Identity constructions of cannabis users: the intersection between users’ narratives and local policy discourses

Research Period

1 August 2017 – 31 December 2019


Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)


Michelle VAN IMPE

Key words

Cannabis, identity constructions, narratives, local drug policy discourse


Cannabis is a substance which has been part of society for a long time and of which the social, political and cultural perceptions and meanings have changed throughout history. While the possession, production and trade of cannabis has been labeled as a crime by several international treaties and national jurisdictions in the 19th century, this soft drug policy is currently debated and several countries experiment with alternative regulating models which (partly) abrogate the illegal status of cannabis. Furthermore, the drug has undergone a normalizing process as indicated by a greater cultural and social acceptance of its use.

Aside from changing perceptions on macro and meso level, individual cannabis users also ascribe meanings to this substance and the place of cannabis in their identity and life. The attribution of meaning on personal and policy level are connected and constitute a sociopolitical context wherein identities of cannabis users are constructed, on the one hand by users themselves and on the other hand by dominant drug policy discourses at a certain place and time period. The way in which cannabis use is perceived at a (local) policy level has repercussions for the actions which are legitimized towards its users.

This research aims to study these complex contexts in depth from an emic perspective and wishes to understand the intersection between personal and political processes of identity construction. Previous research concerning this topic relied on general national policy principles, while this study aims to examine the local drug policy discourses in-depth. To this end, we will depart from a critical criminological framework from which ‘policy’ is viewed as an ideological construction and wherein users are acknowledged in their possibilities of resistance, empowerment and agency. The originality of this study consists of the fact that we will examine identity constructions of cannabis users and local drug policy discourses as a complex sociopolitical context and will attempt to capture this complexity through the insiders’ view of non-problematic users themselves.


  1. Review of the (inter)national literature
  2.  Critical discourse analysis of drug policy discourses
  3. Netnographic research
  4.  Qualitative in-depth interviews cannabis users