Study of Studies: Drug Prohibition Key Source of Violence and Crime

CANNABIS CULTURE – An extensive study by Canadian researchers has concluded that “tough on crime” prohibition laws proposed by Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party will have no effect on drug supply and may boost rates of violence in the country.

In “a systematic review of all available English-language scientific literature”, researchers at the Urban Health Research Initiative, a program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, examined “the impacts of drug law enforcement on drug market violence”, according to a media bulletin released today.

“Widespread drug-related violence in places like Mexico and the US, as well as the gun violence we are increasingly seeing on Canadian streets, appears to be directly attributable to drug prohibition,” said co-author Dr. Evan Wood, a BC-CfE researcher. “Prohibition drives up the value of these substances astronomically, thereby creating lucrative markets exploited by organized crime. Any disruption of these markets through drug law enforcement seems to have the perverse effect of creating financial opportunities for organized crime groups, and gun violence often ensues.”

The peer-reviewed study analyzed 15 international reports examining “the impact of drug law enforcement on violence”, according to the UHRI. “Contrary to the prevailing belief that drug law enforcement reduces violence, 87% of the studies (13 studies) observed that drug law enforcement was associated with increasing levels of drug market violence,” the group reports.

The study, which confirms what drug policy reformers have been repeating Ad nauseam for years, appears just days after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared on YouTube defending his harsh drug policies and answering questions about marijuana prohibition, which dominated an online poll of reader-submitted questions.

Harper admitted that the drug trade leads to “unimaginable violence and intimidation” and “the destruction of social systems, of families, of governmental institutions, the corruption of police forces”, and said he was “frustrated by how little impact governments have been able to have on the drug trade internationally.”

But instead of recognizing the simple fact, repeated in study after study, that drug prohibition creates the illegal market that fuels this violence and corruption, Harper said we should keep pouring millions into a system that doesn’t work because “drugs are bad”.

“Now, you know, I know some people say if you just legalized it, you know, you’d get the money and all would be well,” he said. “But I think that rests on the assumption that somehow drugs are bad because they’re illegal. The reason drugs…it’s not that. The reason drugs are illegal is because they are bad. And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people.”

The new study shows that Harper and his Conservative Party goons are, yet again, on the wrong side of the scientific debate. Researchers at UHRI pointed directly to the Conservative government’s proposed crime legislation in their announcement of the study:

The review notes that drug prohibition has created a massive global illicit drug market, with an estimated annual value of US$320 billion. Several of the studies reviewed suggested that violence stems from power vacuums created by the removal of key players from the illicit drug market by law enforcement. As police use increasingly sophisticated methods to disrupt drug distribution networks, levels of drug-related violence may rise.

The report’s findings are also significant in the context of Bill C-15, which is currently before Parliament and would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions. Research shows that similar sentencing policies in the United States have been ineffective in curbing the drug trade and have imposed a staggering tax burden through the escalating costs of incarceration. Despite the renewed emphasis on law enforcement in Canada’s new National Anti-Drug Strategy and the proposal to implement mandatory minimum sentences for drug law violations, the evidence base to support these measures has not yet been articulated.

“In the era of evidence-based public policy, it is remarkable that the federal government is proposing extremely costly interventions, such as mandatory minimum sentences, without any discussion of their costs or likely impacts on crime,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, a BC-CfE researcher and co-author of the report. “This review clearly demonstrates that while these interventions will place an enormous burden on the taxpayer, they are unlikely to reduce crime and may actually increase violence in our communities.”

The report recommends that alternative models of drug control be considered if drug supply and drug-related violence are to be meaningfully reduced.

Read the entire study or a one page summary.