The psychopharmacological model linking drugs and crime is discredited by some because the subjects used in most studies are limited to people who have already come into conflict with the law. This is not the majority of people who are either using illicit substances or alcohol (Erickson 2001). One of the common misconceptions that many government and social agencies want us to believe (in order to maintain prohibitionist drug laws) is that illegal drugs cause violence and crime. This is clearly disputed by Patricia Erickson, a criminologist with the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. Erickson suggests that most criminals are people who prefer short term gratification. This helps explain why they become criminals. This same focus on short term gratification also leads them to use drugs (Gardner 2000). Ultimately, this leads to the misconception that drug use causes crime. In fact, although it may be true that a lot of “criminals” use drugs, the vast majority of drug use going on in the world is not happening by criminals (Gardner 2000). Brochu and Collins (1995) suggest that although many studies indicate that some people used illegal drugs the day they committed a crime, there is little empirical evidence to establish a direct causal link between crime, violence and the psychopharmacological effects of drugs. As one author states: “No drugs presently known will inevitably cause violence…it is the human and not the drug which acts violently” (Blum 1969:1467). What is clear though is that drug users need to obtain their drugs from an environment that is violent and where crime is inevitable (Riley 1998:15). This is the subject of the next section.
The Economic Compulsive Link
The second link between drugs and violence that Goldstein discusses is called the economic compulsive model. This model suggests that "[s]ome drug users engage in economically oriented violent crime…in order to support costly drug use. Heroin and cocaine, because they are expensive drugs typified by compulsive patterns of use, are the most relevant substances in this category" (Goldstein 1985:146). Although I believe that Goldstein is correct in stating that “gainful” or “acquisitiveness crimes” are committed by some drug users in order to support their habits, I do not believe that the majority of these crimes are violent in nature. Generally, when crimes are committed to get money for drugs, they are more likely to be property crimes such as theft from a car or home, selling drugs or prostitution rather than violent crimes like robbery or assault (Inciardi and Poteiger 1991). Due to the prohibition of drugs, prices are inflated significantly. This means that many people are not able to afford the quantity of drug they would like and subsequently become involved in crime to support their habits. Goldstein et al. (1989) suggests that drug users engaging in criminal activity usually try to avoid violence and tend to focus more on theft than robbery. Johnson et al. (1985) states that most “underclass” street addicts are found to be engaging in a wide range of activities that generate income including begging, borrowing, part-time work, collecting refundable products like bottles, bartering goods, and prostitution.
Many studies have documented that some illicit drug users commit “gainful crimes” in order to supply their habits (Pernanen et al. 2002:29). One study estimated that between 15% and 25% of illicit drug users were involved in committing gainful crimes. If we limit the denominator to ‘drug addicts,’ this proportion is probably closer to 50% (Pernanen et al. 2002). In a recent report from the Auditor General of Canada, it is estimated that 70% of the crime committed in Vancouver is related to illicit drug users trying to support their habits (Auditor General 2001:3).
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