The Shifting Landscape of Cannabis in the Community: Acceptance, Anxieties and Ambiguities

Taylor, Stuart and Wilson, Helen Beckett (2014). The Shifting Landscape of Cannabis in the Community: Acceptance, Anxieties and Ambiguities. In: European Society of Criminology Conference (Eurocrim2014), 10-13 Sep 2014, Prague.


Whilst official statistics show cannabis use to be at an all-time low, it continues to be the most prevalent illegal drug used in England and Wales (CSEW, 2013). Simultaneously, there have been substantial changes in the broader social context of the UK cannabis landscape, including the expansion and ‘franchising’ of domestic cannabis production, the ascendancy of stronger strains of cannabis (namely ‘skunk’), and the rereclassification of the drug in 2009 to a Class B substance (as governed by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act). Resultantly, cannabis remains a significant issue for communities, drug services and criminal justice agencies. This paper presents the findings of an empirical research study conducted in the North West of England which examined community knowledge and attitudes around cannabis use and cultivation. It draws on qualitative research generated from interviews and focus groups with a range of local community members including professionals, practitioners, resident groups, cannabis users, cannabis user’s mothers, and cannabis cultivators. The findings identify that whilst cannabis use is seen as a regular and indeed normative feature of everyday community life, its use is far from normalised. ‘Surface attitudes’ apparent in the community appeared to indicate a general acceptance of cannabis use and cultivation. However, closer examination suggested that, for some, these attitudes in reality masked a spectrum of covert, deep rooted concerns and anxieties. The findings suggest that whilst cannabis is a drug which the community appears (or is assumed) to feel familiar with, their knowledge of its use and production are in fact limited. Individuals were often found to fill gaps in their knowledge base by drawing on wider conceptions of drug use, users, dealers and producers, resulting in a range of fears and anxieties. The paper concludes by interpreting the inferences of these trends, for the community themselves and for service provision within the locality. The themes highlighted in this research have relevance for communities and policy-making
across the UK.

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