The Normalization of Cannabis Use among Young People: Symbolic Boundary Work in Focus Groups

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This paper analyses ‘techniques of neutralisation’ among young people discussing
cannabis in focus group interviews. The paper is based on data from focus group
interviews with young Danes followed from when they were 14–15 years old in 2004
until they were 18–19 years old in 2008. In this period, the participants’ attitudes
towards cannabis undergo a radical change from being negative and sceptical into
being predominantly positive and accepting; a change we describe as a ‘normalisation’
of cannabis use. Four techniques of neutralisation are identified in this
process. First, the participants redefine the setting of cannabis use, simultaneously
creating a new type of togetherness: relaxed social intoxication. Second, the effects
of cannabis use are transformed from being ‘strange’ and ‘unpredictable’ to being
‘controllable’ by the individual user. Third, participants change their classification
of cannabis in relation to other substances. While 14–15 year olds draw a clear
dividing-line between alcohol and illegal drugs (including cannabis), 18–19 year
olds put cannabis on the same footing as alcohol but differentiate it from ‘hard’
drugs. Fourth, participants dichotomise cannabis use into spontaneous, social use,
which they accept, and habitual, individual use which most of them reject. In
combination, these four techniques of neutralisation turn cannabis into a normal
drug: not normal in the sense that everybody uses it but normal in the sense that
cannabis use is seen as legitimate by both users and non-users.
TidsskriftHealth, Risk & Society
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)165-182
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 2011

ID: 21570329