More Australians support legalising illegal drugs, with new data showing support for legalising cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy use is rising.
North Canberra showed the most support for cannabis legalisation at 66.1 per cent, with other regional and rural areas including the Northern Territory (53.1 per cent) and Launceston and North East Tasmania (48.4 per cent) also showing support.
The legalisation of cocaine use was most supported by inner city areas, including Eastern Sydney (21 per cent) and Inner Melbourne (18.3 per cent).
Meanwhile, opposition was stronger in the regions. Bendigo in central Victoria was one of the least supportive regions, with 91.7 per cent of people surveyed opposed to legalisation of cocaine use, with Latrobe in eastern Victoria (91.2 per cent) and Shepparton in northern Victoria (90.1 per cent) following.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) broke down data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, analysing attitudes and perceptions by region.
The data indicates 41 per cent of Australians support legalising cannabis use and support for legalising cocaine and ecstasy use stands at eight per cent and 9.5 per cent respectively.
Those numbers are up markedly from the 2010 reporting period when support for legalising cannabis use was found to be 25 per cent among Australians. Support for legalising cocaine and ecstasy use in that same period was lower at 6.3 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively.
This is the first time an increasing number of Australians supported the legalisation of cannabis, according to the report.
National Drug Research Institute Adjunct Professor Dr Nicole Lee said the data aligned with a trend of more people supporting decriminalisation and legalisation.
She said people were recognising the current system was not working.
Professor Lee said some of the harm of drugs could be mitigated by introducing regulation and legalisation. Currently, illicit drugs are predominately manufactured in backyard labs where there are no health-regulated oversights.
"Most people believe that drugs are illegal because they're dangerous, but it's actually the other way around. So they're actually made more dangerous because they're illegal," she said.
Professor Lee said research showed majority of people who used illicit drugs recreationally did not have issues or require treatment. And she said there was no evidence suggesting the number of people using drugs had increased in places where drugs had been legalised.
Professor Lee said better regulation could reduce the need for drug treatment, with people more inclined to seek help early.
Prohibition often created a barrier to people finding support, Professor Lee said, especially in regional areas.
"[Regional] towns and communities are quite small, and so the stigma faced by people who use illicit drugs is amplified in those areas because everybody knows everybody and it's much harder to be anonymous," she said.
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"I think there is in some ways even more benefit for regional areas in decriminalisation and legalisation and reducing stigma around illicit drugs so people can seek help."
While the data focuses on legalisation specifically, Professor Lee said decriminalisation was the step before legalisation. It would significantly reduce harm to people who use illicit drugs.
Professor Lee said getting caught up in the criminal justice system for using drugs caused harm. She said if drugs were legalised, funds currently used in the criminal justice system could be redistributed to early intervention and prevention efforts.
Harm Reduction Australia executive director Annie Madden said while the data showed people were becoming more progressive, the overall low levels of support suggested a need for more information about the realities of drug use.
"There's a lot of illicit drug use that goes on every day in Australia that does not result in death and carnage," she said.
"Drug use is part of life, it's part of society, it has been for millennia. It's not going anywhere, and we're going to have to learn to live with it."
Ms Madden said access to information, support and harm reduction services kept people safe and alive.
"These stats, they say to me, there is a real need for proper, non-hysterical ... evidence-based harm reduction information for people to be able to make really good informed choices," she said.
Drug use is part of life, it's part of society, it has been for millennia. It's not going anywhere, and we're going to have to learn to live with it.- Annie Madden, Harm Reduction Australia executive director
But not all are convinced by the case for legalisation.
City Mission alcohol and other drugs service operations manager Narelle Howell said the organisation did not support legalisation, and did not have a position on decriminalisation.
"I would be very concerned that if illicit drugs are legalised that our health systems are not in a situation [to] cope," Ms Howell said.
"I think if illicit drugs were to be legalised, the money that is spent in policing and all of those things currently to manage that needs to be filtered into the health system.
"Drug and alcohol use is a health issue, and I think a lot of people in the community may still view it as a moral issue, and it needs to be seen as a health issue. And until we do that, a lot of attitudes aren't going to change."
Drug laws vary between each state and territory. The ACT government recently agreed to decriminalise small quantities of illicit drugs.
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