Systemic Racism, Illegitimate Laws and an Uncritical Media: Obstacles to Drug Policy Reform


Introduction

This brief statement is an elaboration of points made on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition at the University of Victoria on February 4, 2015.

Systemic Racism Then and Now

In order for laws to be regarded as legitimate, they must have broad social consensus otherwise they will be ignored by sizable parts of the population. Our current legal prohibitions are fundamentally illegitimate because of their origins in 1922 without the benefit of science and without parliamentary debate on the topic. Cannabis was uncritically categorized as a “narcotic” in the schedule of prohibited drugs (N. Boyd, 1991; Senate of Canada Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, 2002).

While most of us are familiar with the term “racism” as a form of prejudging the attributes of others on the basis of physical traits, a more accurate term is “racialization” – the social process of creating a stigmatizing category through human interaction. We can witness racialization in media stories which link criminalized drugs to minorities. But this is nothing new.

A review of the historical record tells us that the laws were passed in the contemporary racist context of the day (S. C. Boyd & Carter, 2014). Cannabis and opiate laws were supported by linking “dangerous drugs” to Chinese labourers who settled in Vancouver after the completion of the transnational railway. Race riots occurred in Vancouver in 1887 and 1907 which prompted McKenzie King, the Minister of Labour, to spearhead the criminalization of opiates in 1908. The Senate of Canada Special Committee on Illegal Drugs (2002) quotes King as follows:

[T]here are Chinese dens in Vancouver where opium is smoked and unspeakable infamies are practised, and no matter how meek and mild your Chinaman may look, no matter how gentle his voice or confiding his manner, Saturday night is almost certain to find him ‘doped’ in his bunk, weaving dreams under the poppy’s subtle spell (p. 211).

This racialization was also transmitted through the media in popular magazines and books such as Magistrate Emily Murphy’s (1922) book, The Black Candle.  She writes that

[p]ersons using this narcotic [marijuana] smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under its influence, are immune to pain, and could be severely injured without having any realization of their condition. While in this condition they become raving maniacs and liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility. When coming under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power and their mental is that of idiots. If the drug is indulged in any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of the addict (pp. 332-333).

In the United States, the racist practices of drug control are far more insidious than in Canada. In her landmark book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander (2012) documents centuries of legal practices to keep African Americans “in their place”, from the era of slavery and lynching to contemporary practices such as judicially unsupervised policing, prosecutorial discretion, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the indelible penalties arising from being a “felon” in post-prison life. These systematic practices similarly affect Hispanics and Mexicans.

Canadians may today believe that we’ve transcended earlier racist sentiments, or are more socially inclusive than our neighbours to the south. However, Susan Boyd and Connie Carter argue in Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media and Justice (2014) that racism is alive and well in today’s media, largely due to the police and other vocal guardians of middle-class morality. Chinese, Italians, Jamaicans , Vietnamese, Aboriginal people, Asians, Hispanics and “outlaw motorcycle gangs” have been differentially blamed for the “drug problem” throughout the past 110 years.  These people are portrayed as “them” who are a threat to “us”, even though it’s large numbers of  the latter group who pay for and consume illicit drugs.

While racism is endemic in public discussions of drug use, a fundamental problem is that the criminalization of cannabis violates one of the most basic principles for making laws.

Illegitimate Laws

Our laws are founded on principles which must be honoured by the state, otherwise they will be widely seen as illegitimate. The British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), argued in On Liberty ((1859) 2012) “that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” Our government cannot defend laws against marijuana by claiming that it harms others because there is no evidence to support such a claim. The problems associated with marijuana are created by the demand for a black market product. Drive-by shootings, “grow-rips”, grow-ops with children present,  and a host of other evils are the result of illegitimate, racist laws.

Health Canada defends cannabis laws on the basis of harms which may occur to heavy smokers of the plant. For a comprehensive review of the effects of marijuana based on hundreds of studies, see “What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?” (Hall, 2015). Using the results from longitudinal studies which track children from birth to adulthood, Hall concludes that with acute or severe use a) “cannabis does not produce fatal overdoses as do opioids; b) there is a doubling of the risk of car crashes if cannabis users drive while intoxicated. This risk increases substantially if users also consume intoxicating doses of alcohol; c) maternal cannabis use during pregnancy modestly reduces birth weight” (p. 30; italics added). There are harms associated with marijuana for some people, but nothing which cannot be regulated much like we do with tobacco and alcohol (and with varying degrees of success, as argued later).

The science reviewed by Hall (2015) concludes that “regular cannabis users can develop a dependence syndrome, the risks of which are around 1 in 10 of all cannabis users and 1 in 6 among those who start in adolescence”. This same group “double[s] their risks of experiencing psychotic symptoms and disorders, especially if they have a personal or family history of psychotic disorders, and if they initiate cannabis use in their mid-teens”. To repeat, this is a group of regular or chronic users who are more likely to experience these effects. It does not apply to occasional or recreational users but the law, however, punishes them equally.

Hall (2015) also finds that “regular adolescent cannabis users have lower educational attainment than  non-using peers” (p. 30), largely because of a lower IQ – about 8 points below the mean, or one-half of a standard deviation below their peers (p. 24). Important qualifications are made about this finding:

[T]hese effects on IQ were found only in the small proportion of cannabis  users who initiated in adolescence and persisted in daily use throughout their 20s and into their 30s. No effects were found in those who initiated later or in daily users who ceased use earlier in adulthood” (Hall, 2015, p. 24 emphasis added).

That cannabis may be harmful to members of vulnerable groups is an argument for its regulation, not criminalization. Our present laws create the market conditions where dosage and quality are unknown; marijuana must be purchased in a black market run by criminal organizations. There is a growing body of research which shows that increased drug law enforcement is associated with higher rates of gun violence and higher homicide rates in Canada (British Columbia Centre for Health Excellence, 2010; Kerr, Small, & Wood, 2005; Stop the Violence BC Coalition, 2011; Werb et al., 2011).

An Uncritical Media

A major obstacle to reforming our cannabis laws are vested bureaucratic interests, mostly in law enforcement but also include a cadre of lawyers with lucrative contracts with the federal government to prosecute cannabis offences (Oneil, 2002). The status quo rewards police with human and material resources, prestige, and the imagery of “expertise” – despite the relatively low educational requirements for entry into its ranks (e.g., the Mounties do not require Grade 12 for new recruits). There are a few academics who engage in paid research for the RCMP and supports the latter’s drug-enforcement agenda (S. C. Boyd & Carter, 2014, pp. 64, 134) or, in the past, have undermined public health initiatives which address opiate addiction (Fournier, 2008; Stueck, 2008).

To whom does the media generally contact for information on drugs? The nearest police spokesperson is only a phone call away, or police news releases can be uncritically accepted as “facts”. Unbiased and in-depth investigative journalism is expensive, and very few news sources meet the quality of The Guardian. Many journalists don’t know the difference between the merits of a single study, a review of the scientific literature, or a meta-analysis such as Hall’s (2015) recent assessment of cannabis and health outcomes. Not surprisingly, the public can be misinformed with conflicting information on the nature and scope of the so-called “drug problem”.

Repeated over and over, the media’s message is about marijuana being linked to dangers of drive-by shootings, life-threatening conditions in grow-ops (from poor wiring, mold, weapons, explosives, booby-traps), and declining property values. It’s not long before many Canadians are sufficiently indoctrinated to believe the official discourse of racialized drug myths. In reference to their content analysis of media stories on marijuana grow-ops, Boyd and Carter (2014) argue that

[w]hat remains striking over the 15 year span of our media project is the hyperbole and unsubstantiated claims about marijuana grow ops and organized crime expressed by a small group of spokespeople, mostly RCMP, police, and some government officials, and reported, for the most part uncritically, by the print media.… Yet internationally and at home, a wealth of research points to prohibitionist drug policy and law-and-order initiatives as fuelling the drug market… There is no empirical evidence demonstrating that harsh drug laws and penalties deter marijuana production or any other type of drug offense. Indeed, a growing body of scientific research reveals that drug prohibition and increases in drug law enforcement result in higher rates of drug market violence and fail to reduce the prevalence of drug use (p. 113; emphasis added).

Evidence-based success in controlling the deadliest drug (tobacco)

Canada appears to have excellent health policy outcomes to address the 40,000 annual deaths attributed to tobacco use. Through regulation and public education, we have achieved remarkable results in deterring young people from becoming addicted to the narcotic found in tobacco. (Nicotine is a narcotic while cannabis is not.)

According to Health Canada, in 1985 35% of 15-19 year olds were tobacco smokers. In 2012, only 16% of the same group were smokers. For youth aged 20-24, 43% were smokers in 1985, but in 2012 only 20% of this age group smoked tobacco. This worthwhile health objective has been met without arresting anyone for possessing, trafficking, or producing tobacco. It appears that tobacco regulation, compulsory packaging with disturbing imagery, and education in our schools have resulted in noteworthy gains for all Canadians.

LEAP Lobbies for an end to Prohibition

LEAP does not endorse any particular policy for stopping the war on drugs. We are committed to lobbying for an end to the waste and human suffering associated with anachronistic drug law policies. However, we are aware of the positive outcomes where prohibition policies have been replaced with health models (Economist, 2009; McCaffery, 2010).

The positive health outcomes with respect to tobacco control might be applied to a regulated cannabis market. While the details have to be worked out, cannabis can be sold to adults through government-regulated and supervised agents. Education directed at young people about all psychoactive substances must be informed by science and delivered by qualified teachers. New policies should be informed and updated by continuous evaluation research from jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized or decriminalized (e.g., Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Portugal, etc.). In this way we can move towards more humanitarian and effective drug policies.

References

Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow. New York: New Press, The.

Boyd, N. (1991). High society: legal and illegal drugs in Canada. Toronto, Ont: Key Porter Books.

Boyd, S. C., & Carter, C. (2014). Killer weed: marijuana grow ops, media, and justice. Toronto [Ontario]: University of Toronto Press.

British Columbia Centre for Health Excellence. (2010). Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review.  March 2010. from http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/publications/effect-drug-law-enforcement-drug-related-violence-evidence-scientific-review-icsdp-repo

Fournier, S. (2008). Insite report slammed; AIDS expert calls RCMP study ‘bogus’. The Province p. A.16.

Hall, W. (2015). What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use? Addiction (Abingdon, England), 110(1), 19-35. doi: 10.1111/add.12703

Kerr, T., Small, W., & Wood, E. (2005). The public health and social impacts of drug market enforcement: A review of the evidence. International Journal of Drug Policy, 16(4), 210-220. doi: DOI 10.1016/j.drugpo.2005.04.005

McCaffrey, H. (2010). A bitter pill to swallow: Portugal’s lessons for drug law reform in New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, 40(4), 771.

Mill, J. S. ((1859) 2012). On Liberty. Lanham: Start Publishing LLC.

Murphy, E. F. (1922). The Black Candle. Toronto T. Allen.

Oneil, P. (2002). B.C. law firms raked in a disproportionate chunk of business. National Post, p. 1.

Senate of Canada Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. (2002). Cannabis: Our position for a Canadian public policy; Summary Report.  Ottawa.

Stop the Violence BC Coalition. (2011). How Not to Protect Community Health and Safety: What the Government’s own Data say about the Effects of Cannabis Prohibition (Vol. 2). Vancouver, B.C.

Stueck, W. (2008). AIDS researcher blasts RCMP for undermining Insite. The Globe and Mail, p. A.8.

Treating, not punishing; Portugal’s drug policy. (2009). The Economist, 392(8646), 43. http://www.economist.com/node/14309861

Werb, D., Rowell, G., Guyatt, G., Kerr, T., Montaner, J., & Wood, E. (2011). Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence: A systematic review. International Journal of Drug Policy, 22(2), 87-94. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2011.02.002

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Benefits of Legalizing Cannabis


These links to go to news sites or academic articles which support the case for repealing cannabis laws. An asterisk (*) means that the story is either academic research or is based upon it.


Legalization and increased cannabis use

Impact on crime and criminal organizations

Economic impact of legal cannabis

Physical and psychological health effects

Government of Canada

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Solutions to Crime, Part 1: Peacekeeping Canada


Photo credit: US Navy "Creative Commons" license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Peacekeeping for the Public Good

In my last post, I suggested that there are features shared by the RCMP and the Hells Angels. Both are identifiable organizations or “gangs” which attract young people by offering excitement, camaraderie and the prospect of status and material rewards. Canada can fund its own gang several times larger than our national police force through “incentivized” military service. Done properly, this national organization can draw recruits by appealing to young people’s social and individual needs. Here’s what it can look like…

While students are in Grade 10, they are offered an opportunity to join the military as peacekeepers, provided they satisfactorily complete Grade 12. Volunteers will join “peacekeeping cadets”, showing up on Saturday mornings and at least one evening a week at a designated school or other public facility. They will be provided initial training in first aid, rescue, and survival skills in mock situations. The prospect of becoming full-time members of Peacekeeping Canada (PC) after graduation must be reinforced during their last two years of high school. At about age 15, this opportunity will counteract the short time horizons which are characteristic of many youth in this developmental stage. Above all, their training experiences must be meaningful and led by role models who are competent educators. Once students graduate from high school, they are offered these incentives in exchange for a two-year commitment Peacekeeping Canada:

  • Bi-weekly pay at minimum wage and residency in existing barracks or those which can be renovated or constructed by the first cohorts of peacekeepers.
  • The prospect of earning a two-year “Apprenticeship Diploma” in applied fields such as solar and wind-based power generation, electronics, construction, hazardous waste collection, parks and recreation maintenance, fisheries, forestry, or agriculture, subject to local opportunities.
  • Applied experience as peacekeepers who have as their mandate the protection of the environment, enhancing public space, and other worthwhile projects.
  • Travel to other parts of Canada for public works or for providing assistance in emergencies such as floods and tornadoes.
  • A bonus of $10,000 for completion of the two-year program and paid tuition the first two years of university or a four-year trade program. The second two years of education would be funded with low-interest or interest-free loans. Alternatively, graduates can remain with the Peacekeepers and fulfill leadership and training roles without the requirement to live in residency.

The two-year experience will focus on developing interpersonal skills, cooperative activities with teams and groups, engaging in worthwhile local community activities, health awareness, and physical fitness. Peacekeeping leaders will reinforce the values of cooperation and facilitate supportive communication. A sense of personal responsibility and service to Canada must be a salient feature of recruit’s education and applied training.

The benefits returned by PC would be in the form of lower crime rates, health costs and increased tourism as nation-wide public works improvements add value to Canada’s natural environment and urban spaces. The money earned by the recruit’s labour will be circulated back into local economies rather than being “outsourced” like the practice in many private sector companies.

The logistics of this plan must be addressed, but some general guidelines for implementation could include:

  • Local direction of Peacekeeping Canada’s  public works through provincial boards of directors which include partnerships with the private sector;
  • Continual and ongoing evaluation of the two-year peacekeeping service in terms of implementation and outcome of recruits and benefits to local economies;
  • Funding for Peacekeeping Canada will come from taxing profits made through currency exchanges, much like the “Tobin Tax” as proposed by Noble Laureate James Tobin in 1972 and recently endorsed by Bill Gates.

The cost of Peacekeeping Canada can also be supplemented through hemp farming, manufacturing and sales. That’s Part 2 in a five-part series of ideas for dealing with crime in Canada, forthcoming.

– John

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RCMP and Hells Angels: Not as Different as We Think!


A lawyer practicing in Nanaimo once told me, “There’s only two gangs in town. One has a clubhouse and the other has a headquarters”.

The lawyer’s views were informed by what he considered to be the group’s ability to avoid convictions for breaking the law. When I later thought about what he said, the similarities between the organizations stirred my sociological imagination. As outrageous as the comparison may seem, there’s an element of truth to his comparison. Consider, for example, the following elements of these two social groups:

  • Both can be identified through their highly visible ‘uniforms’ which display paramilitary symbols and nomenclature indicating the organizational rank and status of their members.
  • The RCMP crest and Hells Angels insignia are copyright protected.
  • The RCMP and HA have fortress-style work/meeting places which exclude members of the public except on official business or by invitation.
  • Both groups elicit public deference – if not a certain element of fear.
  • Each group has a sophisticated process to screen membership. Members can be sanctioned by the group for rule infractions, up to and including banning members.
  • Both groups have a process for evicting members for breaking the rules – even if they not broken the law.
  • The groups have public events (e.g., the RCMP Musical Ride and Nanaimo’s ‘Angels Acres’) to generate public support and funds for their respective organizations.
  • The Mounties and the HA have public relations designates who speak on behalf of their organizations.
  • Both groups have internal, specialized elite squads which protect key leaders (e.g., the ‘Nomads’ and Prime Minister Harper’s RCMP security detail).
  • Some young men aspire to members of either group, attracted to the social status and potential for upward mobility within the organizations.
  • Both groups raise money for charity (e.g., “Cops for Cancer” and participation with a Christmas “toy ride”).
  • Both organizations claim their members are generally law-abiding except for the occasional “bad apple”.
  • Both groups use force, including lethal force, to achieve their respective organizational mandates.
  • Members of each group are relatively insulated from conviction for homicides involved in the course of their activities.
  • The groups both stage ‘memorial rides’ for their ‘fallen members’.

The greater lesson in this list of similarities is that there is something which attracts people to groups which offer camaraderie, public respect, and material security. The “gang”, broadly conceived, can be any identifiable status group including teachers, physicians, professors, and trades people such as mechanics and electricians (and their respective unions or professional organizations).

The sense of belonging and identity which gangs offer people can be developed to help foster a safer community. More on that topic in my next post: How compulsory military service will drive crime downward and foster healthy communities.

My apologies if I have offended members of either group with this comparison.

Posted in organized crime, Police, RCMP | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Hole: Canadian Mining Corporations


Caution: The Hole is a documentary which will make you angry.

The National Film Board’s documentary, The Hole, chronicles the history of mining in Ontario, specifically around the Sudbury region where Inco made its fortunes. The most dramatic take-away lessons we learn are:

  • Mining companies actively suppressed the unionization of their employees for 40 years.  This included hiring thugs from a private police force operated by Pinkerton’s in the USA.
  • Mining corporations have done far  more long-term harm to the Canadian environment than any benefits they’ve delivered to the country, save the incomes which they are forced to pay employees.
  • Mining corporations are “above the law” and evade any responsibility for the toxins which are discharged in the air, water and land.
  • Local politicians are powerless to stop the corporate harms generated by multinational mining companies.
  • Federal politicians, past and present, allow mining companies to act with impunity through “limited liability“. This means that no matter how high the financial costs are to clean up after harmful mining operations, corporations are not liable for those costs. It falls on taxpayers to subsidize these global corporations.
  • The public dissemination of these harms was done through Canada’s National Film Board, one of the few outlets for public broadcasting in the Western world. The NFB is not dependant on corporate revenues through advertising.

Find out more about The Hole at http://www.nfb.ca/film/hole_story/

Posted in Canadian mining companies, corporate crime, State Crimes | Leave a comment

Scott Newark Misleads Canadians about Crime


Who is Scott Newark? “Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown prosecutor and executive officer of the Canadian Police Association. He is the author of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s recent study Why Canadian Crime Statistics Don’t Add Up: Not The Whole Truth.” (from the National Post). 

Scott Newark gives voice to a selective reading and presentation of crime data which includes, among other things, that crime rates are far more onerous than what Statistics Canada measures in their victimization studies.

Aside from a selective use of information, Newark uses alarmist language to frighten and mislead readers in his public writings. Here’s a sample of his manipulation of crime information:

Newark: “Canadians can be excused for being confused about the amount of crime in their society. Last year produced horrific scenes of people being murdered and their bodies dismembered, several executions in public places in Toronto, and the media reporting that shootings and stabbings in different cities are on the increase.”

  • Fact: “In 2009, the vast majority (93%) of Canadians aged 15 years and older living in the provinces said they felt satisfied with their personal safety from crime.”
  • Fact: “Most Canadians said they felt safe at night. About 83% of Canadians said that they were not at all worried when home alone in the evening. Of those who walked alone in their neighbourhood at night, 90% said they felt safe doing so.”
  • Fact: “Almost two-thirds (62%) of Canadians believed that the amount of crime in their neighbourhood was the same compared to 5 years earlier, while one-quarter (26%) felt that it had increased.”

Source: Statistics Canada Study: Perceptions of personal safety and crime, 2010.

  • Fact: In 2011, Canada experienced its lowest rate of firearm homicides in 50 years.

Source: Statistics Canada: Homicide in Canada, 2011

Newark: “Statistics Canada also conducts a survey of whether Canadians were victims of crime. These results for 2009 show a huge discrepancy with the amount of crime reported to police. In 2009, 7.4 million Canadians reported they were victims of at least one of the eight specific crimes covered by the survey, compared with the police count of only two million total crimes.”

  • Fact: ““Victims of violent and household crime had reasons for not reporting the incident to the police. The most common reasons were believing that the incident was not important enough (68%), followed by thinking there was nothing the police could do to help (59%). Other reasons included having dealt with the situation in another way (42%) and feeling that the incident was a personal matter (36%).”

Source: Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009

Newark: “The public is increasingly reluctant to report crime to the police, partly out of fear of retribution from criminals and partly out of frustration with falling rates of crime being solved by the police.”

  • Fact: Newark has produced no evidence to support this claim.

Newark: “[O]ver the past four decades, the solve rate for murders has fallen from 95 per cent to 75 per cent, and is less than 50 per cent for gang-related killings. This growing reluctance to report crime to police leads to erroneous headlines that “crime is down.” The real headline should read: “Canadians’ reporting of crime hits an all-time low.”

  • Fact: “Police are solving more crimes than in the past. The weighted clearance rate rose for the seventh consecutive year to 39.4% in 2010, up from 33.5% in 2003. This measure represents the proportion of reported crimes solved by police, factoring in the seriousness of individual offences.”

Source: Statistics Canada, “Police service clearance rates, 2010”.

Posted in Crime Rates, Media and Crime, Police | 2 Comments

Drug Control in Guyana


Sent to the Stabroek News on April 28 2013

Dear Editor,

I am a criminologist who came to Guyana for 10 days last month to visit friends in the Corentyne area. I am also a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) which is an international group of current and former peace officers who are dedicated to drawing attention to the devastating consequences of drug prohibition. I made several observations during my trip which do not bode well for Guyana’s efforts to control the global drug trade.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Guyanese people, there were two events which we found quite disturbing. Both involved being stopped on the Rupert Craig Highway by heavily armed men. Had it not been for our driver who quickly identified them as military personnel or, on the second occasion, as police officers, we had no way of knowing that the intervention was legally sanctioned.

Remarkably, as soon as my wife and I were identified as “Caucasians” at these roadblocks, we were waived through with no further questions. Therefore, if one wants to transport drugs through Guyana, it seems that criminal organizations need only to include Caucasians as passengers in vehicles containing contraband. However, that is not my main point.

The roadblocks and other deterrence-based strategies which are currently intended to deter drug traffickers will not prevent drugs from entering and leaving Guyana, nor will they have an impact on the number of domestic drug users.

The Canadian experience with drug control strategies, modeled after the United States, has focused almost exclusively on deterring the supply side of drugs for nearly 100 years. By official accounts, including two Senate reports by our federal government, the laws are an unmitigated failure and waste of taxpayer’s money.

Marijuana has become more plentiful, potent and cheaper since its criminalization in 1919. Our government has surrendered its control of the cannabis trade to armed thugs who engage in public turf wars at considerable risk to by-standers. Law enforcement efforts to control drugs have only short-term results and set the conditions for further violence as gangs continually fight over market share.

According to recent polls, residents in my province (British Columbia) are in support of legalizing marijuana to be sold through licensed, private vendors, much like the state of Washington which borders our province. The criminalization of marijuana is rapidly losing public support.

As an alternative to a so-called “war on drugs”, we might learn from one of Canada’s most successful drug strategies against the deadliest substance of them all: tobacco.

Fewer Canadian youth are smoking than ever before. Tobacco is tightly regulated in Canada. It cannot be sold to minors, advertised in print or electronic media, and retailers must hide tobacco products behind opaque screens. Consistent public education messages in our schools warns students of the hazards of tobacco but leaves the decision about smoking to them without any risk of arrest for their choices.

Our drug policies to deter the use of tobacco products are showing signs of success. These lessons involving strict marketing controls and education for youth can be employed to control other psychoactive substances. The outcome will be a reduction in the demand for drugs and criminal organizations will no longer control their supply.

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs | 1 Comment

The Immorality of Enforcing Marijuana Laws


The police should now admit that it is immoral for them to enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) as it pertains to marijuana. Laws must be justified on some moral basis in order for them to be supported by the public. Without support, our police lose the moral authority to enforce cannabis laws.

Over 70% of British Columbians support research to evaluate the regulation of cannabis (from an Angus Reid poll conducted earlier this month[1]). This measure of public opinion is consistent a similar poll conducted in the fall of 2012 which indicated that a majority of Canadians (57%) are ready to see marijuana legalized.

cannabis_leaf_cannabis-229px

The law enforcement community influences Canadian’s perceptions about the evils of marijuana, richly sprinkled with war metaphors, the portrayal of cannabis producers and smokers as deviants, and the resultant chaos should the public contemplate legally tolerant alternatives.

One of the challenges for the police is to convince those of us (especially parents) who lived through the 70s and 80s that today’s pot is “more harmful”. They frequently tell us that the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) is found in higher concentrations when grown under the tender care of hydroponic lights. There’s at least two problems with this claim.

First, the insistence that higher THC concentrations makes marijuana dangerous is like arguing that whiskey is more dangerous than beer because it contains proportionately more alcohol. Cannabis users will smoke less to enjoy the same effects – just like those of us who drink a smaller quantity of Scotch than wine but still achieve the same cognitive pleasures.

It’s a tragic irony that more Canadians have died or been injured from the enforcement of marijuana laws, than from any harms caused by the herb itself. The sporadic gun violence in Lower Mainland streets is the direct consequence of criminalizing a product which the public demands in a marketplace where the government has surrendered its controlling shares to the business of criminal organizations.

Secondly, the harms created by cannabis are the result of its legal status , not its pharmacological properties which, for most users, are relatively benign according to the research examined by our own Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in 2002. Any negative effects associated with cannabis can be mediated, according to a recent 2011 article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health by researchers with Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University.

The law creates opportunities for a  black market and endangers the lives of citizens and police. The law is wrong. The law itself must be seen as criminal because of its consequences and must not be enforced by the police.

To have impact on cannabis markets, Parliament must regulate the domestic cultivation of marijuana so that the incentive for organized crime evaporates, except perhaps for a black market to supply smokers south of the 49th Parallel (except in those states which have already legalized cannabis).

The morally preferable alternative to the current failure of our so called “drug war” would be for police to take a bold stand like that of RCMP Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry during Prohibition in 1917.

“No instruction whatsoever has been issued by me in regard to [enforcing prohibition],” he reminded his senior officers in Alberta. Unless otherwise notified, Perry told them unequivocally, prohibition “is not to be enforced by the Mounted Police”[2].

Declaring alcohol prohibition “unenforceable”, Commissioner Perry subsequently cancelled RCMP contracts to Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It’s unlikely that the same pronouncements about the abject failure of our drug laws will be heard from senior police officers anytime soon. Their interest is in advancing their careers and prestige in a police subculture where “takedowns” and “busting grow shows” get more kudos than informed political activism within the ranks. Consequently, we must elect politicians who promise to put an end to the violence associated with the unregulated distribution of cannabis.

According to the latest Angus Reid poll on the topic, 44% of respondents will have more favourable opinions of BC politicians who support “an ethically approved research study seeking to evaluate the impacts of a taxation (i.e., legalization) and regulation strategy to control adult cannabis use”.

Politicians can give back to the police some of their moral authority by not requiring them to enforce laws which cause far more harm than good.

It’s what we the people expect from you.


[1] The question went as follows:

Preamble. Many U.S. states are reforming their marijuana laws including Washington state, which has legalized the adult use of marijuana. British Columbia has experienced major unintended consequences resulting from marijuana prohibition including the proliferation of illegal marijuana grow ops and related organized crime concerns. Researchers in B.C. are interested to conduct a research trial to assess if a strictly regulated (i.e. legal) system for adult marijuana purchases could cut profits to organized crime, raise tax revenue and better protect young people from the free availability of marijuana that exists under prohibition. The study would be ethically and federally approved, involve a pilot site in one community, require key stakeholder support and be halted if unanticipated harms emerged.

Question 1. Do you support or oppose a B.C.research trial conducted by local experts and health scientists aiming to evaluate whether the taxation (i.e., legalization) and strict regulation of adult marijuana use could reduce profits to organized crime, raise tax revenue and better protect young people from the availability of marijuana that exists under prohibition?

[2] Rich Mole, Whisky Wars of the Canadian West: Fifty Years of Battles Against the Bottle, Heritage House, 2012, p. 78.

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs, Police | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Drug seizures in Nanaimo fail to stop trafficking


The recent seizure of drugs and weapons by Nanaimo RCMP does nothing to “disrupt supply” and won’t prevent more illicit drugs from entering the city.

girls smoking cannabis

The largest drug seizure in Canadian history took place in the year 2000 when 100 kilos of heroin were confiscated in Vancouver’s port.

Subsequent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2003 showed that, contrary to law-enforcement predictions, the price of heroin actually dropped in Vancouver.  A seizure of this magnitude had no impact on supply. Furthermore, the BC Coroner reported that the number of deaths attributable to heroin overdoses increased three months after the bust.

As a former correctional officer in a maximum-security prison, I witnessed drug use and near-fatal drug overdoses in the most restrictive environment which the law allowed. It’s hardly surprising that drug trafficking flourishes in open society where misguided laws created and now sustain a black market.

The utter failure of Canada’s drug prohibitionist polices to support health and safety is painfully repeated by the federal government’s willful blindness to decades of impartial research.  It is prohibition and not the drugs themselves which place the police and public at risk.

If we want to stop people from using deadly drugs, we should heed the successful regulatory and educational efforts by Health Canada to convince young people not to smoke tobacco.

A much smaller proportion of youth are smoking today than 30 years ago – all without putting a single person in jail.

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In search of Criminology’s Holy Grail


The disciplines of physics, astronomy and chemistry are rumored on the verge of discovering the “Higgs boson” particle – the essential element upon which the universe is comprised, based on experiments in the Large Hadron Collider. Biology has Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory as the uncontested paradigm to understand all living things, past and present. Current research in criminology is taking on a similar trajectory to identify that which is essential about crime or more specifically, criminality. Is criminology getting close to finding its own Holy Grail?

The paradigmatic shift from sociological to individual accounts of variation in criminal behaviour started with a landmark text by Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi (1990). Boldly titled, A General Theory of Crime, the authors reviewed decades of research and claimed that criminology could not identify its independent variable, mainly because it conflated crime (an event) with criminality (a propensity for antisocial behaviour). The cause of crime was simple: low self-control. Their book was initially scorned by many sociologists who believed that, ultimately, the structure of society drove otherwise good people into criminal behaviour and therefore, studying variance among individuals and their traits was partial at best. Even the wide differences between women and men in their propensities for deviant behaviour was deemed to be the result of “differential socialization” rather than innate differences between sexes. Despite the skeptical reception of A General Theory of Crime, low self-control theory has since stood the test of more than 300 published studies, most of which have lent support to its basic premises (Delisi & Vaughn, 2008).

The individual propensity to commit crime is thought by some to be associated with impulsivity or low self-control (Beaver & Boutwell, 2010; Piquero, Moffitt, & Wright, 2007; Raine et al., 2005). The origins of this trait are the outcome of a parenting style which fails to instill the necessary internal restraints in children before the age of eight. Parents or care-givers must monitor, recognize and punish a child through an explicit disapproval of the offending behaviour (but not corporal punishment). Rather than arguing, as do many sociologists, that certain urban areas characterized by social disorganization and high crime rates will motivate residents to break the law, the alternate thesis is that people with low self-control will self-select into these neighbourhoods; abundant criminal opportunities will be available for those with this attribute (Gibson, Sullivan, Jones, & Piquero, 2010).

The failure to restrain one’s impulses leads to adult crime but also other risk-taking, “analogous behaviours” such as smoking tobacco, heavy drinking, using illicit drugs, early pregnancy, and even a propensity for head injuries as the result of risky behaviour. Low self-control is difficult to ameliorate after adolescent years;  it is an enduring trait across the life-course. Its manifestation depends upon the opportunities which present themselves and most crime is trivial, carries high risks, and involves little planning (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Low self-control also has the potential to be transmitted from one generation to the next (Boutwell & Beaver, 2010) and its genetic transference is currently being studied  (Ferguson, 2010; Schnupp, Wright, Beaver, Delisi, & Vaughn, 2012).

A recent study by Terrie Moffitt and her associates has tracked almost every child born in in Dunedin, New Zealand from their birth (1972-73) to age 32 (Moffitt et al., 2011). The 1,037 members of this group have been evaluated every two years with health and psychological assessments, reports from the subjects themselves, their parents, and teachers. By age 11, the researchers had an index measure of each child’s level of self-control. Followed into adulthood, those with low self-control fared much more poorly than those with higher levels.

At age 32, those with low self-control had more problems with alcohol and drugs, were more likely to be single parents, have poorer health and more financial problems, and had been convicted for crimes. They were caught within the health and social consequences of decisions made earlier in life: “Adolescents  with low self-control  made  mistakes, such as starting smoking, leaving high school, and having an unplanned  baby, that could ensnare them in lifestyles with lasting ill effects” (Moffitt et al., 2011, p. 2697). The group displaying the greatest problems with impulsivity had “more of every type of mental health problem”  than others in a comparable group (Moffitt, Caspi, Harrington, & Milne, 2002, p. 192).

Ten percent of the cohort males in Moffitt et al.’s sample earned the label “life-course persistent” offenders – those who showed “stable, pervasive and extreme antisocial behaviour  in childhood plus extreme delinquent involvement in adolescence” (Moffitt et al., 2002, p. 197). They accounted for five times their share of the cohort’s violent offences and were more likely than others to display a psychopathic personality profile. This group also carried the highest load of childhood developmental risk factors, clearly demonstrating the relationship between neuropsychological deficits in their early years and socially destructive behaviour in adulthood.

Not surprisingly, people with low self-control contribute to higher costs for society. Hospital care, mental health services, income subsidies, and criminal justice expenses are disproportionately consumed by this group. It follows that society can save tens of millions of dollars by encouraging the development of internal controls in children if policy-makers make it easy – or the default choice – to do what is healthy. These are

so-called  “opt-out” schemes  that  tempt people to eat healthy food, save money, and obey laws by making these the default options that require no effortful self-control. If citizens were obliged to opt out of default health-enhancing programs or payroll-deduction  retirement savings schemes, individuals with low self-control should tend to take the easy option and stay in programs, because opting out requires unappealing  effort and  planning. (Moffitt et al., 2011, p. 2693).

 Lest we be tempted, it is short-sighted to blame parents for personal attributes most often correlated with crime and analogous behaviours. Impulsive behaviour in childhood and adolescence is one manifestation of Conduct Disorder (CD) which overlaps with the legal definitions of “delinquency”. CD is correlated with neuropsychological deficits as a consequence of brain trauma from things like fetal alcohol syndrome, maternal stress in the third trimester, low birth weight, or poor maternal nutrition and/or drug use during pregnancy (Beaver, Vaughn, DeLisi, & Higgins, 2010; Moffitt, 1993; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2011). In their early years, children born with these deficits are much more likely to suffer from Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which interferes with their ability to learn at the same pace as their non-affected classroom peers. Those children afflicted with CD often pose management problems in the classroom, are isolated by their peers, and end up doing poorly in school. In their early teenage years and without the proper interventions, they generally gravitate towards more serious law-breaking and by their early twenties, have been arrested, convicted and spent time in prison – a pattern that will repeat itself as they age into adulthood. The outliers in this cohort will be responsible for a significantly disproportionate share of violent crime (Denson, DeWall, & Finkel, 2012; Moffitt et al., 2002).

Has criminology found its Holy Grail? While it may be tempting to believe that low self-control is the main “cause of crime”, the theory and research on impulsivity misses a great deal. It has considerable difficulty explaining the motivation for individuals who are otherwise “normal” but use their corporate or government positions to victimize the public as consumers, shareholders, taxpayers, and employees.

The predatory personalities behind the Savings and Loan crisis in the United States (Calavita, Tillman, & Pontell, 1997), the 2001 Enron bankruptcy (Friedrichs, 2004), and the 2008 Wall Street crash (Nguyen & Pontell, 2010) were not forged within the families and neighbourhoods shared by street criminals. These men were cunning enough to risk the fortunes of other people’s money to make themselves wealthy in a relatively unsupervised environment (Prasch, 2012). The crooked activities of corporations reaches deeply into warfare (Chambliss, Michalowski, & Kramer, 2010; Rothe & Ross, 2010; Welch, 2009), including the illegal invasion of Iraq (Kramer & Michalowski, 2006). These are crimes of the power elite. It’s difficult to find explanations for their behaviour which focuses on individual pathologies like low self-control, although there is some recent evidence that these principal actors display the same personalities as do clinical populations of psychopaths (Babiak, Neumann, & Hare, 2010; Bakan, 2004; Ragatz, Fremouw, & Baker, 2012).

Criminology has not yet found an over-arching theory by which to explain the behaviours of those who inflict acts of force or fraud in the pursuit of self-interest, and in so doing, wreak more economic and physical harms than do common street criminals. Only when we have a theory that covers all forms of socially injurious conduct, and not just that which is criminalized by the state, can we lay claim to a “dominant paradigm”.

Our search continues.

References

Babiak, P., Neumann, C. S., & Hare, R. D. (2010). Corporate Psychopathy: Talking the Walk. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 28(2), 174-193. doi: Doi 10.1002/Bsl.925

Bakan, J. (2004). The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Toronto, Ont.: Penguin.

Beaver, K. M., & Boutwell, B. B. (2010). The Intergenerational Transmission of Low Self-control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(2), 174-209. doi: 10.1177/0022427809357715

Beaver, K. M., Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., & Higgins, G. E. (2010). The biosocial correlates of neuropsychological deficits: results from the national longitudinal study of adolescent health. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54(6), 878-894. doi: 10.1177/0306624×09345993

Boutwell, B. B., & Beaver, K. M. (2010). The Intergenerational Transmission of Low Self-control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(2), 174-209. doi: 10.1177/0022427809357715

Calavita, K., Tillman, R., & Pontell, H. N. (1997). The savings and loan debacle, financial crime, and the state. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 19-38.

Chambliss, W. J., Michalowski, R., & Kramer, R. C. (Eds.). (2010). State Crime in the Global Age: Willan Publishing.

Delisi, M., & Vaughn, M. G. (2008). The Gottfredson-Hirschi Critiques Revisited: Reconciling Self-Control Theory, Criminal Careers, and Career Criminals. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52(5), 520-537.

Denson, T. F., DeWall, C. N., & Finkel, E. J. (2012). Self-Control and Aggression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 20-25. doi: 10.1177/0963721411429451

Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Genetic Contributions to Antisocial Personality and Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review From an Evolutionary Perspective. Journal of Social Psychology, 150(2), 160-180.

Friedrichs, D. (2004). Enron et al.: Paradigmatic white collar crime cases for the new century. Critical Criminology, 12, 113–132.

Gibson, C. L., Sullivan, C. J., Jones, S., & Piquero, A. R. (2010). “Does It Take a Village?” Assessing Neighborhood Influences on Children’s Self-Control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(1), 31-62. doi: 10.1177/0022427809348903

Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kramer, R., & Michalowski, R. (2006). The invasion of Iraq. In R. J. Michalowski & R. C. Kramer (Eds.), State-corporate crime: Wrongdoing at the intersection of business and government. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers.

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). The neuropsychology of conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 5(1-2), 135-151. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400004302

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., . . . Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010076108

Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Harrington, H., & Milne, B. J. (2002). Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited anti-social pathways: Follow up at age 26 years. Developmental-Psychology and Psychopathology, 14, 179-207.

National Crime Prevention Centre. (2011). Youth At-Risk of Serious and Life-Course Offending: Risk Profiles, Trajectories, and Interventions Research Report: 2011-02. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/res/cp/res/2011-yar-eng.aspx

Nguyen, T. H., & Pontell, H. N. (2010). Mortgage origination fraud and the global economic crisis: A criminological analysis. Criminology & Public Policy, 9(3), 591-612. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2010.00653.x

Piquero, A. R., Moffitt, T. E., & Wright, B. E. (2007). Self-Control and Criminal Career Dimensions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23(1), 72-89. doi: 10.1177/1043986206298949

Prasch, R. E. (2012). The Dodd-Frank Act: Financial Reform or Business as Usual? Journal of Economic Issues, 46(2), 549-556.

Ragatz, L. L., Fremouw, W., & Baker, E. (2012). The Psychological Profile of White-collar Offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 39(7), 978-997. doi: 10.1177/0093854812437846

Raine, A., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Lynam, D. (2005). Neurocognitive Impairments in Boys on the Life-Course Persistent Antisocial Path. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114(1), 38-49.

Rothe, D. L., & Ross, J. I. (2010). Private Military Contractors, Crime, and the Terrain of Unaccountability. Justice Quarterly, 27(4), 593-617. doi: Pii 912497226

Schnupp, R., Wright, J. P., Beaver, K. M., Delisi, M., & Vaughn, M. (2012). Genes, Maternal Negativity, and Self-Control: Evidence of a Gene × Environment Interaction. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 10(3), 245-260. doi: 10.1177/1541204011429315

Welch, M. (2009). Fragmented power and state-corporate killings: a critique of blackwater in Iraq. Crime, Law and Social Change, 51(3), 351-364. doi: 10.1007/s10611-008-9169-6

Posted in Causes of Crime, Crime Prevention | 2 Comments