the view of legalizers is a little bit off — generally, we’ve said more that European countries have led the way (in terms of their laws) in being more accepting of marijuana, and such acceptance has not shown ill effects — rather the opposite, as a matter of fact. I don’t recall that much has been said about the public’s view of marijuana legalization being more open and accepting in Europe. Our view is that the public view of marijuana legalization is more open and accepting here in the U.S. than is reflected in the laws.
But let’s take a closer look at this new EU poll (pdf, page 44, data is on page 79 of the pdf document). Once again, we find that the Drug Czar takes data that ranges somewhere between insignificant and irrelevant and touts it as total vindication.
The poll, including dozens of questions on a whole long list of attitudes about a variety of topics regarding participation in the European Union, includes one question about cannabis:

Personal consumption of cannabis should be legalised throughout
Totally Agree/Tend to Agree/Tend to Disagree/Totally Disagree/Don’t Know

The conclusion reached by the report’s authors is:

The high level of opposition to the idea that personal consumption of cannabis
should be legalised throughout Europe provides further evidence that Europeans feel
that there is too much tolerance nowadays.

Wait a second. Read the question again. How could any answer to that question provide evidence for that conclusion? First problem: without noting the fact, the authors are referring back to an earlier question about whether criminals are treated too tolerantly (and the authors should have clarified that they weren’t talking about tolerance toward marijuana). Second problem: The question gives nothing that could support such a conclusion anyway. People could very well think that marijuana should be further decriminalized and yet be opposed to legalization.
The fact that the authors chose to make the assumption they did in their conclusion casts serious doubt on their credibility and makes you wonder if they had an agenda.
Other problems with using the results of the poll in the way the Drug Czar does:
1. Context. The question is part of a large number of questions regarding peoples’ attitudes about the European Union. There’s a lot of concern over how much autonomy the countries of the European Union will be required to surrender. Answers to the question “Personal consumption of cannabis should be legalised throughout Europe.” could easily be swayed by people’s views as to whether it should be an EU issue or a local issue. They could very well be in favor of legalization and yet answer in the negative because they don’t feel it should be discussed in terms of overall EU consideration (perhaps because there are more important things, or because it should be up to the individual countries).
2. The word “legalised” has baggage. As we often see here in the United States, legalization is equated in some people’s minds with a complete absence of regulation. I’ve had people tell me “I’m opposed to legalization, but I think they should stop arresting people for marijuana.” When I ask them if they think there should be fines, they say “No. But I don’t want to see it freely available to children.” In fact, they are in favor of legalization and don’t know it. I don’t know how much this misconception is prevalent in the EU, but obviously that would color the poll.
3. The question is too limited to really tell you anything. Just one question, with questionable context and meaning. If you really wanted to have that poll provide some meaningful results, you’d want to include more questions. Possibly something like “People should be jailed for personal possession of cannabis throughout Europe.” and “Laws regarding personal possession of cannabis should be made the same throughout Europe.” The fact that you’re mixing “personal consumption of cannabis” and “throughout Europe” makes the equation so complex that you need a number of questions to really triangulate people’s views in any kind of meaningful way that the drug czar would like to have you believe.

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