A lot of research has been conducted into crime and the relationship between drugs as a cause or a result. It appears that the outcomes vary, due to many factors and to date, no particular theory has been able to address this issue appropriately. In addition, there is the argument on whether legalising drugs would significantly and positively impact the levels of crime. People commit crimes for various reasons so whether legalising drugs would have an impact or not, would appear to be quite difficult to research.
Drugs and crime
The media play an enormous role in defining the stereotypes we assign to criminals and drug users, perhaps even to the point of suggesting there is a solid link between the two. This is particular stronger with the constant barrage of reports regarding regular violence associated with drinking locations and popular city night spots. “Certain categories of licensed premises… are associated with increased likelihood of the risk of alcohol-related harm compared to others” (White et al, 2011: 201).
Risk factors include masculinity issues, copious drinking levels, environmental factors and extended alcohol-venue drinking hours, which may explain why “alcohol is the substance most often associated with the act of offending” (Putnins, 2001: 14). Government statistics reinforces the media’s version of events relating to alcohol and violence, so perhaps the same is the case with harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin and speed.
Surprisingly, “very few arrestees test positive for amphetamine use at the time of their arrest… although cocaine is the hard drug most commonly used by offenders during the commission of a crime” (Barton et al, 2011: 497). Although this information stems from our American counterparts, it could be likely that the reverse is experienced in Australia. Cocaine appears to be a drug associated with middle and higher classes, perhaps in the fashion, music or business industries but we generally don’t read about cocaine as a cause of crime, particularly when compared to the detrimental effects of heroin and speed within our communities.
“A study in Miami of 573 narcotics users found that they were responsible for almost 6,000 robberies, 6700 burglaries, 900 stolen vehicles, 25000 instances of shoplifting and 46,000 other events of larceny and fraud” (Inciardi, 1986). This would suggest that drugs indeed plays a very important role in crime but still fails to explain whether or not the crime is committed for the drugs or as a cause of ingesting it. “While drug use is certainly associated with offending behaviour, the exact nature of the relationship is unclear” (White et al, 2011: 221). It is difficult to pin point where and when drugs begin a relationship with a person, as some may have begun using during primary school, other’s until their late 20’s, making it a difficult scope to be tackled by a theory.
“Persistent offenders have engaged in a variety of illegal activities and troublesome conduct throughout their lifetimes, probably before extensive drug abuse” (Barton et al, 2011: 499). This has further enforced with the research conducted by Faupel who states “most heroin-addicted criminals were involved in crime before they became addicted… their criminal activity increases” (1991). Some juveniles may engage in minor crimes as an act of boredom, self-esteem, revenge or as a social status way before sampling drugs and particularly before becoming heavily engaged with an addiction. Many criminals may not use drugs if white-collar and blue-collar crime is considered but much of the focus on these issues is street based crime where we tend to become increasingly aware of it, particularly with the help of the media.
“Heroin addicts committed more money-producing crime when they were addicted compared with times when they were not” (Ball et al, 1983). For some criminals, using drugs can engage them with solid confidence to break into a house or commit an act that they would otherwise not have the balls to do. In addition, the extra money they may make, can enable them to continue their addiction that tend to control their lives. This in turn creates a cycle, the drug fuelling their actions and vice versa.
The effect of legalising drugs
“Decisions about which drugs should be legal and which ones should be banned have rarely been based on any scientific determination of innate risk or danger of the particular substance” (Hamilton et al, 2008: 131). In 1998, there were around 141,000 hospitalisations attributable to drug use. Slightly less than 70% of these were due to tobacco use, one quarter due to alcohol use with only 6% attributed to illicit drug use (Ridolfo et al, 2001).
It appears a large quantity of the crime committed today is defined as street violence in the form of alcohol-fuelled incidents. Judging from these statistics, alcohol is not taken seriously and in addition, is strongly associated with the Australian way of life and the sports scene, playing a serious role alongside tobacco, in the health of Australians. It would make sense to ban alcohol and tobacco rather than the current illicit drugs.
“General population surveys suggest that the prevalence of heroin use is low – typically around 1%” (AIHW, 2002), yet drugs such as amphetamines and heroin appear to yield the biggest horror stories, criminals fuelled high up to their eyeballs, armed and violent. It appears that this is not the case although, legalising amphetamines and heroin could play a bigger role in crime. Some users may find it difficult to contain their drug habits which may soon increase in amounts required due to their tolerance building up at a rapid rate.
Even if previously illegal drugs were placed onto the PBS scheme, controls and support should be in place to prevent the habits from getting any worse, particularly if there is no actual reason why the person is using other than from enjoyment or to block some form of pain. “The evolution of controls on drugs shows that society is generally not comfortable with allowing unrestricted access to these drugs” (Hamilton et al, 2008: 133). We appear to believe that because alcohol and tobacco are made in legit factories, they are safe whereas heroin and amphetamines made in old drains and mixed with chemicals such as horse tranquillisers could endanger our health even more so. If these heavy drugs were to be legalised, it would be important to regulate the manufacturing.
In 1972, the Netherlands decided to classify cannabis as a soft drug, allowing “possession of less than 30 grams for personal use” (Hamilton et al, 2008: 154). Thirty years later, they have not experienced an increase in the usage of cannabis and their levels are “comparably lower than in the United States and Australia” (Van de Wijngaart, 1991). An Australian survey suggests that cannabis “is the most used illicit drug in Australia and appears to be used by a wide section of the community” (Hamilton et al, 2008: 42) despite failing to play a major role in crime.
Legalising marijuana may have the effect of enabling more young people to openly smoke the drug, particularly for a calming and sedative effect rather than one to inspire a person to commit a crime, particularly as it is a rather cheap drug illegally as it is. Perhaps we would see more cases of mental illnesses such as elevated incidences of schizophrenia which may develop in incidents of violence and crime if a person doesn’t have their regular dose of it and can’t control their emotions.
It is difficult to judge whether or not legalising current illegal drugs would make a positive impact on the Australian crime rates. Drugs have been used as far back as early civilisation times in medicinal, cultural and social environments. Like with many things, there may be the usual core group who will take full advantage of a legalised drug which may affect their ability to become fully responsible members of society.
Drugs in a social environment appears to be acceptable, particularly when compared to those who abuse narcotics full-time and spend much of their time sourcing an income to fund their habits that appear to be out of control. This would then require the use of intervention if crime rates are to be cut down, from medical resources, education, therapies and counselling, something that could require huge expenses for the government.
There is the possibility of widespread addiction if hard drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin were to be legalised. There would need to be limitations of some form to narrow down the use and abuse, to avoid habits spiralling out of control. Despite being legalised, these drugs would still cost money which could increase with the toleration and if they were not subsidised by the government, it should be expected that most people would become unable to support their addiction.
If drugs are to become legalised, perhaps more attention should be paid to alcohol and the violence that results in the city environments rather than the heavy drugs which are all too easily associated with serious crimes.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2002). 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: First results. Drug statistics series 9. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Ball, J. C., Shaffer. J. W., & Nurco, D. N. (1983) The Day-to-Day Criminality of Heroin Addicts in Baltimore: a study in the continuity of offence rates. Drug and alcohol dependence, 12, p. 119-142.
Barton, C. R ., & Barton, A. M. (2011). Criminal Behaviour: A psychological approach. New Jersey: Pearson Highered.
Faupel, C. E. (1991). Shooting Dope: Career patterns of hard-core heroin users. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press.
Hamilton, M., King, Trevor., & Ritter, A. (2008). Drug Use in Australia: Preventing harm. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.
Inciardi, J. A. (1986). The War on Drugs: Heroin, cocaine, crime and public policy. Palto Alto, California: National institute on drug abuse.
Putnins, A. (2001). Substance Use by South Australian Young Offenders. Office of crime statistics information Bulletin no.19. Attorney-General’s Department, Adelaide.
Ridolfo, B. & Stevenson, C. (2001). The Quantification of Drug Caused Mortality and Morbidity in Australia 1998. Drug statistics series 7. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Van de Wijngaart, G. (1991). Competing Perspectives on Drug Use: The Dutch experience. Amsterdam; Swets & Zeitlinger.
White, R. & Perrone, S. (2011). Crime, Criminality & Criminal Justice. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.