Students’ Attitudes towards the Use of Cannabis


Background information

In the past, Australia conformed to international convention in establishing policy related to cannabis. The import and export of cannabis was prohibited in the Commonwealth in 1925 in accordance with the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs (McDonald, Moore, Norberry, Wardlaw and Ballenden 1994). However, in 1987 Australia decriminalized the use of cannabis. Rather than imposing criminal penalties, Australia introduced fines on the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis. This policy raised concerns that decriminalization would increase the use of cannabis particularly among the youth and students (Skretting 1993). The aim of this study is to investigate the attitudes of university students towards cannabis use in light of the decriminalization policy.

Significance of the study

The study will help to narrow the literature gap that exists regarding the attitudes of students towards the use of cannabis. Indeed, very few studies have been conducted to examine this issue. In addition, the study will provide a deep insight into the factors that influence university students to use cannabis.

Research questions

It is hoped that this study will address the following questions:

  • What attitudes do university students have towards the use of cannabis?
  • How does the decriminalization policy of cannabis affect the use of cannabis among university students?
  • Is there any difference in the attitudes held by male and female university students towards cannabis use?
  • Is there any difference in the attitudes held by male and female university students towards the decriminalization policy of cannabis and its effect on cannabis use?

Literature review

McGeorge and Aitken (1997) carried out a study to examine the effect of cannabis decriminalization on the patterns of use among university students. The scholars used a sample of students from the Australian National University (located in a state that adopted cannabis decriminalization policy) and a control group of students from the University of Melbourne (located in a state that maintains cannabis prohibition). The data for the study was collected using questionnaires. McGeorge and Aitken (2007) found that there was no significant difference in the use of cannabis between the experimental and control groups of students. No significant difference was also found between the male and female students. The results led the scholars to conclude that the decriminalization of cannabis does not have a substantial influence on the use of cannabis among university students.


Research design

This study will use a qualitative phenomenological design which entails the use of a sample that is well experienced with the problem under investigation (Leedy and Ormrod 2005). In this case, the study will use a sample of university students from the Australian National University who have experiences with cannabis use. The design’s main objective is to equip the researcher with adequate information concerning the experiences of the subjects with the problem under investigation.

Participants and sampling technique

The participants of the study will comprise of Australian National University students. The participants will be selected from the different years of study as well as from all faculties and will include both male and female students. This will enable the researcher to identify any existing difference in the patterns of cannabis use in different faculties and years of study and to understand the reasons behind it. The total number of the participants will be 100 and all should have used cannabis at some point in their university life. In order to accommodate all these groups, purposive sampling will be used to select the sample. Purposive sampling is used when the researcher wants to use participants who will enable the researcher to achieve the major objective of the study (Silverman 2004). Only those participants who are most likely to make a significant contribution to the study will be selected. The main disadvantage of purposive sampling is that it is not a probabilistic sampling technique and therefore any data collected from the sample cannot be used to make generalizations about the entire population (Taylor, Kermode & Roberts 2006). However, since the study is a qualitative one and its objective is to provide a deeper understanding of the problem under investigation, this limitation of the sampling technique will not pose any problem to the results of the study.

Data collection technique and setting

Collection of data for this study will be done using in-depth interviews. “An in-depth interview is a technique that allows a person-to-person discussion and can lead to increased insight into people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior on important issues,” (Maxwell 2004, p.34). In this study, the in-depth interview will be conducted with the use of a semi-structured interview script administered by the researcher. The interview script will contain both closed-ended and open-ended questions to allow the researcher to gain the necessary information for the study. The execution of the in-depth interview follows six basic steps.

The first step involves planning the manner in which the interviews will be conducted. In this study, the in-depth interviews will be conducted on an individual basis within the premises of the Australian National University. The second step involves deciding who the informants will be. In this study, the informants will be 100 students from the Australian National University who either currently use cannabis or have used it at some point in their university life. The third step is the preparation of the interview script. The researcher should decide on the types of questions that will be asked during the interview ensuring that the questions will help to achieve the major objectives of the study. An important issue to be considered is the framing of the questions. Open-ended questions are most suitable for an in-depth interview because they will prompt the informants to explain their points in great detail (Speziale-Streubert and Carpenter 2006). The fourth and fifth steps involve selection and training of the interviewers respectively. These procedures will be used because the sample is quite large and the researcher will not be able to conduct the interviews all by himself, hence the need for additional interviewers. The last step involves conducting the actual interviews with the informants at the selected setting and recording of the collected data (Leedy and Ormrod 2005).

Data analysis

Analysis in qualitative research first involves coding of the collected data. Basit (2003) argues that coding involves “noticing relevant phenomena; collecting examples of those phenomena; and analyzing those phenomena in order to find commonalities, differences, patterns and structures,” (p.144). The analysis of the data collected in this study will be conducted following several steps. The transcripts from the interviews will be analyzed through thematic content analysis using a mixed coding chart. In the first stage, the transcripts will be read and the text coded in order to identify the main themes presented by the informants. In the second phase, the themes identified by the informants will be classified into a conceptually clustered matrix. Cross-case analysis will then be used to establish any existing relationships between the themes and to identify converging, diverging, and marginal themes. The final stage will involve drawing conclusions, making inferences and providing recommendations to the government and students’ institutions based on the findings (Basit 2003).

Ethical implications

The nature of qualitative research methods is that the researcher must always have close interaction with the informants. This can pose a number of social or psychological problems to the informants. As a result, various ethical principles must be upheld when conducting qualitative studies in order to protect human subjects from potential harm (Burns and Grove 2007). These principles include:

Informed consent – the researcher should provide the potential participants with detailed information concerning the nature of the study, its benefits, potential harm and the rights of the participants. Based on this information, the participants can choose to participate or withdraw from the study (Speziale-Streubert and Carpenter 2006). The consent given by the participants can be in written, verbal or taped form and it binds the informants to the study.

Confidentiality – the researcher should not record any personal information of the informants that could damage their reputation or cause them any problem. Information that should be made anonymous includes names, address of location, and sensitive medical information (Taylor, Kermode & Roberts 2006).

Protection from harm – the researcher should ensure that the benefits of participating in the study far outweigh the risks. It is the responsibility of the researcher to protect the participants from inevitable harm such as psychological distress when dealing with sensitive issues (Speziale-Streubert and Carpenter 2006).

Reference List

Basit, N 2003, ‘Manual or electronic? The role of coding in qualitative data analysis’, Educational Research, vol.45, no.2, pp.143-154.

Burns, N & Grove, S 2007, Understanding nursing research: Building an evidence based-practice, 4th edn, W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, PA.

Leedy, D & Ormrod, E 2005, Practical research: Planning and design, 8th edn, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.

Maxwell, A 2004, Qualitative research design: an interactive approach, SAGE, London.

McDonald, D, Moore, R, Norberry, J, Wardlaw, G, & Ballenden, N 1994, Legislative options for cannabis in Australia, Australian Government Publishing Service, National Drug Strategy, Cariberra.

McGeorge, J & Aitken, K 1997, ‘Effects of cannabis decriminalization in the Australian Capital Territory on university students’ patterns of use’, Journal of Drug Use, vol.27, no.4, pp.785-793.

Silverman, D 2004, Qualitative research: theory, method and practice, SAGE London.

Skretting, A 1993, ‘Attitudes of the Norwegian population to drug policy and drug offences’, Addiction, vol.88, pp.125-131.

Speziale-Streubert, J & Carpenter, R 2006, Qualitative research in nursing: Advancing the humanistic Imperative, 4th edn, Lippincott, Philadelphia, PA.

Taylor, B Kermode, S & Roberts, K 2006, Research in nursing and health care: Evidence for practice, 3rd edn, Thomson Nelson, Australia.