The number of people who support legalising cannabis has almost doubled in the last decade, a new report reveals.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) released on Friday shows 41 per cent of people living in western Victoria supported legalising marijuana, up from 24 per cent in 2010.
People surveyed were asked about measures taken to reduce drug use and drug-related harm.
In the south-west and Ballarat regions, 80 per cent of people said possession of cannabis for personal use should be decriminalised.
It's a figure that didn't surprise Mark Powell, the operations manager at the Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre (WRAD).
"It reflects a changing view across the world towards the legal versus health debate about substance use," he said.
"There is a need to change the way we talk about issues of substance use."
Mr Powell said for too long society had labelled drug users in an unhelpful way, further marginalising them and resulting in significant delays in accessing treatment through fear of being judged.
Of those surveyed, 58 per cent said no action or warning should be given for those in possession of cannabis and 25 per cent said they should be referred to a treatment or education program.
Mr Powell said decriminalising drugs was a good question for quality research.
"Decriminalising a drug for someone who is dependent on it would prevent the harm of entering the justice system for minor offences and getting a life-long criminal record which we know can significantly and adversely affect them into the future," he said.
"I would very much like to see a system where a person's problematic substance use can be seen as a trigger for treatment. Unfortunately this debate is often overrun by emotion and opinion as opposed to sound facts."
Looking to other illicit drugs, less than half of those surveyed thought referrals to treatment or education programs was the best action for those found in possession of ecstasy, hallucinogens and methamphetamine.
But 51 per cent said it was the best action for heroin users.
Mr Powell said every dollar invested in treatment yields "a seven-fold benefit when health costs are included".
"Treatment results in reduced substance misuse and reduced crime," he said.
"It reduces interpersonal conflicts, improves workplace productivity and results in fewer substance-related accidents. Clients generally improve their health status and improve their living and social skills."
But he said a challenge was providing a range of service options in an accessible and welcoming way.
Mr Powell said residential treatment was effective in helping people re-build their lives by developing better coping strategies, greater self-awareness and a stronger sense of purpose beyond their substance abuse.
WRAD is awaiting state government backing for The Lookout, a proposed rehab centre at Dennington.
"We know having accessible services in close proximity leads to a greater uptake of treatment options," Mr Powell said.
"Knowing you have a local service available removes some of the barriers to seeking help when a person is faced with a choice of having to go out of their area for help versus staying close to their support systems."
The NDSHS showed 59 per cent supported pill testing while 27 per cent opposed and 14 per cent were unsure.
When asked about alcohol-related harm, 76 per cent of people supported more severe legal penalties for drink-driving.
More than half opposed increasing the price of alcohol as a preventative measure, while the number of people who supported the reduction of trading hours at pubs and clubs dropped from 50 per cent to 26 per cent in a decade.
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