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Chapter 6: EVALUATING NEW LEGISLATIVE APPROACHES TO CANNABIS

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The principle of evaluating new policy and legislation is
widely accepted, but is less frequently observed in practice. In
Australia and most Western nations, little has been done,
especially by government agencies, to monitor and evaluate, in a
systematic manner, their national drug policies. This is the case
in instances where legislation has developed incrementally (as in
most of Australia’s States and Territories) and where new
approaches have been implemented following detailed policy
reviews (e.g. the Australian Capital Territory’s cannabis
expiation notice initiative). Too often evaluation is considered
relevant only after a policy has been in place for some time and
changes are being considered.

To be of most value, new initiatives should be designed and
implemented with an explicit and adequately resourced monitoring
and evaluation component built into the initiative from the
outset. In the context of evaluating new legislative approaches
to cannabis, we suggest that policy evaluation and program
evaluation be considered separately. The bulk of this paper has
addressed the evaluation of policies, as reflected through
legislative options. The details of evaluating the implementation
of policies, focusing on the programs themselves, are matters
which need to be addressed after the broad policy issues are
settled and particular new approaches are agreed upon.

We provide below an overview of the steps involved in both
evaluative tasks. The National Drug Strategic Plan 1993-97
(Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 1993) provides the
framework within which we base our recommendations relating to
monitoring and evaluation. The Plan is explicitly goal-attainment
focused, the approach that we argued for in [1]Chapter
2
, where we highlighted the importance of clarity in the
specification of the goals of drug policy, legislation and
program implementation. The Plan provides an overarching goal (or
‚mission‘) for Australian drug policy: ‚The overall mission of
the National Drug Strategy is to minimise the harmful effects of
drugs and drug use in Australian society‘ (MCDS 1993, p6).

Policies and programs in specific areas, including cannabis,
should be evaluated in a manner consistent with this national
goal. Applying goal attainment models of evaluation is a more
complex task than it sometimes seems to be initially. Substantial
technical difficulties exist in both designing and conducting
evaluation research; part of this is the often complex task of
identifying policy and program goals.

Our discussion in [2]Chapter
2
referred to the fact that, in practice, a particular
cannabis policy can relate to goals which are inconsistent: the
attainment of one may militate against the attainment of another.
Needs change over time; often policy and legislation are far
behind. For a given policy, it is likely that a hierarchy of
goals will exist: the mission statement of the National Drug
Strategic Plan is an overarching goal, one which must be
articulated in terms which encompass other goals such as those
concerned specifically with cannabis. Policy evaluation and
decision-making

In [3]Chapter
4
we outlined five broad policy and legislative options for
cannabis in Australia. The approach taken there is a contribution
to policy evaluation in this area, and, by extension, a
contribution to decision-making. But how are decisions about drug
policy to be made?

One approach is the making of ad hoc decisions. This must be
rejected in favour of more systematic policy choice models. The
literature differentiates two groups of decision-making models
for use by governments: ‚rational‘ and ‚incremental‘ approaches
(see, e.g. Corbett 1992, pp59-76; Davis et al.1993, pp157-81).
The rational approach, illustrated below, is something of an
ideal. It is not always easy to implement in practice, but the
alternative (making decisions incrementally without ever
reconsidering the overall needs and patterns of policy responses)
is much less attractive. Applying a rational approach to
decision-making in evaluating new legislative approaches to
cannabis use (as different from evaluating the actual
implementation of new legislation and resulting programs), we
suggest that the following issues be taken into account:

  1. The need to examine the sources of the proposal and the
    context within which it has been presented.
  2. The need to clarify just why that approach (rather than a
    different one) is proposed.
  3. The need to identify the goals which the new approach, if
    implemented, would attain. The philosophical and
    pragmatic goals should both be specified. Multiple goals
    may be identified and inconsistencies between them made
    explicit.
  4. The need to assess the likely impacts on key
    stakeholders, if the approach were to be implemented. For
    each key stakeholder, assess the likely costs and
    benefits, both intended and unintended.
  5. The need to review the depth, breadth, relevance and
    quality of the data currently available to assist the
    evaluation of the proposed approach. Determine whether or
    not it is, in fact, feasible to reach a conclusion on the
    value of the proposed policy, given the availability of
    data to answer questions about the proposal’s likely
    outcomes and impacts.
  6. The need to make judgments regarding: (a) the value of
    the goal or goals; (b) how achievable the goals are; and
    (c) if the goals are judged to be achievable, how
    effective, efficient and appropriate are the
    implementation programs.

This systematic approach to policy evaluation is not often
seen in the development of drugs policy. Nevertheless, in the
area of legislative options for cannabis in Australia, policy
makers have the capacity to apply such a process. This should be
undertaken as part of the National Drug Strategic Plan’s project
to develop a national statement on cannabis, one which includes a
contemporary perspective on the most appropriate legislative
option or options for cannabis. Program evaluation It is beyond
the scope of this report to present details on the techniques of
program evaluation. These are to be found in standard textbooks
(Brinkerhoff et al. 1983; Hawe et al. 1991; Guba & Lincoln
1989; Morris 1987; Patton 1990; Rossi & Freeman 1989).

One point to be made, however, is that the evaluation research
model and techniques employed should be selected on the basis of
answering a precisely defined evaluation question. If the
evaluation question is, for example, ‚What has been the impact on
policing of a new legislative approach to cannabis‘, quite
different evaluation techniques will be used from a situation
where the evaluation question is ‚How cost-effective has the new
approach been‘, or ‚How relevant is current legislation to
contemporary needs?‘. No single approach covers all
circumstances.

Again, the National Drug Strategic Plan emphasises the
importance of monitoring and evaluation. Under the heading
‚Policy Approach‘, it states: The National Drug Strategic Plan
explicitly identifies policy objectives and indicators to enable
the effectiveness of the program to be evaluated. The National
Drug Strategic Plan is committed to the application of
needs-based planning and evaluation activities to ensure the
effectiveness and efficiency of strategies employed to minimise
drug-related harm (MCDS 1993, p5). We commend those responsible
for this emphasis, but note that this policy cannot be
implemented without the allocation of a significant level of
resources. The oft-stated policy that evaluation should be an
integral part of all drug-related programs can only be realised
if program budgets include sufficient funds to cover the design
and conduct of monitoring and evaluation, and if reporting time
frames are appropriate to the evaluation model being employed.
Indicators A related strength of the National Drug Strategic Plan
which is highly relevant to the present review is its focus on
indicators of program implementation, short-term outcomes and
longer-term and broader impacts. The indicators selected for this
purpose will depend on the particular initiative being evaluated;
accordingly, they cannot be comprehensively described here.
Within Australia, the work of Sarre, Sutton and Pulsford (1989)
and of Christie (1991) in evaluating the South Australian
cannabis expiation notice scheme, and of the Queensland Criminal
Justice Commission’s Advisory Committee on Illicit Drugs (1993)
are examples of the effective use of indicators in the monitoring
and evaluation of cannabis legislation. Single’s (1989) review of
the USA experience of marijuana ‚decriminalisation‘ demonstrates
the dearth of information available in that country to evaluate
the legislative changes initiated over the last 20 years.
Elsewhere in this paper we have referred to such evaluation data
as are available relating to other nations. Without seeking to be
exhaustive, we list here some examples of indicators which are
significant inputs to policy and program evaluation relating to
new legislative initiatives concerned with cannabis:

  • The impact on social justice in Australian society of the
    implementation of cannabis legislation.
  • Costs of cannabis controls, including the transfer of
    resources.
  • The effectiveness and efficiency of the implementation of
    policies and legislation.
  • Public opinion concerning cannabis.
  • Cannabis consumption patterns and levels.
  • Numbers and characteristics of the people presenting to
    treatment agencies with cannabis-related health and
    social problems.
  • Cannabis-related offences.
  • Cannabis-related driving and motor vehicle crashes.
  • THC levels of the cannabis available to consumers.
  • Cannabis-related workplace accidents.

Conclusion

In this section we have discussed the evaluation of new
legislative approaches to cannabis use in Australia. We have
differentiated between policy evaluation and program evaluation,
and have pointed to the need to develop indicators, tied to
specific initiatives, of activities, outcomes and impacts.
Undertaking high quality, systematic policy evaluation concerning
cannabis is essential and this paper contributes to that process.
Research aimed at developing evaluation techniques and program
indicators will be needed as part of the development and
implementation of new legislative approaches in this area.

References

  • Brinkerhoff, R. et al. 1983, Program Evaluation,
    Kluwer-Nijhoff, Boston.
  • Corbett, D. 1992, Australian Public Sector Management,
    Allen & Unwin, St Leonards.
  • Davis, G., Wanna, J., Warhurst, J. & Weller, P. 1993,
    Public Policy in Australia, 2nd ed., Allen & Unwin,
    St Leonards.
  • Guba, E. & Lincoln, Y. 1989, Fourth Generation
    Evaluation, Sage, Beverly Hills.
  • Hawe, D., Degeling, P. & Hall, J. 1990, Evaluating
    Health Promotion: A Health Worker’s Guide, MacLennan
    & Petty, Sydney.
  • McDermott, F., Pyett, P. & Hamilton, M. 1991,
    Evaluate Yourself: A Handbook for Alcohol and Other Drug
    Treatment Agencies, [National Campaign Against Drug
    Abuse, Canberra].
  • Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) 1993,
    National Drug Strategic Plan 1993-97, AGPS, Canberra.
  • Morris, L. (ed.) 1987, Program Evaluation Kit, 2nd ed.
    1987, Program Evaluation Kit, 2nd ed., nine volumes,
    Sage, Beverly Hills.
  • Patton, M. 1990, Qualitative Evaluation and Research
    Methods, Sage, Beverly Hills.
  • Rossi, P. & Freeman, H. 1985, Evaluation: A
    Systematic Approach, Sage, Beverly Hills.
  • Rotem, A. 1985, ‚Evaluating programs on drug and alcohol
    related problems‘, Australian Alcohol and Drug Review,
    vol. 4, pp181-186.

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