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Subst Use Misuse. 2018 Aug 24;53(10):1657-1665. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2018.1424911. Epub 2018 Jan 16.

Formal and Informal Control of Cannabis: Regular Users' Experience.

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a Université de Montréal, School of Criminology , Montréal , Québec , Canada.
b University Institute on Addiction , Montréal, Québec , Canada.
c Department of Sociology , University of Toronto , Toronto , Ontario , Canada.



The debate on recreational use of cannabis, recently relaunched by the election of the Liberal Party of Canada that intends to legalize and regulate its use and access, implies a better understanding of social control mechanisms that are in place, and their influence on users' behaviors.


This study addresses the issue of formal and informal controls by providing, first, a theoretical perspective of this concept, and, second, by illustrating its operation from the users' perspective.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 164 regular, adult cannabis users recruited in four large Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax). An initial qualitative analysis based on the principles of grounded theory was conducted. The main categories identified were then used to find and re-code relevant material on the respondents' experience with formal and informal control (secondary analysis).


The users' perspective shows that mechanisms of informal control play an important role in defining the social context of their use (when, where, and with whom cannabis is consumed). In contrast, formal control had no deterrent impact on the cessation or reduction of use, but affected their behavior by influencing them to change the context of their practices to avoid criminal legal consequences and stigmatization. Conclusions/Importance: The regulatory controls based in public health that the Canadian government plans to implement (replacing criminal ones), should be based on a better understanding of current practices and patterns of cannabis users, and in accordance with informal controls already in place. Legislative formal controls, in a regulatory model, that are better defined and consistent with social practices, will be more accepted and respected by the user population and thus likely to be more effective in reducing harm.


Formal control; cannabis; informal social control; qualitative study; users' experience

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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