Why are Brits so opposed to cannabis?

by Katya Kowalski

Cannabis use is a contentious topic and although public opinion around the drug is changing, there is still significant opposition to it. Drug reform is a morally charged topic, so the public tends to have a strong opinion on either side of the spectrum, leading to a lot of polarisation. 

And although support for cannabis legalisation in the UK is at an all time high of 52%, socially there is still work to do around normalising the drug and combating stigma. 

I’ve always thought that British people (generally speaking) are opposed to cannabis use more compared to other jurisdictions which have liberalised their laws and use of the drug.

Why is this? What are some of the reasons behind this resistance and opposition to cannabis? 

I’m going to lay out some of the common reasons for why the British public are still opposed to the use of cannabis in this piece. It’s worth noting that this article makes some sweeping generalisations about British people, but it’s hard to not make generalisations when you are speaking about a population of 68 million people. This piece is broadly opinion based on my perceptions of the situation and commentary I’ve received from people on Twitter when I asked about this topic. Now, let’s dive in. 

1. One sided arguments in the media

Across the board, British media does not cover cannabis in a balanced manner. Though sentiment is changing, the stories I see on my Google Alerts daily, still love cannabis-induced psychosis and illegal cannabis farms up and down the country getting busted. Many of the stories that are written about cannabis focus on a sensationalist and gritty tone, making the drug feel less ‘mainstream’ than it is with a countercultural feel. In reality, sentiment is changing but this isn’t fairly reflected in the media. 

I do believe that mainstream media is no longer as impactful and influential as it once used to be, particularly amongst Gen Z and Millennials – who are also the generations most supportive of cannabis reform. For older generations who still rely on the mainstream media as their voice of reason, we see stronger resistance to cannabis reform. Coincidence? I think not.

2. Social conservatism

Very much linked to the point above, Brits are across the board socially conservative. It’s no wonder that we’ve had a conservative government for the last 13 years. From a moral standpoint, conservatives find it very difficult to get behind drug reform traditionally. The idea that people should be allowed to consume drugs is often seen as something “degrading” and “chaotic”. 

This is of course not the case for the vast majority of people that use drugs recreationally but it is an important factor to consider when we are trying to change opinion. Drug policies need to look and feel sound to a social conservative. Policy changes cannot simply focus on reducing harm, showcasing individual liberty. They need to address aspects of fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity too.

3. ‘The smell’

This comes up time and time again. Brits really seem to hate the smell of weed and this feels like an exclusively British thing. Cannabis does clearly have a very distinct smell, which is of course subjective in whether you like it. Smell is however, also associated with previous experience, which creates a bias. This is why certain perfumes remind us of people we know and we either have a positive or negative association to a smell. 

So, although Brits complain about the smell of cannabis, this dislike may be linked more so to the stigma, racism and classism that is associated with the drug, rather than the actual smell of the weed.

4. Racism and classism

There is an inherent association between cannabis and racist classist judgements of individuals in the UK. Although white and people of BAME backgrounds consume the drug at a similar rate (there is not a significant difference statistically). But cannabis use across the board isn’t associated strongly with the mainstream. There is a stigma associated with cannabis consumers for being “lazy” or outcasts socially, which is untrue and based on a conservative perception of the drug. Though acceptance is changing with a generation who is increasingly more in tune with liberalised drug policy, cannabis culture still has some way to go to be accepted in mainstream society in the UK. 

5. Lack of information about cannabis

The lack of education, awareness and accurate information about cannabis use creates a massive discrepancy in people’s opinions about the drug. The fact cannabis is illegal recreationally creates a perpetual vicious cycle that ‘if it is illegal it must be bad’. Also, through such a misconception around the harms and effects of the drug, this creates further fear and stigma.

Again, with the democratisation of information on the internet this is changing. 

However, factors such as medical cannabis being legal in the UK has the potential to help shift the dial around this, creating a new image of a cannabis user and demonstrating actual benefit to patients. Still though, so much of the public don’t know that medical cannabis is legal, including police officers. So this misinformation and lack of awareness feeds into this stigma.

6. Prevalence of skunk

Research indicates that skunk weed is the most prevalent type of cannabis being sold across the UK. Skunk is cannabis that is extremely potent with a high amount of THC. Skunk obviously has a lot of concerns surrounding it given the potency of THC and impact this can have on mental health outcomes. There are genuine concerns around the prevalence of skunk in the UK and the impact this is having on consumers. However, the fears around cannabis that exist amongst the Brits are heavily overinflated based on the impact the illicit market and prohibition are having on consumers, rather than the benefits the plant can have when it isn’t skunk.

7. Brit’s relationship with alcohol

Last but certainly not least is the relationship Brits have to alcohol. I think we are all pretty aware of how normalised drinking culture is in this country.

And although recreational drug use is pretty rife across the UK, it remains on the side lines and not talked about in the mainstream. Whereas alcohol is readily accepted. There seems to be this rhetoric that drugs are bad and kill you – but we don’t seem to have the same view around alcohol. A lot of this stems from poor drug education and a lack of education around the harms of alcohol and drinking culture.

So there we have it. Seven explanations for why the Brits (generally) are opposed to cannabis consumption. Hopefully all of these points will stick out when you see discrimination of cannabis taking place. This article is not intended to be exhaustive, as I imagine there are a whole bunch of other reasons but these stuck out most to me. 

I do think that each of these reasons are slowly decreasing in importance with younger generations being more aware of the failures of drug policy and becoming more interested in sensible education around cannabis use.

This piece was written by Katya Kowalski, Head of Operations at Volteface. X @KowalskiKatya

You may also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept

Privacy & Cookies Policy