In 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared a new war on drugs in the US and Canada followed suit. This began a new era of drug prohibition and law enforcement (Erickson 1992:254). The drug scare of the 1980s, which was driven by politics and re-enforced by the media, led to the development of the Canadian Drug Strategy, which was first implemented in 1987. As part of the new drug strategy, a committee was formed to draft new legislation (Tooley 1999:35).

Almost 10 years later, in June of 1996, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Bill C8) was voted into law. Riley and Oscapella (1996) state that Bill C-8, is technically a ‘health bill’ but "its punitive focus suggests that it is in fact criminal law, continuing and expanding Canada's strictly prohibitionist approach to the possession as well as the trafficking of numerous substances. This law, like the old one, will result in the continued misdirection of resources, the criminalization of drug users, and the unnecessary infection, and death, of many Canadians" (p. 181). Drug laws continue to be too punitive and distract Canadians from looking at the underlying reasons that people abuse drugs. In a brief written by Line Beauchesne entitled "What Do We in Canada Want?" she states:

Recurrent use of the criminal law to maintain a policy is considered to signify a failure of its content, an absence of consensus among those affected by the policy, or lack of sufficient government support to ensure its implementation. To view criminal law as a component of a policy and not an exceptional measure amounts to accepting the legitimacy of violence as a fundamental aspect of the government's role and a means of forcing the public to comply with its decisions (Beauchesne 2000:2).

The next section presents a framework for analyzing the relationship between drugs and crime that shows that punitive drug laws are a major source of harms to Canadian society.


According to Goldstein (1985), drugs and violence can be related through three distinct processes: psychopharmacological, economic compulsive, and systemic (p. 143). I will show that this same framework can be used to explore the relationship between the prohibition of illicit drugs and violence/crime. I will use Goldstein’s framework to demonstrate that criminalizing illicit drugs creates more “criminals” and costs more money than the use of illicit drugs themselves.

The Psychopharmacological Link

Goldstein describes the psychopharmacological link between drugs and violence as the fact that some individuals, after prolonged use of certain substances, may become excitable or irrational, which can lead to violent behavior. He equates this behavior with substances such as alcohol, stimulants, barbiturates and PCP. He argues that although the use of opiates does not normally produce violent behaviors, sometimes withdrawal from opiates may lead to violence (Goldstein 1985:145). A recent study by Brochu et al. (2001) states that half of the prisoners in Canadian federal prisons reported that they did not consume alcohol or use drugs on the day they committed their most serious crime (p. 22). However, 21% of the prisoners consumed alcohol, 16% used illicit drugs, and 13% used a combination of both. Of those who committed violent crimes, the most common substance consumed was alcohol (without drugs). The violent crimes included assault (38%), murder (31%) or sexual assault (30%) (p. 22). A study conducted by Pernanen, Cousineau, Brochu and Sun (2002) suggested that "…the proportion of crimes committed by federal and provincial inmates that are attributed to the use of alcohol and /or illicit drugs in Canada was estimated as being between 40% and 50%. 1 From these data is it clear that alcohol, which is not considered an illicit substance, has more of a connection with violence then illicit drugs do.

1 “There are two major ways in which illicit drugs and alcohol are causally linked to the commission of crimes in this study. First, the proportion of violent crimes attributable to alcohol or drugs was estimated by taking percentage of inmates convicted of a crime who reported (a) that they were intoxicated at the time of the crime, and (b) that they would not have committed the crime had they not been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time. Second, a proportion of crimes attributable to alcohol or drug use were estimated from the percentage of inmates convicted of a crime who (a) reported that they had committed the crime to obtain drugs or alcohol and (b) who were rated as alcohol or drug dependent. Between 10% and 15% are attributed to illicit drugs only, between 15% and 20% are attributed to alcohol only, and 10% to 20% are attributed to both alcohol and illicit drugs" (Pernanen et al. 2002:9).