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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 4 - A Changing Context

A societal debate


These considerations of the global environment help put the drug issue in context. Always considered as a public security question, this issue more fundamentally concerns the upheavals societies are currently experiencing as a result of globalization. The place of drugs in those societies, which are shifting painfully from the modern to the post-modern world, attempting to reinvent society after individual destiny, so central to the cultural "revolutions" of the 1960s, has replaced family and collective destiny, raises questions about the boundaries of the individual and his relationship to others and about the very possibility of community given the significance of the individual. As the sociologist A. Ehrenberg has emphasized:


[Translation] (…) drugs appear as the condenser of uncertain responsibility. For democratic societies, it is the opportunity for a consideration of the limits of private freedom, that is to say of the tension between minimum contact with one's self, without which one cannot enter into relations with others, and minimum distance from self, without which one cannot make a society. [1][20]


In another way, this is also what B. Alexander said in a brief he submitted to the Senate Committee:


Because western society is now based on free-market principles which mass-produce dislocation, and because dislocation is the precursor to addiction, addiction to drug use and to other substitute life styles within western society is not the pathological state of a few, but, to a greater or lesser degree, the general condition. Because free-market society increasingly provides the model for globalization, addiction is becoming more and more prevalent everywhere on earth (…). [2][21]


As may be seen, the drug issue cannot simply be raised in terms of criminalization or decriminalization because it refers to much deeper societal issues relating to the role of government of the self in a context in which political government of the community is changing, and to the relationship between the two. Reducing the drug issue to a question of more or less repressive or more or less liberal criminal legislation is to rule out broader questions and to play the game of the particular interests of institutions which have every interest in reducing the figure of the addict to that of the “other”, the deviant, the pathological case, and drugs to mere illegal drugs, whereas the faces of drugs are many and diverse. As the International Narcotics Control Board states in its 2000 report, trafficking in licit psychoactive drugs and their increased use are, in many respects, much more disturbing phenomena than the illegal drug market. There is a great risk that we will mistake the tip of the iceberg for the iceberg as a whole and allow ourselves to drift away on notions as simplifying as they are dangerous for a true public policy on drugs.

[1][20]  Ehrenberg, A. (1995) L’individu incertain. Paris: Calman Lévy, page 163.

[2][21]  Alexander, B.K. (2000) "The globalization of addiction." Addiction Research, Vol. 8, No. 6, page 504.

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