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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 10

Canadians’ Opinions and Attitudes

One of our main objectives throughout our study was to get Canadians involved. We wanted people to share their opinions, experiences and fears regarding marijuana. We also wanted to provide access to the information we held so as to contribute, within our modest means, to better knowledge of the realities of marijuana, if only to raise the level of public debate. At the start of each public hearing the Committee Chair stated:


The second thrust is the sharing of knowledge. This is definitely our most noble objective. The committee wants all Canadians to become informed and share the information we collect. Our challenge will be to plan and organize a system to ensure that the knowledge is available and distributed. We would also like to hear what people think about this knowledge. In order to do this, in the spring of 2002, we will be holding public hearings in various parts of Canada.   

This was indeed a major challenge. It is one thing to passively make available such information as proceedings of our hearings and our commissioned research reports. It is another thing to actively disseminate that information widely, having the means to do so. And it is another thing again to take the pulse of Canadian society.

To convey the information to Canadians, we chose to make full use of our Internet site, posting all of our documents as they were ready. To boost circulation, we used two main tools. The first was a conventional tool: the media. We worked to get as much media coverage as possible in order to promote our work or simply let people know the Committee existed. With the same goal in mind, some members of the Committee took part in conferences, round table discussions and open-line shows. The second tool, one we considered essential in promoting our work, was the discussion paper we released in May 2002. The paper laid out some of our preliminary research findings on eight key issues, put forward a number of public policy options and proposed questions for the public hearings. The main aims of the paper were to convey our knowledge and generate public interest. A third objective was to provide a backdrop for the public hearings we held throughout the country in May and June 2002.

Only time will tell whether and to what extent we were successful in promoting our work and, more importantly, in increasing public knowledge of marijuana. We did not have the financial means to conduct a far-reaching public information campaign or an opinion poll before and after the release of the discussion paper to determine whether we had any impact on Canadians.

It is much harder to gauge the public’s opinions, attitudes and concerns. The traditional method of surveying a representative sample of the population was too expensive. Surveys also have limits, which we will discuss in more detail later. However, we did commission a qualitative study using focus groups, the results of which will be presented in this chapter. We will also report the results of other surveys that came to our attention. As well, many Canadians wrote to us or sent us e-mails, and some came out to our public hearings. We obviously cannot draw any conclusions from this: the only people who wrote to us were probably people to whom the issue is very important, regardless of which way they lean. Some will be cited but we reiterate that nothing is to be drawn from these opinions in terms of representativeness.

No account of Canadians’ opinions on and attitudes toward drugs in general would be complete without an examination of the role of the media in shaping those opinions and attitudes. In recent years, as a result of this Committee’s work and other initiatives, various Canadian newspapers and magazines have run stories or written editorials on the issue. These will be the focus of the first part of the chapter. The next part presents the results of surveys and polls, including the survey we commissioned and surveys conducted in different provinces. The last part covers our understanding of what Canadians told us.


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