Public opinion shifts on cannabis and sex

Most people are now in support of tougher cannabis laws but public attitudes towards sex outside marriage are becoming more liberal, according to a new Government-backed survey.

The annual British Social Attitudes survey found that 58 per cent of people agreed that cannabis should be illegal.

Researchers concluded that the rise from 46 per cent in 2001 reflects “increased concern about its dangers”.

In 2001 almost half (46 per cent) of people surveyed said cannabis was less damaging than some people believed. But in light of widespread evidence linking it to mental illness the figure is now just 24 per cent.

Elizabeth Fuller, co-author of the official survey report, comments: “After 20 years, during which opinion has become more liberal, recent years have seen a return to a more restrictive view about cannabis.

“Its recent reclassification back to Class B appears to be in tune with this hardening of public attitudes, which seems to reflect growing concern about the impact cannabis can have on individuals and society as a whole.”

The survey, which was published earlier this week, also revealed a significant shift in public attitudes towards homosexual activity over the last 25 years. Four out of ten people now think it is “not wrong at all”.

But over a third still believe homosexual acts are “always” or “mostly” wrong, down from 62 per cent when the British Social Attitudes survey was first carried out, in 1983.

In a BBC Radio 4 discussion on the Today Programme, former EastEnders actor and homosexual campaigner, Michael Cashman MEP praised politicians for changing the law.

The report produced by the National Centre for Social Research, analyses data from interviews with more than 4,000 people.

Researchers suggest that “Britain is becoming more liberal in its views about how people live their lives”.

They say compared to many other European countries cohabitation is “becoming increasingly acceptable”. Almost half of respondents (45 per cent) claimed that it “makes no difference to children whether their parents are married to each other or just living together”, up from 38 per cent in 1998.

Andy Ross, report author, comments: “Changing attitudes reflect a complex combination of factors. In general, we are becoming more liberal and tolerant. But our attitudes are also strongly shaped by what we see in our daily lives.’

“This is why people in their 60s and older have become more tolerant than we might expect about issues like cohabitation. Perhaps the personal experience of becoming a grandparent of a child born outside marriage might be leading older people to take a more liberal view on this issue.”

The survey also revealed that for the first time in 20 years more people consider themselves Conservative (32 per cent) than Labour (27 per cent) signaling a major shift in social attitudes.

Earlier this month press reports said the survey revealed that most Brits are concerned about the growing influence of Islam in the UK and believe that Islam is dividing the nation.

The survey found that 52 per cent of the population believe that Britain is deeply divided along religious lines, with just one in four people feeling positive about Islam.

Related Resources