ILLEGAL DRUG USE AND CRIME: A COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP
Prepared For The Senate Special Committee On Illegal Drugs
Political and Social Affairs Division
3 October 2001
LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT
drug use is “almost automatically”()
associated with criminal behaviour. The
statistical relationship between illegal drug use and crime is convincing at
first glance, but it is not possible to draw a conclusion regarding a definite
cause-and-effect link between the two phenomena.
The suggestion that drugs lead to crime ignores the impact that living
conditions can have on an individual and takes no account, according to Serge
Brochu (an expert in this field), of a body of data showing that most illegal
drug users in Canada and elsewhere will never be regular users.
It bears repeating that drug use is still, for the most part, a
sporadic, recreational, exploratory activity.
Most people are able to manage their drug use without any difficulty.
Very few will become regular users, and even fewer will develop a drug
of the link between drug use and crime are currently going through a
The problem stems from three elements:
the limits of our current knowledge; practice that does not respect our
expertise; and mislabelling of users. Contemporary
conceptual models are not based on a cohesive empirical body (e.g., our
unrepresentative samples usually comprise drug users heavily involved in crime
and very few regular users who hold important positions in society, even
though they do exist; we then make broad generalizations based on those
studies). It is also extremely
difficult to incorporate knowledge that conflicts with our deeply held beliefs
(e.g., the prospect of careful or controlled use of illegal psychoactive
substances). Finally, we continue
to apply negative labels to illegal drug users who in the end would rather be
known as drug addicts than criminals.()
that aside, the scientific studies conducted over the past two decades provide
evidence which tends to show that drug use is one of a number of factors that
may explain why some people commit criminal acts.
For example, many people who have developed an addiction to expensive
drugs such as heroin and crack/cocaine and cannot afford their habit will
commit crimes to buy drugs. However,
they do not represent all or even most illegal drug users, especially in the
case of marijuana users. In other
words, illegal drug use does not necessarily lead to an increase in crime,
even among people who are regular users or have developed an addiction.
The research shows that a number of social, psychological and cultural
factors can be used to identify people who are at risk of becoming delinquents
and/or drug users. Factors that
may explain both drug use and criminal activity include poverty, lack of
social values, personality disorders, association with drug users and/or
delinquents, and loss of contact with agents of socialization.()
are that it is wrong to think that eliminating drugs from a person’s
day-to-day life will definitely put an end to criminal activity.
This realization is important in terms of intervention and policy
development, because any explanation of crime which attributes a high
importance to drugs may lead to the implementation of ineffective intervention
although the exact nature of the link between drugs and crime remains
uncertain, the scientific literature shows that the drugs-crime connection is
much more complex than originally believed.()
This paper contains a review of a number of Canadian and foreign
studies dealing with the link between illegal drug use and criminal behaviour.()
It also presents a study of regular marijuana users that establishes a
profile of the lives of regular users and their involvement in crime.
The goal of this paper is to briefly examine the various links between
illegal drug use and crime.
This section of the paper briefly presents the various kinds of links
between drugs and crime that may explain the coincidence of these two
behaviours. The types of crime
associated with the legal status of certain drugs are discussed, including
possession, production and purchase of illegal drugs – all of which are
indictable offences. Three
theoretical models, originally proposed by Goldstein()
to explain the drugs-violence nexus in the United States, are then examined;
these models have since served as a framework to analyze the relationship
between drugs and crime. The
first model suggests that crime is linked to the psychopharmacological effects
of certain drugs; in other words, it refers to intoxication by drugs which are
recognized as undermining judgment and self-control, causing paranoid thoughts
or distorting inhibitions and perceptions.
The second model refers to economic-compulsive crime and suggests that
drug users commit crimes in order to get money to buy drugs.
Thirdly, the systemic model suggests that crime among illegal drug
users is linked to the drug market. Goldstein
acknowledged that this tripartite conceptual framework represents possible
relationships between drugs and violence and that many other factors may
contribute to a person’s drug use and criminal activity.()
Canada, it is an offence under the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act()
to possess, produce, traffic in, or import or export certain drugs.
Persons who engage in these activities face legal consequences linked
directly or indirectly to their drug use.
Consequences directly linked to drug use are simple possession
offences, while those indirectly linked are all offences related to the
production of or trafficking in illegal drugs.
In 2000, Canadian police departments reported a total of 87,945
offences under the Act
(see Table 1). Three-quarters of
those offences involved marijuana, 68% of them possession.
The number of police-reported incidents involving marijuana also
increased from 47,234 in 1996 to 66,171 incidents in 2000.
OF POLICE-REPORTED INCIDENTS
BY TYPE OF DRUG, 1996 TO 2000
“Other drugs” include other illegal substances such as PCP, LSD and
Ecstasy as well as controlled substances such as barbiturates and anabolic
R. Logan, “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2000,” Juristat,
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 85-002-xie, Vol.
21, No. 8, 2001, p. 11.
Although the figures confirm the existence of crime directly and
indirectly related to the use of illegal drugs (possession versus trafficking,
importing and production), there are nevertheless certain significant limits
as a result of which the number of offences associated with illegal drug use
For example, in Canada, the number of incidents determined through the Uniform
Crime Reporting Survey reflects only the most serious offence committed at
the time of a criminal incident. Consequently,
if a criminal incident involves a robbery and a drug possession offence, only
the robbery will be entered in the database.()
also clearly shown that a large percentage of crime is never reported to or
investigated by police. This is
all the more likely to occur with crimes related to illegal drug use.
Individuals involved in these types of activities are usually
consenting; as a result, they are generally not inclined to report the
incidents to police. Moreover,
police do not necessarily investigate incidents reported to them.
It is not enough for police authorities to be aware of the incident;
officers on duty must establish that the situation in question is a criminal
justice matter. Briefly put, the
police can choose various interpretations and actions; these can include:
deciding to do nothing because they believe the situation does not
require legal intervention; forwarding the case to a social assistance agency;
arresting the individual involved; etc.()
statistical fluctuations may in some instances indicate changes in the number
of crimes committed,
the research shows that police resources and strategies adopted in the fight
against drugs very much influence official crime statistics.
For example, there is every reason to believe that the sharp decline in
the number of drug-related offences observed in Canada between 1981 and 1983
may be explained in part by the introduction of the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms in
1982. By restricting police
search and seizure powers, the Charter appreciably reduced the number of
police actions related to drug possession.
Similarly, the introduction of alternative measures in 1997 that police
officers could use when dealing with adult offenders instead of laying formal
charges appears to have had a downward effect on the number of charges laid by
Many studies which compare data obtained through self-revealed crime
and arrest statistics as well as drug testing programs and surveys of
arrestees have shown that only a small percentage of all offences
reported by drug users have resulted in arrests.()
In a Canadian study conducted in Toronto in 1994, only 5% of
cocaine addicts interviewed said they had been arrested for cocaine
That percentage is very similar to the percentage recorded in Canada’s
Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey 1994, in which only 7.7% of
respondents who reported that they had previously used illegal drugs indicated
that they had been in trouble with the law.()
Finally, the figures in Table 1 pertain solely to offences under the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act; they do not include other types of crime also
associated with illegal drug use, such as violent crimes resulting from
disputes between dealers and drug buyers, wars waged among criminal
organizations over control of the drug trade, and acquisitive crimes committed
primarily by hard drug addicts to pay for illegal drugs and maintain their
Statistics similar to those gathered in Canada on crime related to drug
use, trafficking and the production of illegal drugs are published the world
over. In 1998, marijuana was the
substance most commonly cited in drug-related arrests in member states of the
That year in France, 85% of drug arrests involved marijuana.()
It should be noted, however, that in 1997, a little less than one-half
of those arrested for drug use in France were retained for questioning, and
the vast majority of users were released.()
In Australia, 80% of drug arrests between 1993 and 1996-1997 were for
marijuana offences. The vast
majority of cases involved possession of illegal drugs rather than trafficking
(71% in 1996-1997).()
It should also be noted that the majority (78%) of people imprisoned
for a drug offence in 1996 were convicted of trafficking, not possession or
According to 1998 British statistics on drug-related offences, 76.1% of
those convicted, released on bond, fined or charged with multiple drug
offences were involved with marijuana; most were arrested for possession.()
Finally, in the Netherlands, 81% of all arrests for drug offences in
1996 were related to hard drugs (any drug other than hashish and marijuana),
and in 1998, all offences were related to trafficking, because the Netherlands
does not normally prosecute people for using drugs.()
These data show that, with the exception of users in the Netherlands,
many drug users have come in contact with the justice system without
necessarily committing an offence other than an offence directly related to
their drug use (i.e., possession or use of narcotics).
The caution regarding the reliability of the Canadian statistics stated
above also applies to foreign data. According
to some studies in France, statistics on
arrests of drug users must be used with caution, as it is difficult to
determine with any certainty the extent to which observed changes reflect
changes in the drug user population and whether the changes are in fact linked
to changes in police and gendarmerie activities.
For example, the data on arrests for drug use between 1993 and 1998
show significant increases of 30% in 1997 and 9% in 1998.()
Many factors may explain that increase, among them changes in the
approaches used by police and gendarmerie, reorganization of police
departments, and normalization of marijuana use.
One possible explanation is that a 1995 circular on court-ordered
treatment issued by the Ministry of Justice led public prosecutors to instruct
the police to “systematically report users.”()
Perhaps those instructions led to the sharp increase in the number of
drug-use arrests recorded in 1997.
The link between
drugs and crime highlighted in this section pertains directly to drug use and
drug possession. Trafficking in,
importing and producing illegal drugs are forms of crime driven by different
motives, such as the need to get money to buy drugs to satisfy a drug
addiction. This point is
discussed in greater detail in section C.
Many people associate drug intoxication with crime, sometimes even
violent crime. This so-called
psychopharmacological link implies that people may commit crimes or sometimes
violent crimes after using certain substances recognized as undermining
judgment and self-control, generating paranoid ideas and/or distorting
inhibitions and perceptions.()
Although all drugs that have an impact on the nervous system may cause
these kinds of reactions, the scientific literature suggests that some drugs
are more strongly associated than others with violence of this type.
Those drugs include alcohol,() PCP (phencyclidine),
and barbiturates. Inversely,
heroin and cannabis are generally associated with a weaker desire to use
violence to resolve disputes.()
The following table is a summary of the main properties of illegal
drugs that have been analyzed in relation to violence.
EFFECTS ASSOCIATED WITH
USE OF CERTAIN ILLEGAL DRUGS
is generally associated with a reduced desire to use violence.
marijuana, heroin generally has the effect of lowering the desire to
use violence. In some
cases, however, it appears that disturbed or impulsive behaviours
may occur during a period of withdrawal.
main property is that it stimulates the central nervous system.
Cocaine abuse can cause paranoia, although that reaction
appears to be infrequent among cocaine users as a whole.
Some report that cocaine use can also cause irritability and
anxiety in users, especially at the end of a period of intoxication.
is recognized for its many properties (hallucinogenic, analgesic and
cocaine, it stimulates the central nervous system.
Empirical studies are particularly incomplete for this drug;
however, PCP is second to alcohol as the drug most often associated
PCP, LSD is known for its hallucinogenic properties.
It can therefore cause strange and violent behaviour.
main property of amphetamines is that, like cocaine, they stimulate
the central nervous system. Amphetamine
abuse can thus cause paranoia, irritability, anxiety and even toxic
S. Brochu, “La violence et la drogue,” L’intervenant,
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 2000; D.C. McBride, “Drugs
and Violence,” in J. Inciardi, ed., The
Drugs-Crime Connection, Sage Publications, 1981; N. Boyd, High
Society. Legal and Illegal Drugs
in Canada, Toronto: Key
Porter Books, 1991.
evidence supporting this model is limited.
The few empirical elements are drawn from research which presents
numerous methodological problems and does not really help to understand the
specific effects of certain drugs.()
Indeed, many recent studies have challenged the notion that
psychoactive drugs stimulate violent behaviour in any systematic manner.()
psychopharmacological model of the link between drug use and crime is based in
particular on research data showing that a large number of arrestees and
inmates had used drugs on the day they committed the crimes for which they
were incarcerated. The following
paragraphs present research findings which show that many criminal acts, some
of them violent, are committed in Canada each year under the influence of a
According to data from Statistics Canada’s 1997 survey Homicide
in Canada, 50% of accused persons had used alcohol or illegal drugs
before committing their crimes.()
Another Canadian study conducted in 1999 – based on a questionnaire
distributed to all new inmates incarcerated in federal penitentiaries()
more than half (50.6%) of the inmates had used drugs and/or alcohol on
the day they committed the offence for which they were incarcerated;
group, approximately 16% had used illegal drugs only and 13% had used a
combination of the two();
differences in the types of crimes committed by type of drug used (i.e.,
alcohol and illegal drugs).
was a rather clear distinction between acquisitory crimes and violent crimes
in the prevalence of use of drugs and alcohol.
While homicides and, more pronouncedly, assaults and wounding were
predominantly alcohol-related, crimes such as thefts and break and enter
showed a higher prevalence of drug use on the day of the crime.()
self-report surveys in the United States have also indicated a link between
criminal activity and the use of alcohol and illicit drugs.
to self-reports from a 1991 survey with a sample of 14,000 State and
6,600 Federal prison inmates, 24% of Federal inmates and 49% of State inmates
reported that they were under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs at the
time of their current offence. In
State prisons, 32% of inmates reported they were under the influence of
alcohol, and 31% reported they were under the influence of drugs (including
14% who were under the influence of both) when they committed their current
This closer link between alcohol use and violent crime has been
demonstrated in a number of studies.()
In 1991, the Research and Statistics Branch of Correctional Service
Canada pointed out that “violent offences were more often committed under
the influence of alcohol or both alcohol and drugs, rather than under the
influence of drugs alone.”()
In one of the analyses on drug-related homicides in New York, Goldstein
contended that very few murder victims are killed by people driven mad by
illegal drugs and that homicide related to psychopharmacological factors is
generally committed by people under the influence of alcohol.()
An analysis of 218 homicides in New York, committed in 1998 and
presumed to be related to drugs, showed that only 14% involved the
psychopharmacological factor and that 74% were related to systemic violence
resulting from the illegal drug market and related drug trafficking.()
The 1999 study by Brochu et al.
also gathered useful information for analyzing the link between the
psychopharmacological effects of certain drugs and criminal behaviour.
The study, which dealt specifically with illegal drug use and crime,
produced the following main findings:
the inmates questioned said they had committed all or at least most of their
crimes under the influence of an illegal drug;()
44% of inmates who reported that they had previously used illegal drugs
believed that their drug use had increased their criminal activity, whereas
51% thought their drug use had had no effect on their criminal activity
and nearly 5% contended that it had contributed to a decline in their
80% of inmates who used illegal drugs on the day they committed the crime
for which they were incarcerated (16% of inmates in the study) stated
that their drug use had facilitated their acting out.
Of those, 83.1% reported that their drug use had altered their
judgment, 33.6% that it had made them more inclined to fight, and 37% that
it had made them more aggressive and violent.()
Although some of these findings offer invaluable information for
understanding the meaning that inmates attach to their drug use and crimes,
such as the data on drug use on the day of the crime, they are insufficient to
show a causal relationship between drug use and criminal activity.
In other words, nothing in these findings clearly demonstrates that the
criminal act would not have been committed if the individual had not been
under the influence of drugs. Moreover,
the findings based on the link that the offender sees between his or her drug
use and his or her crimes should be significantly clarified.
In the view of various researchers,()
some inmates prefer to associate their criminal behaviour with their drug use.
This enables them to attribute responsibility for their actions to an
outside cause, i.e., drugs. Although
for many inmates this association is indisputable, research has shown that
some individuals use it as an excuse for their behaviour and to unburden
themselves of part of the weight of the offence.()
A 1998 study of the entire Canadian population also tends to show
that this view of the matter is widespread.
According to the survey results, three-quarters of respondents admitted
that drinking could serve as a pretext for using violence.()
According to Brochu, “while the general pharmacological
characteristics of the most common [drugs] are quite well known, understanding
of the specific mechanisms promoting violent behaviour appears extremely
This may be explained by the complex nature of the variables involved,
type of drug
used (simultaneous use of more than one drug must also be considered);
(drugs are recognized as having variable effects depending on the user’s
weight, height, sex and other characteristics);()
predisposition (moods, expectations of drug use, general health, etc.)();
environment (local atmosphere, companions, etc.).()
The psychopharmacological model is powerless to explain why most drug
users do not commit crimes of violent offences.
This deficiency forces a recognition of the fact that the reasons for
violence and criminal activity go beyond the properties of the drugs
Although many studies indicate that some people used illegal drugs the
day they committed their crime, there is little empirical evidence in the
scientific literature to establish a direct link between crime, violence and
the psychopharmacological effects of drugs.()
Before moving on to crime and violence caused by the illegal drug
market, this section examines another aspect that may explain the link between
drug use and crime, i.e., the economic‑compulsive link, which
assumes that drug users commit crimes to finance their drug use.
More specifically, according to this explanatory model of the
drug-crime relationship, the compelling and recurrent need for drugs and their
high price lead some users to commit crimes to obtain the money they need to
buy drugs. This model focuses on
individuals who have developed a dependence on expensive drugs and assumes
that the large amounts of money associated with frequent use of certain
illegal drugs constitute an incentive for criminal action.
This explanation of the relationship between drugs and crime is well
supported in the literature and the media.
Many people attribute a great percentage of crime to this
economic-compulsive link. According
This belief, deeply rooted in people’s minds, is fostered by the police and
the media, which seize every opportunity to dig up the drug-using past of
persons arrested for theft. The
offenders themselves promote this association by swearing to anyone who will
listen that the single cause of their involvement in crime is their heavy
[drug] use. For many, this
statement is indisputable. For
others, some doubt persists because, in some instances, there is a clear
benefit to be gained in accepting the label of addict:
referral to a treatment centre instead of incarceration.()
Many statistical studies support the theory of a link between addiction
to illegal drugs and criminal activity. Some
Canadian and foreign studies have shown that the rate of use of illegal drugs
is much higher among people who have been in contact with the criminal justice
system than among the general population.()
In his 1994 report, the Chief Coroner of British Columbia stated that
law enforcement agencies generally admit that many chronic drug users commit
crimes to support their dependence. At
the time, police officers in British Columbia estimated that 60% of
crimes committed in the province were motivated by, although not directly
linked to, drugs.()
Furthermore, a report published in 1995 by the Ontario Association of
Chiefs of Police stated that most crimes against property (such as theft,
break and enter, and fraud), as well as prostitution, are committed by drug
users in order to feed their habit.()
Some Canadian research conducted among inmates also provides empirical
evidence supporting the economic-compulsive model.
According to one study conducted by Forget in 1990,()
more than one-third of the individuals interviewed at the Montreal Detention
Centre said that they had committed their crimes for the purpose of buying
drugs. Similarly, the 1999 study
by Brochu et al.()
showed that nearly two-thirds of federal inmates who had used drugs on the day
of the crime for which they were incarcerated reported having committed their
crime in order to get money to buy drugs.
That was the case for inmates who had committed the following crimes:
theft (more than 83%); robbery (78%); fraud (70%); and break and enter
(68%). The study also appears to
confirm a strong link between the use of expensive drugs and the commission of
criminal acts. Approximately 68% of
cocaine users who answered the questionnaire reported that they had committed
their crimes in order to get the money they needed to buy drugs.()
Once again, it is important to interpret this information carefully.
As discussed above, some offenders (consciously or not) use this
strategy to justify their behaviour and reject responsibility for their
Regular use of illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine is expensive.
The amount spent by addicts on drugs varies from report to report.
However, researchers agree that drug addicts have three main sources of
income: social assistance,
acquisitive crime, and the illegal drug market.()
A study conducted in Quebec in the 1990s found that expenses related to
daily cocaine use could amount to $43,000 a year.()
In a more recent study of opiate
users in Toronto, a sample of heroin users reported spending an average of
$3,133 on heroin in the 30 days preceding the study.()
Most respondents (89.7%) in the sample who had already been arrested
said that they were arrested primarily for illegal activities either related
to their drug use or activities in which they were trying to get drugs or get
money to buy drugs.()
a British study based on four regions of the United Kingdom, the majority of
arrestees who said that they thought that their drug use and crime were
connected also said that the two were connected because they needed money to
buy drugs (70%).()
Another study of heroin addicts in Amsterdam found that some heroin
users do commit crimes in order to buy drugs but that acquisitive crime
accounts for only about one-quarter of their total income.
Heroin addicts in Amsterdam derive most of their income from social
Social assistance is also the main source of income, apart from illegal
activities, for opiate users in Toronto.()
Research has also shown that drug users’ criminal activity varies
greatly with the relationship they have with drugs.()
The periods when users are dependent on a drug are often accompanied by
increased criminal activity, whereas periods when they have no such dependency
see an appreciable decline in such activity.()
Studies of arrestees in the United States, the United Kingdom and
Australia have shown a strong relationship between illegal drug use and
illegal income. For example, the
findings of the NEW-ADAM (New English and Welsh Arrestee Drug Abuse
Monitoring) study group showed that:
who reported spending £100 or more on drugs reported ten times the
number of offences as those who reported no expenditure on drugs.
They also reported four times the mean number of offence types
committed in the last 12 months, eight times more than the mean illegal
income, and almost twice as many arrests.()
The relationship that users are likely to have with drugs and crime is
thus influenced to a large degree by their drug use profile.
To afford a better grasp of these subtle points, researchers have
proposed a typology consisting of three categories of users:
experimenters or occasional users; regular users; and dependent users.
With regard to occasional users, the research tends to show that most
will never use illegal drugs regularly. In
the vast majority of cases, moreover, they will never adopt a deviant
lifestyle and will generally choose legal ways of financing their illegal drug
use. In most cases, crime will be
a means of last resort.()
Instead, it is the amount of available money that will dictate the
purchase and use of drugs by these individuals.()
Many studies suggest that only occasional users who have already
adopted a deviant lifestyle prior to using drugs will likely commit offences
to meet their needs.()
These offences may help finance their drug use, but most will do it for
the adrenaline rush and because they want a taste of life on the edge.
This explanation of the relationship between drugs and crime seems
particularly appropriate for young people.
For dependent users, dependency will very often have the effect of
increasing their involvement in crime. However,
it must be understood that this involvement will to a large extent be
determined by their circumstances, the drug they use, their lifestyle, their
attraction to certain types of activities, and their economic and social
Research on the lifestyle and economic behaviour of heroin addicts in
Amsterdam has indeed shown that 21% of the study sample reported not
committing any crime prior to or during the research.()
Furthermore, among the group of drug users who said they were involved
in criminal activities, it was found that “[i]n total, acquisitive crime
accounts for 24% of the total income. The
most important source of income is social security.”()
Although few studies have focused on the criminal involvement of more
affluent addicts, research has nevertheless shown that users who were not
involved in any form of crime at the time they became dependent and who have
enough money to pay for their drug habits generally do not resort to criminal
Criminal activity is thus not an inevitable outcome of drug use, even
for individuals who have developed a dependency on a high-cost drug.
Furthermore, crime is not the only means by which dependent users pay
Users may increase their usual money-earning activities while reducing
their overall spending. Some
occasional users will work overtime to make up the shortfall, while others
will moonlight. They may also
borrow money from friends or family members and even use resources intended
for people in need (e.g., soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless) in
order to reduce the amount they spend on their own meals and accommodation and
thus free up money for drugs.()
According to Brochu, many users prefer to stop using drugs rather than
get involved in crime, and few fall into a form of crime that conflicts with
their basic moral values()
(e.g., prostitution or selling drugs to minors).
A number of studies have shown that the type of crime which stems from
the need for money created by dependence on certain drugs is generally
acquisitive and non-violent.()
Although addicts who need money may at times engage in violent crime,
the research tends to show that this type of crime is quite rare and that when
it does occur, it very often springs from the context in which the crime is
some of these acts may be intrinsically violent, e.g. muggings or armed
robbery, the violence may often result as the by-product of other factors in
the social context in which the crime is perpetrated, e.g. when a victim
returns home or wakes up during a break and enter, the resistance of the
intended victim, the intercession of bystanders; such unanticipated
occurrences may lead to an escalation in what could have been completed as a
The crimes most often committed by individuals who have developed an
intense dependency on a drug and who do not have the financial and social
means to obtain it are drug trafficking, prostitution, theft of property,
break and enter, and fraud.()
In general, the crimes favoured by users are those not requiring any
particular expertise and for which there is a minor risk of prosecution.
It should therefore not be surprising that the crimes they most often
commit are theft within the family or in the workplace, shoplifting, and the
theft of small items (e.g., bicycles and contents of automobiles).()
Nor will it be surprising that most major drug users get involved in
reselling illegal drugs in exchange for either money or drugs.()
Women tend to engage in prostitution to a greater degree than do men.
The difference may be attributable in particular to “the fact that it
is difficult for women to gain access to other types of crime (e.g., trafficking)
and the fact that they are economically dependent” as well as by the
“traditional role of women as perceived by men.”()
said, beyond these
figures and the impressions conveyed by the police and others, there is no
existing empirical data that researchers can use to determine the percentage
of crimes committed out of a need for money caused by drug dependence.
Furthermore, the economic-compulsive model largely disregards some
research findings, including the fact that:
a number of drug users, even those who are dependent users, do not
commit crimes other than those directly related to their drug use; and many
drug users got involved in crime before they used drugs.
Violence is an integral part of the illegal drug distribution market.()
It exists mainly because the drug market affords no legal way of
obtaining justice when rules are violated.
According to this explanatory model of the relationship between drugs
and crime, the profit opportunities perceived by the various players in the
market and the fierce competition in this illegal environment encourage
involvement in crime, such as: disputes
between dealers, problems involved in recovering debts, protection rackets,
etc. On this point, Erickson
legally regulated markets, such as those in alcohol or pharmaceuticals, have
recourse to legitimate authority to resolve disputes and set standards for
fair competition, those involved in an illegal, high profit market resort
mainly to force.()
Crime in the drug world is often caused by rivalries among individuals
attempting to corner the market. This
violence may involve various players – including traffickers, importers,
merchants or dealers – and may be intended to control various territories,
such as a neighbourhood, street or school.
Violence is then used as an organizational management strategy.()
Its use is easily understood when one thinks of the high economic
stakes involved in the illegal drug market.()
A Canadian study of drug dealers on probation provided an updated view
of the frequent use of violence in the context of the drug trade.
According to the study’s findings, slightly more than half of the
drug dealers interviewed (56%) admitted they had used violence in their
These figures are not surprising in view of the context in which the
dealings take place because:
and selling drugs requires a face-to-face interaction in which the dealer is
trying to sell the lowest quality at the highest price, while presenting the
drug as the highest quality at the lowest price.()
Some Canadian statistics provide an overview of the extent of this type
of crime. In 1997, the police
reported that 12% of homicides with a known motive were linked to drugs.()
This extremely violent crime once again represents only a portion of
total crime in the drug world. According
to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, a number of these violent crimes
result from wars between criminal organizations involved in drug smuggling in
The data collated by the Service suggest that:
of the end of 1998, the war between the Hells
Angels and the Rock
Machine, which began in July 1994, has resulted in 103 homicides,
124 murder attempts, 9 missing persons, 84 bombings and 130 incidents
of arson, for a total of 450 violent incidents.()
Apart from these incomplete data, however, it is impossible to quantify
all the crime stemming from the illegal drug market in Canada.
The same statement applies to the United States, as there are very few
studies on the topic. However, as
noted earlier, one study of drug-related homicides in New York in the 1980s
did find that the most common type of drug-related homicide was systemic,
accounting for 74% of drug-related homicides in New York City in 1988.()
Although few experts question the assertion that violence is an
integral part of that market, it is difficult to get a clear handle on this
type of crime:
Apart from media accounts, very few studies have attempted to verify this
model empirically. One factor
that might explain researchers’ lack of interest in this approach lies in
the fact that few victims appeal to police departments.
Resellers definitely have no interest in reporting thefts of drugs and
money which they have suffered. If
they do, they have every interest in concealing certain information.
They may report an amount of money stolen, taking care not to disclose
its source. Thus it becomes very
difficult to identify the systemic crime with any accuracy and to distinguish
it from general crime.()
There are very few studies of long-term users, particularly cannabis
users, which is surprising considering that cannabis is the most widely used
illegal drug in the world. The
United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP) estimates
in their World Drug Report 2000 that 180 million people worldwide used
illegal drugs in the late 1990s; of that group, 144.1 million people used
cannabis, which represents 3.4% of the world’s population age 15 and older.()
One recent study()
investigated the characteristics and patterns of cannabis and other drug use
among long-term users in the North Coast of New South Wales, a rural area
of Australia with high levels of cannabis cultivation and use, and reported
the following findings:
– The study involved 268 adults with a mean age of 36.4 years.
They were well educated, with 62% having obtained further educational
qualifications since leaving school. Their
main sources of income were employment (48%) and government benefits (42%).
Respondents had a long history of regular cannabis use (an average
of 19 years), and most had ready access to cannabis, with two-thirds growing
cannabis for their own use. The
majority used cannabis daily (60%), with a median of two joints per day.()
and perceptions of cannabis use
– Cannabis is most often used in social settings with most users (67%)
usually or always sharing cannabis with family and friends.
Slightly more than half of the respondents (54%) lived in a household
with children under 16 years of age and of these, 52% indicated that they
either used less cannabis when the children were around or that they used
cannabis away from the children. Most
performed their normal daily activities either during or after smoking
cannabis. The vast majority (90%)
reported that they drove a motor vehicle at least occasionally soon after
using cannabis and more than half (60%) had operated machinery after using
cannabis. Respondents reported
that they used cannabis for relaxation or relief of tension (61%) and for
enjoyment or to feel good (27%). Most
respondents also reported some negative aspects of cannabis use including the
illegality of cannabis use (29%), the high costs of cannabis (14%), and the
social stigma of being a cannabis user (11%).
However, 72% believed that the benefits outweighed the risks.
The most widely used drugs other than cannabis were alcohol and
tobacco, but most had also used other illicit drugs in their lifetime.()
with the legal system
– Just over one-quarter of the respondents (26%) had ever been charged for
possession, 11% for cultivation and 6% for supply, and 12% had been arrested
for other drug-related offences. Most
of the offences had occurred some years prior to the study with only 22% of
cannabis cases in the past three years. The
percentage of non‑drug offences was low, with the most common being
drinking-driving (8%), stealing (6%), traffic offences (6%), robbery and
assault (3%), and miscellaneous offences (8%).()
These data are pertinent because they show that some regular cannabis
users (an average of almost 20 years of use) commit very few crimes not
related to drugs and do not use other illegal drugs on a regular basis.
However, before any conclusions can be drawn, more studies will have to
be carried out to analyze the profile of regular users of cannabis and other
illegal drugs; this will not be an easy task given the difficulty locating and
obtaining input from this type of population, which is still considered a
paper reviewed a number of studies dealing with the relationship between
illegal drug use and crime in an effort to illustrate the complexity of the
connection between drug use and crime.
After examining the link between the legal status of certain drugs and
crime, the paper discussed three theoretical models which endeavour to explain
the relationship between drug use and crime:
the psychopharmacological link; the economic-compulsive link; and the
systemic link. A study on regular
cannabis users was then presented.
The evidence demonstrated that the closest link between drug use and
crime occurs in drug users who are dependent on expensive drugs but cannot
afford to buy them. Even then,
the relationship is not automatic, because crime is not an inevitable
consequence of drug use, even for users who are addicted to drugs such as
heroin and cocaine. Involvement
in crime also varies depending on the economic, cultural and social context.
Finally, some users simply choose to stop using drugs rather than
commit crimes (with or without the support of organizations which help drug
As well, the mere fact that crimes are committed by drug users is not
enough to say that drug use does cause crime or vice versa.
It is more likely that drug use intensifies and perpetuates the
commission of criminal offences.()
Drug use is only one factor among a group of variables that may account
for criminal behaviour; other variables include physiological, psychological
and behavioural, family, cultural, social, economic and situational factors.
The research does confirm that a number of links can be established
between illegal drug use and crime but that those links are not necessarily
causal in nature and more closely resemble variables in the complex
relationship between drugs and crime. As
The relationship between drugs and crime is not as easy to understand as some
claim. The triangular
relationship between a person, a product and a behaviour is complex and cannot
be defined in a simple formula no matter how appealing.
Care must be taken to avoid the tendency to reduce reality to
simplifications that distort it.()
The consequences of
this observation for drug intervention and policy development are
considerable. An approach that
would fail to treat all factors contributing to drug use and crime or that
would attribute a causal role exclusively to drug use would inevitably result
in the implementation of ineffective policies.
As suggested by this brief literature review, the whole concept of
“drug-related crime” which features in most of the policy documents and
research in this area needs to be re-thought.
“Misleading presuppositions about the way people use drugs are
built into contemporary language, which, for example, presupposes that most
people who use ‘addictive drugs’ like heroin and cocaine are addicted,
or will shortly become so. For
this reason the term ‘heroin user’ is often used interchangeably with
‘heroin addict.’ But this
presupposition is false […] all psychoactive drugs can be used in many
ways, of which addiction is only one, and that the ‘addictive drugs’ do
not necessarily carry a higher risk of addiction than the rest.” B.K.
Alexander, Peaceful Measures. Canada’s
Way Out of the War on Drugs, University of Toronto Press, 1990, p. 102.
For Brochu, however, human behaviour cannot be reduced to a set of
risk factors. In other words,
the mere presence of such risk factors does not necessarily put a person on
a path toward drug use and crime. In
Brochu’s view, it is important to give the individual his or her rightful
place in the drug-crime equation and to recognize the significance the
individual ascribes to the actions that shape his or her life.
S. Brochu, 1997, p. 310.
D.N. Nurco, T.W. Kinlock and T.E. Hanlon, “The
Drugs-Crime Connection,” in James A. Inciardi, ed., Handbook
of Drug Control in the United States, Greenwood Press, 1990; M. Tonry
and J.Q. Wilson, eds., Drugs and
Crime, University of Chicago, 1990, p. 73.
Although much work done in the 20th century focused on the
relationship between drug use and crime, those who have considered this
literature contend that the vast majority of studies published prior to the
1970s contain little reliable information for the purpose of understanding
the mechanisms linking drugs to crime. Considerable methodological problems
appear to be responsible for this situation. For further information, see
J.A. Inciardi, “Drugs and Criminal Behavior,” in J.A. Inciardi,
ed., The Drugs-Crime Connection,
Sage Publications, 1981, p. 9; D.N. Nurco et al., 1990, p. 4.
D. Fountain and G.
Livermore, The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the
United States –
1992, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National
Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH Publication Number 98-4327, September 1998,
6.2.3. Available online
See, inter alia, D.E. Hunt, “Drug
and Consensual Crimes: Drug
Dealing and Prostitution in Drugs and Crime,” Michael Tonry
and James Q. Wilson, eds., The University of Chicago Press, 1990; T. Makkai,
J. Fitzgerald and P. Doak, “Drug use among police detainees,” Contemporary
Issues in Crime and Justice, No. 49, March 2000; National
Institute of Justice, 1999 Annual Report on Drug Use Among Adult and
Juvenile Arrestees, Research Report, U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program, July 2000.
The sample consisted of 100 cocaine addicts.
P.G. Erickson and T.R. Weber, “Cocaine Careers, Controls
and Consequences: Results from
a Canadian Study,” Addiction
Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1994, pp. 37‑50.
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), 2000
Annual report on the state of the drugs problem in the European Union,
Luxembourg: Office for Official
Publications of the European Communities, 2000, p. 21.
Available online at http://www.emcdda.org.
français des drogues et des toxicomanies (OFDT) [French Monitoring Centre
for Drugs and Drug Addictions], Drugs and Drug Addictions:
Indicators and Trends, 1999, pp. 112-113.
Available online at http://www.drogues.gouv.fr/uk/index.html.
H. Higgins, M. Cooper-Stanbury and P. William, Statistics on Drug
Use in Australia 1998, AIHW Cat. No. PHE 16, Canberra:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Drug Statistics Series),
March 2000, p. 59. Available
online at http://www.aihw.gov.au/inet/publications/health/sdua98/index.html.
U.K. Drug Situation 2000 – The U.K. Report to the European
Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), DrugScope,
November 2000, p. 25. Available
online at http://drugscope.org.uk.
According to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, an arrest is deemed
to occur whenever a person is taken into custody, warned or cited.
The reported figures therefore do not measure the number of people
arrested, because a person may be arrested more than once during the year.
Crime in the United States 1999:
Uniform Crime Reports, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau
of Investigation, October 2000, Section IV, Persons Arrested, Table 4.1.
This document is available online at http://www/fbi/gov/ucr/Cius_99/99crime/99c4_04.pdf.
Although alcohol is beyond the scope of this paper, it is
nevertheless important to note that this legal drug is the most commonly
recognized psychopharmacological link between drugs and violence.
Research on this issue has shown that drinking precedes nearly half
of all violent offences including homicides, sexual assaults and incidents
of spousal abuse. See, among
others, S. Tremblay, 1999; P.J. Goldstein, 1985, pp. 493‑506;
M.‑M. Cousineau, S. Brochu and P. Schneeberger, Consommation
de susbstances psychoactives et violence chez les jeunes, Comité
permanent de la lutte à la toxicomanie, Ministère de la Santé et des
services sociaux, Québec, August 2000; S. Brochu, 1995; M. De La Rosa,
E.Y. Lambert and B. Gropper, eds., “Introduction:
Exploring the Substance Abuse-Violence Connection,” in Drugs
and Violence: Causes,
Correlates, and Consequences, U.S. Department of Health and Human
S. Wright and H. Klee, “Violent Crime, Aggression and Amphetamine:
what are the implications for drug treatment services?” Drugs:
education, prevention and policy, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2001, pp. 73-90.
H.R. White, “The Drug Use-Delinquency Connection in
Adolescence,” in Drugs, Crime and
the Criminal Justice System, R.A. Weisheil, ed., Highland Heights,
1990, pp. 215‑256; M. De La Rosa, E.Y. Lambert
and B. Gropper, 1990, pp. 1‑7; P. Erickson, Drugs,
Violence and Public Health: What
Does the Harm Reduction Approach Have to Offer? Paper prepared for a
conference in Vancouver, Sensible
Solutions to the Urban Drug Problem, The Fraser Institute, 21 April
Some researchers, among them S. Brochu (1995) and P. Erickson
(1998), thus contend that the samples used in studies very often have
significant methodological problems. In
particular, the researchers mention the size of the samples and the
inclusion of individuals with long-standing problems of psychological
instability, which make it impossible to verify the effect of the drug
The survey in question – entitled Computerized
Lifestyle Screening Instrument – is an assessment tool for gathering
detailed information on the relationship between crime and substance abuse.
It specifically covers such areas as drug use, emotional states,
interpersonal problems and adjustment problems related to substance abuse.
For more information, see S. Brochu, L.G. Cournoyer, L. Motiuk and K.
Pernaen, “Drugs, Alcohol and Crime: Patterns
among Canadian Federal Inmates,” Bulletin on Narcotics, Vol. LI,
No. 1 and 2, 1999, pp. 57‑73.
A similar study conducted in 1994 also established drug use
prevalence rates of about 50% – 29% having used illegal drugs only
and 27% a combination of drugs and alcohol.
L. Wolff and B. Reingold, “Drug Use and Crime,” Juristat,
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Vol. 14, No. 6,
D. Robinson, F. Porporino and B. Milison, Patterns
of Alcohol and Drug Use Among Federal Offenders as Assessed by the
Computerized Lifestyle Screening Instrument, Research and Statistics
Branch, Correctional Service of Canada, 1991.
Available online at
P.J. Goldstein and H.H. Brownstein, “Drug-Related Homicide in New
York: 1984 and 1988,” Crime
and Delinquency, Vol. 38, No. 4, 1992, downloaded on 31 July 2001, from
the Library of Parliament databases (Academic Search Elite).
See, inter alia, J. Fagan, “Intoxication and
Aggression,” in Drugs and Crime,
Michael Tonry and James Q. Wilson, eds., The University of
Chicago Press, 1990; S. Brochu, 1995; W. Loza and P. Clément,
“Incarcerated Alcoholics’ and Rapists’ Attributions of Blame for
Criminal Acts,” Canadian Journal of
Behavioural Science, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1991, pp. 76‑83.
Serge Brochu devotes a chapter in the appendix of his book to an
analysis of the reliability of self-revealed crime reports.
One of the questions he raises directly concerns intoxication and
substance abuse as an excuse. S. Brochu,
1995, pp. 211‑217.
S. Brochu, 1995; J.J. Collins, “Summary Thoughts About Drugs and
Violence,” NIDA, Research Monograph Series, Drugs and Violence:
Causes, Correlates and Consequences, Rockville, National
Institute of Drug Abuse, Vol. 113, 1990, pp. 265-275; J. Fagan, 1990; P.
S. Brochu, 1995, p. 17; E. Single, 1998, p. 3; H. Harwood et al., 1998,
Chapter 6, section 6.2.3; T. Makkai et al., 2000; T. Bennett, Drugs
and Crime: The Results of
Research on Drug Testing and Interviewing Arrestees, Home Office
Research Study 183, London: Home
Office, 1998, p. 30.
This study provides invaluable information for the analysis of the
economic-compulsive model through a specific question inserted in the Computerized
Lifestyle Screening Instrument distributed to all new federal inmates.
The question is: “Was
this crime committed to get or while trying to get drugs for your personal
use?” S. Brochu et
al., 1999, p. 10.
See, inter alia, E.P. Deschesnes, M.D. Anglin and G.
Speckart, “Narcotics Addiction: Related
Criminal Careers, Social and Economic Costs,” Journal of Drug Issues,
Vol. 21, No. 2, 1991, pp. 383-411.
P. Erickson, 1998; D.N. Nurco et al., 1990, p. 83;
M. Grapendaal et al., 1995, p. 121; T. Bennett, 1998, p. 44; E. Leuw
and I.H. Marshall, eds., Between prohibition and legalization:
the Dutch experiment in drug policy, Kugler Publications, 1994,
See, inter alia, S. Brochu, 1995; N. Brunelle, S. Brochu, and
M-M. Cousineau, “Drug-crime relations among drug-consuming juvenile
delinquents: A tripartite model
and more,” Contemporary Drug Problems, Vol. 27, No. 4, Winter 2000,
J.A. Inciardi, The War on
Drugs: Heroin, Cocaine Crime
and Public Policy, Palo Alto, Mayfield; Steven Duke and Albert Gross,
America’s Longest War: Rethinking
Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugs, New York:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993, p. 53; S. Brochu, “La
violence et la drogue,” L’intervenant,
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 2000. In
general, U.S. research tends to show that violent crime represents a very
small portion (less than 3%) of crimes committed by illegal drug users.
D.N. Nurco et al., 1990.
D.C. McBride, “Drugs and Violence,” in J. Inciardi, ed., The
Drugs-Crime Connection, 1981, p. 113; M. Joubert, “Les
toxicomanes dans la ville. Marché
et lien social,” La revue
Agora, Paris, No. 27‑28, Fall 1993, p. 116.
Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,
1999, p. 4. Available
online at http://www.cisc.gc.ca/Cisc99/omg.html.
D. Reilly, P. Didcott et al., “Long Term Cannabis Use:
Characteristics of Users in an Australian Rural Area,” Addiction,
Vol. 93, No. 6, June 1998, downloaded 1 August 2001 from the Library of
Parliament databases (Academic Search Elite).