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Intangible outcomes from a policy change: using contingent valuation to quantify potential stigma from a cannabis offence

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New policies are increasingly required to be evaluated. One form of evaluation is a cost–benefit analysis where inputs and outcomes are all valued monetarily. However, intangible outcomes are often not included in these evaluations as they are perceived to be too difficult to value. The aim of this paper is to value one of the intangible benefits (decrease in stigma) from a potential change in drug policy using contingent valuation.


This paper reports on a contingent valuation study conducted among a community sample of 875 respondents on the internet. Respondents were asked what they would be willing to pay to avoid the stigma of a criminal record. Data were analysed with descriptive and regression analyses.


The survey found respondents were willing to pay a mean of $1,231 ($1,112–1,322; AUD 2009) to avoid the stigma from a criminal record for a loved one or for themselves. Household income was an important predictor of willingness-to-pay (WTP). The WTP was significantly and positively related to whether the respondent believed cannabis was usually or always addictive while those who had used cannabis recently (within past 12 months) were less likely to pay more, relative to those who had not used recently.


This paper demonstrates the feasibility of using economic methods to value intangible benefits from drug policy changes.

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This work was supported by grant from the Australian Research Council (DP0880066). This work forms part of the Drug Policy Modelling Program, a program funded by the Colonial Foundation Trust and auspiced by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, which receives core funding from the Commonwealth Government of Australia. Professor Ritter is funded through an NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Marian Shanahan.



Contingent valuation survey

There were four versions of the survey. Version 1 and Version 2 were identical except for the ordering of the fine values. Version 3 and Version 4 were identical except for the ordering of the Fine values. The WTP scenario in Version 1 and Version 2 starts with “You”. The WTP scenario in Version 3 and Version 4 starts with “Someone who is close to you”. Version 1 and Version 4 are presented.

Please carefully read the hypothetical scenario below and answer the hypothetical question posed.


You have been detected by the police in possession of 12 g of cannabis. This is an amount of cannabis that is sufficient to make approximately 24 joints. This is the only offence you have ever committed. The police can charge you with a criminal offence. This would require you to attend Court, where if you plead guilty, or are found guilty by the Magistrate, would result in a criminal record. Having a criminal record may limit employment opportunities, ability to travel overseas to some countries, as well as carry the stigma of having a criminal record.

An alternative response by police may be to issue a fine. With this fine there would be no criminal record. Failure to pay the fine within 60 days results in additional interest charges, and if the fine is not paid, this will lead to the loss of drivers licence.

Thinking of the scenario you just read, which of the amounts listed below best describes the maximum fine you are willing to pay, to avoid court and a possible criminal record for possession of cannabis?














For those who selected $2,500 only

What is the maximum fine you would be willing to pay to avoid court and a possible criminal record? $_________

For everyone

You chose $_X which is approximately __XX __% of your weekly income. Would you like to change your answer? Yes____ No____

If yes, what is the maximum fine you are willing to pay to avoid court and a possible criminal record? _______

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Shanahan, M., Ritter, A. Intangible outcomes from a policy change: using contingent valuation to quantify potential stigma from a cannabis offence. J Exp Criminol 10, 59–77 (2014).

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