The Social Construction of Cannabis in Social Work

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1 Scopus citations


The social construction of cannabis has important implications for policy, research, practice, and education in social work. The objective of this article is to chart the construction of cannabis in articles published in social work journals across the past half century. The author critically reviews empirical articles with references to cannabis published in 15 key social work journals between 1970 and 2018. Systematic searches resulted in a combined set of 510 articles, of which 244 matched the inclusion criteria for this study. A content and thematic analysis of the corpus identified the dominant construction of cannabis in social work research literature as a harmful substance undifferentiated from other drugs. This construction was challenged by a minority of the articles in three ways: (1) by differentiating between use and abuse and between cannabis as a soft drug and a hard drug; (2) by highlighting social inequality as an important component of any consideration of social work policy and practice with regard to cannabis use; and (3) by considering the possible positive effects of cannabis use. This article calls for a revision of the construction of cannabis use in social work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-340
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2022


  • cannabis
  • drugs
  • harm reduction
  • social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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