AINE HARRINGTON MORE than 80% of Scotland's young people believe cannabis should be legalised, according to the System Three poll for The Herald. A total of 51% of the 18 to 24-year-olds polled said the drug should be legalised solely for medical purposes, and a further 31% of the same group said it should be legalised for general use. This is an increase in the last System Three poll carried on the same issue in October 1999 for this newspaper, when just 51% of young adults said the drug should be legalised, whether for medical or recreational purposes. Only 15% of the group questioned in this latest survey did not want to see the sale of cannabis made legal for whatever reason, while 4% said they did not know. However, anti-drugs campaigners pointed out that the 15% figure and the 51% prepared only to see the drug legalised for medical purposes combined to make two-thirds against legalisation for recreational use. Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs said: "This is a very important reading of the System Three poll, which shows the vast majority of young people are not in favour of legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. "Just a few weeks ago, there were two marches in Glasgow: 200 people turned up for the pro-cannabis rally, but a very clear indication of what the vast majority of Scots feel is that 20,000 got out of their beds on a Sunday morning to take part in the anti-drugs march. "If people believed in legalising cannabis, they would have turned out to the other event." On the question of whether cannabis should be legalised for general use, support tails off outwith the 18 to 24-year-old group. Generally, the older the respondent was, the more likely he or she was to oppose legalisation of the drug. Only 20% of 25 to 34-year-olds surveyed favour the drug being legalised for general use; support falls to 18% among 35 to 44-year-olds; only 13% of the 45 to 54-year-old group; 7% of 55 to 64-year-olds; and just 3% of those in the 65-plus category. The poll comes as debate intensifies over whether cannabis should be legalised. Some, including Keith Halliwell, the drugs czar, and many police officers are opposed to the drug being legalised, believing it could be a "gateway drug" leading to harder substances. However, pro-legalisers rebut this and claim that most of the 750,000 Scots who are estimated to have taken drugs would have smoked cannabis, yet very few had gone on to become addicts. Tommy Sheridan, MSP and leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, who believes that cannabis should be decriminalised, said: "If you look at the 18 to 24-year-old age profile, then they are a higher number who want cannabis legalised. With such a high proportion of this age profile for legalisation, it is, in my opinion, inevitable that cannabis in the future will be licenced, regulated, and for legal sale." But anti-drugs campaigner Maxie Richards said she could weep for children who "aren't been told of the damaging consequences of cannabis". She said yesterday: "I regularly visit schools to talk about drugs and I have found that not one child I speak to knows about what cannabis can do to them including damaging the development of their brains and damaging their immune system. "All they seem to wrongly know is that it cannabis is used by MS sufferers to alleviate their symptoms."