Central challenges in drug policy and control in western countries


First in this article I will write about drug policy history in western countries. Then it will show what drug policy challenges there are today.

1913 - An individual health problem

Traskmann writes about the history of drug politics.

In 1913 import and export of drugs was prohibited in Norway. In 1920 possession of drugs was banned. If you had drugs then you could get a sentence of 6 months in prison.

In 1929 cannabis was banned in Norway. The laws where present but they where ignored by the police. Almost nobody was taken for drug trafficking or use. The people who used drugs was seen as having an individual health problem. This is the way we look at alcoholism today, it's not illegal - it's an individual problem. Someone needs help.


In the 1960's young peope explored the world of drugs. They were different dressed, behaved differently, and had a different attitude. They wanted to experiment because it was exciting and something new. It was an adventure.

In 1968 the Drugs Act came, which meant that drug policy got another turn in Norway. The law was quickly taken into use by the police and many drug users where arrested. This created a severe pressure on the system. The police, judiciary and prisons had a lot of new people they had to deal with.

Politicians used the fight on drug for everything. They said that the drug was the fault of all that was wrong with the youth today. There was no politician who where pro drugs. Everyhone concluded that drug was a big social problem that had to be fought with use of the police.

1980 and 1990 - Treatment

In the 1980s the goverment wanted to treat addicts. The drug addicts were forced into compulsive treatment, where the idea was that they had to get rid of everything from their old life. This included burning their guitars, clothes and everyhing else from their old life.

In the 1990s a new idea came in to the western countries. The idea was that drug addicts should be able to live with drugs while at the same time be a part of society. The solution was assisted drug treatment, where you got what you needed from the state. The drug addicts got their daily fix from the farmecies. This caused the crime rate to drop because drug addicts didn't have to do crime to get money for their next dose.

Consequences for police, judiciary and prisons

The drug policy had enormous consequences for police, judiciary and prison. Within the police and prosecution you got a huge amount of cases. This was solved by settling the cases with fines rather than with arrests.

About 65 % of prisoners todah are addicted to drugs. This is supported by Paul Larsson. He says that the inmates in our prisons are men, with school problems and substance abuse problems. The drug policy thus had consequences for the prison system. They had to deal with the inmates that had substance abuse problems.

There were changes in police investigation also because of drug policy. New investigative methods were introduces. The police started with bugging rooms. This method quickly spread to other parts of the police, and thus these new investigative methods were standardized. The use of them was irreversible.

Many of the addicts perceived street punishment by the police. The addicts were harassed and some even got drug planted on them.

Liv Finstads has written an article about "Stop and search". She found out that the police used words like "slob" about the drug addicts. The police uses Stop and search to look for someone that doesnt fit in. It may be time, place or person who does not fit in. When they see a drug addict they will immediately stop him and ask him out.
    "Where have you been, where are you going, what are you in the bag?"
This only applies to the person, not to the actions that the person have done.

Ida Nafstad underlines that discrimination of drug addicts also takes place today. She have followed drug addicts in Oslo and interviewed to them. In her study she found out that they follow drug addicts where unwanted by society. This was noticeable in shopping malls, train stations and cafes.

At the shopping malls the security guards are the bosses. They dont want drug addicts there because they svare the customers. At the train stations it is so bad that the addicts must show the security guards their train ticket, that is if they are lucky enough to buy one before they are trown out by a security guard. They often need to be accompanied by a helper from the Church to get the ticket. At the coffe houses the addicts know that they are not welcomed so they dont even try. This causes them to discriminate themselves, thinking "What's the point of trying?".

You can draw paralels from the drug control to how we control foreigners. Here it has come to our point of view that we look at the person and not what the person do.

It all reminds me of broken windows. A zero-tolerance model where everything annoying is unwanted by society. We forget the human side of the drug politics. We forget that drug addicts are also part of society.

The amount of drug use is the same for rich parts of cities as poor parts of cities. So if the police only arrests poor people, then the laws are wrong. The challenges here are as Liv Finstad says about Stop and search: it can not look through walls. Those with high socioeconomic status can also use drugs. It's easier to arrest the people that the police easily can spot. It is accepted to arrest those with low socioeconomic status because there is no one who speaks their case.

The Attorney General of the police came up with new guides stating that the police should not make arrests of the hardest drug users. This reduced the number of arrests but the police are still set to make some arrests.

Liv Finstad wrote about various police patrol types. We have the Action Patrol, Responsibility Patrol, Service Patrol and the Pragmatic Patrol. With this order from the Attorney General, it seems that the police made a shift from being the action patrol that wants to arrest drug users to the service patrol. They now want to help the addicts.

What police style you like the best is up to you to decide. The police can be autonomous and follow their own opinions, or they can be legal and follow all rules to the point.

The government's drug policy today sends out a double signal. On the one hand the police should help. On the other hand the fight on drugs continues with arrests. The laws show that drug use is punished very hard, compared to other crimes. Drug policy is still the same as it has been. It has not changed.

The US have a big drug problem. They account for 25% of the inmates worldwide, which is due to a increase in the number of inmates from the 1980s to today. The politics think that if you get drug addicts away from the street then they cannot commit new crimes. They serve long penalties. Some server 20-30 years for drug crimes.

It's often not the person's fault that he starts with drugs. Those who become addicted does so because there are things in society that fail. Everyone has to stand up for what they are, and what they have done. But we as a social have to look at the conditions young people grow up in.

If your parents have been in jail then the child conditions will not be healty. We have to think big and look at other measures that prevent young people from getting a substance problem. I wrote that in the 1960s people started to use drugs because it was exciting. Today you may say that addiction is used to dampen anxiety.

We must not forget that the youth do stupid things like me and you have done stupid things. The difference is that you and I have had a safety net that has taken care of us and sent us on the right course when we did the stupid things.

Instrumental performance

It is also reported on the radio that the police stops drug addicts on their way to the drug injection rooms. The police removes the drug addicts user doses and gives him a fine. By doing this the police makes an arrest, but they create new crime since the drug addict have to get the money to buy a new user dose. Perhaps it's a matter of the police that wants to solve crimes. Or maybe it's about the instrumental performance that Lars Holmberg writes about.

Lars Holmberg's instrumental performance distinguishes between actions that gives results and actions that are symbolic. The police do these actions against the audience / victims, colleagues and against the criminals. It's all a game and a drama.

The game between police and drug addicts consists in seeing one another and one knowing what is going to happen. The police asks where they have been, what they are up to. The audience follows what is happening. Perhaps the police takes the drug addicts user dose or maybe they leave him alone.

The drug policy has made this game a part of the culture. Everyone expects a drug addict to be stopped. And sometimes the police must actually make a arrest so that the police may report the crime statistics to the media. The police chief has to show how good the police have been, thus maintaining the confidence that the police do something.

Behavior, norm and enforcement theories

Ragnar Hauge wrote about basic criminological theories. They are behavior, norm and enforcement theories. These three theories look at different parts of society to explain the crimes. Behavior theory ooks at the individual person, the norm theory looks at the laws and the enforcement theory looks at how the laws are enforced.

In behavior theory criminologies want to investigate how behavior could affect crime. In 1912 in criminology was the lawyers errand boy. The lawyer asked the ciminologiest for scientific data for his cases.

Later it was the goverment that asked the criminologist. The goverment asked and the criminologist answered. One example was how the goverment could handle young people who had been in prison several times. The criminologist found out that there was something wrong with the inmates. The criminologist suggested that an appropriate punishment was a labor school. This could make the inmates become good citizens.

The causes of deviation and crime were investigated. Criminologist looked at the person and not on the actions. Liv Finstad calls this type of research for "Type-people research".

The main problem with the drug policy is that it has not worked in the years it has been in use. The reason is that it want to help and punish at the same time. Perhaps drug policy is the same as "Type-people research"? That it has its focus where it should not?

Some places, like in Los Angles, cannabis is legalized. It may seem that they have given up the fight against drugs here. But in other places, like Mexico, there is a full war on drugs. In future it is therefore very exciting to research how legalization abroad affects society. Drug policy is strict and it is so because of our culture.


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