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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government

Chapter 4.


Philosophical rationales

Drug policy in the US is based on a deeply held belief that all illicit drug use is extremely harmful, both in terms of the dangers that it poses to users and in terms of the dangers that it poses to the social fabric of American society. There is very little distinction made between cannabis and other drugs. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was 'public enemy number one' ([5]Wijingaart 1991, p95) and, more recently, one commentator has claimed that: Drug use in America today is a major threat to our health, productivity, and quality of life (Du Pont 1984: xvi, [6]cited in Wijingaart 1991, p101).

Section 801 of the Federal Controlled Substances Act states that: The illegal importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession and improper use of controlled substances have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.

In the US, official analysis of the social problems associated with drug use has been narrow, and American policy makers have tended to see drugs themselves as the central source of all the ills associated with drug use in that country. Analyses of the social context of drug taking or of the relationship between drug taking and poverty have apparently had little impact on the development of drug policy.

Central to the official American idea of 'harm' caused by drugs is that all drugs are 'addictive', and that any experimentation with drugs will inevitably result in dependency. Associated with the fear of dependence is the fear, in many cases unrealistic, of the effect that drug use has on individuals. Although not accepting this characterisation, James Inciardi has described the stereotype of the American drug user in the following terms: 'Dope fiends', as they were called, were sex-crazed maniacs, degenerate criminals, and members of the 'living dead'. 'Narcotics', including marijuana and cocaine ... destroyed morality, addicts were sexually violent and criminally aggressive, they were weak and ineffective members of society; addiction was contagious since users had a mania for perpetuating the social anathema of drug taking; and finally, once addicted, the user entered into a lifetime of slavery to drugs ([7]Inciardi 1986, p100).

It has been claimed that those debating drugs policy in the US have blurred the distinction between the effects of drug use and the effects of the prohibition of drug use ([8]Wardlaw 1992). Drug use is therefore thought to be inextricably linked to violent crime, users are conceptualised as criminals, and policy towards any level of drug use is punitive and coercive. This philosophy of drug use is evident in the rhetorical language of US policy makers who talk about 'zero tolerance' and who have called their drug strategy a 'war on drugs'.

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