The "legalistic" definition of drugs and drug abuse spelled out earlier translates fairly readily into one possible model of drug policy: the prohibition or "punitive" model. Nearly all observers who see drugs as defined by the fact that they are illegal, and who exclude legal substances from that definition, support drug prohibition; that is, they wish to keep the currently illegal drugs illegal. The word "prohibition" has both a specific and a general meaning. In its most specific meaning, "Prohibition" refers to the legal ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol beverages which was in effect in the United States between 1920 and 1933; used in this way, the word is usually capitalized. In its more general sense, the word refers to banning any activity, service, or product through the criminal law. This may be referred to as a punitive approach, that is, a policy which calls for punishing persons who ignore the law and purvey or partake in the relevant activity, service, or product. Clearly, the word "prohibition" can refer to a ban on any psychoactive substance. With reference to drugs, a punitive policy would mean that, if a violation occurs, and someone who is engaged in a drug transaction, or who is in possession of a quantity of an illegal substance, is apprehended by the police, he or she may be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. Under a punitive policy, drug possession and sale are crimes, much like rape, murder, and armed robbery; a criminal penalty is provided in the penal code for infractions. This penalty could entail a fine, a jail or prison sentence, or probation instead of imprisonment; in some jurisdictions (outside the United States), this may even entail execution. When laws are passed providing penalties for a given offense, this is referred to as criminalization. Prohibitionists want drug possession and sale to be criminalizedor even more harshly criminalized than they arebecause, prohibitionists feel, use will decline as a result (or because they feel that such penalties symbolize society's opposition to such use). Since they support a "war" on drugs, advocates of the punitive policy may be referred to as "hawks," a term that is usually used to refer to the more warlike factions in a society. In contrast, legalizers may be referred to as "doves," since they oppose this "war" on drugs and believe we should "lay down our weapons" and "declare peace" (Reuter, 1992, p.16).
Of course, jurisdictions do vary in just how punitive their policies are. At least three factors define a jurisdiction's degree of punitiveness. First, the penalties provided by law will vary from one jurisdiction to another. The laws in some jurisdictions are extremely harsh, calling for capital punishment and life sentences for drug selling and possession; others are more lenient and call for fairly brief jail or prison time. Second, police priorities may or may not focus on drugs. Some jurisdictions devote a substantial proportion of their budget to drug violations their police departments have specialized narcotics squads, and they purchase expensive equipment to aid in surveillance, engage in undercover drug operations, and seek out drug violators with a special vigilance. For the police in other jurisdictions, in contrast, drug enforcement represents a low priority; they will arrest suspects only when they stumble on violations by accident. And third, the likelihood of carrying out the sentence which is called for in the law may be either flexible or ironclad. In many jurisdictions, a variety of alternate penaltiessuch as house arrest, community service, probation, finesare most often invoked. In others, a prison sentence is not subject to discretionthe felon must serve prison time. In addition, as we'll see, in many countries, states, or communities laws are on the books which call for substantial penalties, but violations of these laws are ignored, and the prescribed penalties are never meted out. Thus, although many jurisdictions have a punitive policy, in which the possession and sale of certain drugs is against the law, the variation in just how punitive law enforcement is, is enormous.
Let it be said that the more extreme versions of the punitive approach that are used elsewhere are not legally possible in a society such as the United States, which values civil liberties, the right of due process, and freedom from unreasonable punishment. For instance, very few commentators support the death penalty for drug violations. (A few do, and have so stated in public.) In 1949, when the Communist party seized power, there were tens of millions of opium addicts in China. Most observers agree that, within a decade, the problem had been all but eliminated. Of the many weapons in its arsenal, the Chinese government used public execution of drug traffickers as well as "reeducation" or resocialization camps for users and addicts. Today, as a result of more contact with its neighbors, the problem of drug abuse is making a comeback in China, many observers feel. While lecturing at Beijing's Medical University, Goldstein (1994, p.258) watched the television coverage of a public hanging of 52 alleged heroin dealers. With a crowd of thousands watching, the governor of the province declared: "This is how we deal with drug traffickers!" Such a draconian penalty is simply not a viable option in the United States. When I refer to the punitive policy toward drug possession and sale, therefore, I refer to longer and especially more certain sentences for violators, as well as a relaxation of the rules of due process, largely governing search and seizure by the police. Execution is simply not in the cards here, thankfully.
The criminalization of psychoactive substances through the law, and the enforcement of that law, make up one of the more fascinating of all human activities. Of all psychoactive substances, only caffeine is not regulated anywhere by the criminal law (Goldstein and Kalant, 1990, p.1513). Drug laws and their enforcement are remarkably variable the world over. Alcohol is illegal in some jurisdictions (Iran and Saudi Arabia) and legal in most others; coca leaves containing cocaine are legally obtainable in Bolivia and Peru but not in the United States; though technically illegal, marijuana may be openly purchased in "hash" shops in Amsterdam, but notopenly, at leastin Toronto; heroin may be administered by physicians to addicts in Liverpool but not Los Angeles. The reasoning behind the passage and enforcement of drug laws is, presumably, that substance use has become a problem to the society and that it can and should be eliminated, or at least reduced, by arresting and imprisoning violators. The reasoning behind tolerating or not criminalizing the possession and/or sale of psychoactive substances is that drug use is not a major problem or that punishment would create more problems than it would solve. Which approach is correct? Can generalizations be made concerning the relative merits of criminalization versus the legalization of drugs? Or is the validity of statements about drugs and the law specific to the society, the jurisdiction, and the drug in question?
While lawmakers may have noble intentions in mind when drafting and enacting a piece of legislation, as Robert Burns, Scottish poet (1759-1796) reminds us, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men / Gang aft a-gley" (or, "often go astray"). As we've seen from the concept of unanticipated consequences, our efforts do not always achieve their desired goal, and a variety of unintended, unanticipated, and undesired consequences often result from even the loftiest of goals. In fact, some legislation has caused a great deal more harm than good, as we learn from the lesson of national alcohol prohibition (1920-1933). However, this should not condemn all legislation, for surely there are some laws which have had beneficial results. Hardly anyone would vote to repeal laws against serious crimes such as rape, robbery, and murder, simply because they fail to eliminate the behavior they criminalize, or because such criminalization may sometimes have unanticipated consequences.
Laws requiring motorists to stop when a school bus is loading and unloading students, motorists to buckle up when the car is in motion, and motorcyclists to wear protective helmets have been effective; by "prohibiting" certain behaviors, they have saved countless lives. No one would seriously propose that selling outright poisons as food or medicine to the public be made legal, or that tampering with food or medicine sold by others by introducing poisonous substances into them be subject to no penalty whatsoever. Should potentially harmful substances be sold as medicine? Should manufacturers be allowed to pollute the air the water, the earth? If restrictions apply to actions that harm others, do the same restrictions apply to actions which harm only the individual actor, for instance, the drug user? Should the drug seller be exempt from the restrictions that apply to other types of harm? Yet, what happens in a society when it attempts to control behavior through the criminal law? Useful and intelligent answers to these questions are not easy to come by. It should be clear that the issue of drug control and legislation is a difficult and thorny issue, not one that can be solved with glib, simple, pat formulas. Anyone claiming that a given proposal is self-evidently true, and that opponents of that policy are villains or fools, cannot be trusted.
It should also be noted that there are two entirely different punitive arguments; many observers confuse the two. Let's call them (1) the "hard" or the "strict" and (2) the "soft" or the "moderate" versions. The "strict" punitive version makes use of the logic of absolute deterrence, while the "moderate" punitive version makes use of the logic of relative deterrence.
TWO PUNITIVE ARGUMENTS
The "hard" or "strict" punitive argument says that a given activity can be reduced or eliminated by law enforcement. It argues that crime is deterred or discouraged in some absolute or abstract sense by law enforcement. This is the rationale for the government's "war on drugs": Escalate the number of arrests of users, addicts, dealers, and producers; hand them longer prison sentences; fill the jails and prisons; and eventually drug use will be "defeated." The advocates of the "hard" punitive argument quite literally suppose that drug use can be wiped out, or at least drastically curtailed, by an escalation in arrests and sentencing; arrest and imprison enough drug users and sellers, and use will drop to nearly zero, or at least to tolerable, minimal levels.
In contrast, the "soft" or "moderate" punitive position does not see a defeat of or even a drastic reduction in drug use or abuse as feasible. This argument is quite different from the hard or strict criminalizer's position; in contrast, it says, in the absence of law enforcement, a given activity would be much more common than it is with law enforcement. It relies on a logic of relative deterrence because, it says, with law enforcementas compared with no law enforcementcertain kinds of crime take place more often. If there were no laws or penalties against robbing or inflicting violence upon others, more people would engage in such behavior (not most peoplemore people). Law enforcement does not reduce the incidence of these acts so much as contain them. Same thing with drug use: Punishing the drug violator is not, and, under most circumstances, cannot be, a means of drastically reducing or eliminating drug use. But if there were no drug lawsand no penalties for the production, importation, possession and sale of the presently illegal substancesuse would be considerably higher than it is now. Thus, the "soft" or "moderate" criminalizers do not see the inability of law enforcement to "stamp out" drug abuse as a failure of the punitive policy. "Stamping out" drug abuse is a futile and literally impossible task, and an absurd measure of the effectiveness of the laws against drugs. Legalizers who argue that "everyone knows" that the drug laws have "failed" (Best, 1990; Hyse, 1994; Yett, 1990), the moderate criminalizer argues, are basing their claim solely on the "hard" or "strict" punitive approach; it leaves the "soft" or "moderate" punitive argument completely untouched. In looking at the drug legalization debate, the differences between these two versions of the punitive argument should be kept in mind. It will assume central importance in several later discussions.
In the United States at the present time, a range of psychoactive substances are regulated by the criminal law; they are controlled substances. The Controlled Substances Actalso referred to as the Drug Control Actprovides for "schedules" or categories of drugs with varying controls and penalties for violations. To simplify a complex situation, three categories of psychoactive substances or drugs are controlled by the law.
DRUG CONTROL: THE CURRENT SYSTEM
The first category of drugs may be referred to as the legal drugs. They are not included in the Controlled Substances Act at all; in effect, the government does not consider them drugs in the first place. These psychoactive substances are available to anyone over a certain age. A variety of laws, rules, and regulations stipulate the conditions of their sale and consumptionwhere, when, and by whom they may be purchased and consumed. Violation of these laws may result in arrest and/or a criminal fine. Still, these substances may be acquired and consumed under most circumstances without violating the law. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco cigarettes provide examples of legal drugs. Their sale and use are controlled by law, but they are not mentioned anywhere in the Controlled Substances Act. In addition, some other substances, not strongly psychoactive, commonly referred to as drugs because they are used for medicinal and quasi-medicinal purposes, do not appear in the Controlled Substances Act either. These are the over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen), No-Doz, Dexatrim, and Compoz. Controls on them are less stringent than they are for alcohol, but, like alcohol, they may be purchased legally by practically any adult, without a prescription. Since OTC drugs are not psychoactive and are not used recreationally, we will not consider them here.
The second category of substances is made up of the prescription drugs. These are the Schedule II to V drugs in the Controlled Substances Act. Thousands of drugs that are psychoactive are available by prescription, which are written by physicians for their patients' medical and psychiatric problems, illnesses, or maladies. These drugs are controlled more tightly than alcohol, tobacco, and OTC medicines, that is, those that are completely legal. These drugs are available only by prescription, and only within the context of medical and psychiatric therapy. The "schedules" define the degree of control over the dispensing of prescription drugs as well as spell out the penalties for violating the law. Schedule II drugs (such as cocaine, amphetamine, and short-acting barbiturates) are tightly controlled; Schedules III through V are less tightly controlled. Sale of any of these drugs for nonmedical purposesfor instance, to get highcan result in arrest and imprisonment. In addition to their legal prescribed use, as we saw, a number of prescription drugs mentioned in the Controlled Substances Act that are psychoactive are also widely used illegally, for the purpose of intoxication; some are manufactured illegally in clandestine labs rather than by legitimate pharmaceutical companies.
In addition to individual physicians' prescribing drugs for use by individual patients to treat specific ailments, prescription drugs are widely used for two other populations: first, the mentally disordered, both as inmates of mental hospitals and as outpatients; and second, narcotic addicts who are clients or patients of methadone maintenance programs.
In 1955, there were over half a million residents of publicly funded mental hospitals; today, there are roughly 80,000. Where did they all go? The far-smaller number of mental patients in residence today is not a result of a mentally healthier population; in fact, today, there are more than twice as many hospital admissions each year than there were 40 or 50 years ago. The decrease in patients in residence in mental hospitals is due to the fact that patients are staying in mental hospitals for a much shorter period of timean average of two weeks as compared with six months. The fact is, since 1955, these patients have been administered antipsychotic drugs and are released either into the street or into the care of some sort of group home or small managed facility. Still, if we are thinking about whether the country's policy toward psychoactive drugs is punitive or based on some other philosophy, the fact that hundreds of thousands of mental patients, mostly schizophrenics, are administered drugs that are intended to treat their disorder must be considered.
In addition, nationally, there are about 100,000 outpatients of methadone maintenance programs. Methadone is a slow-acting narcotic whose effects are designed to block the effects of heroin. Taken orally, dissolved in a liquid, methadone does not produce an intoxication or high. Evaluations of methadone maintenance programs have shown that a substantial proportion of their clients, perhaps a third to 40 percent, cut down sharply on their use of illegal drugs, including heroin, and reduce their rate of crime. Methadone is not a panacea, or cure-all. It is not even effective for a majority of the program's clients. Still, a substantial minority are helped in a significant way, and the program seems to be cost effective (Hubbard et al., 1989). Again, methadone maintenance programs provide a partial exception to the rule that American society pursues mainly a punitive approach to drug use. As a general rule, "doves" advocate an expansion of methadone programs, while "hawks" either wish to hold the line on maintenance programs or call for a serious cutback on their funding.
The third category of drugs is made up of those whose possession and sale is completely illegal; they are not available even by prescription. The Controlled Substances Act regards these drugs as having "no medical utility" and a high potential for abuse; they are classified as Schedule I drugs. (The "no legitimate utility" is, of course, largely a legal fiction, since some medical experts regard marijuana and heroin, two Schedule I drugs, as being medically useful.) They cannot be purchased or obtained for any reason whatsoever (except under extremely rare experimental conditions); anyone who possesses, transfers, or sells them automatically violates the law, is subject to arrest, and, if convicted, may have to serve a jail or prison sentence and/or pay a criminal fine. Examples of the Schedule I drugs include marijuana, heroin, MDMA (or "ecstasy"), LSD, and PCP (or "angel dust"); they are always (or almost always) obtained illegally, and are widely used, illegally, for the purpose of intoxication.
For the completely legal drugs, the use of a given substance is not in question; possession and sale for the purpose of just about any and all useincluding intoxicationare legal. The completely illegal drugs represent exactly the opposite side of the coinpossession and sale for almost no use whatsoever are legal. It doesn't much matter why one wishes to use heroin; even medical uses in the United States are against the law (again, excepting extremely rare experimental conditions). In sharp contrast to these two, for prescription drugs, the matter is quite different: It is the use of the drug (and how it is obtained) that defines its legal status. If used in a manner the government deems medically acceptable and obtained by means of a legal prescription, the possession and sale of prescription drugs are legal; if used for what are regarded as illicit or disapproved purposes (say, getting high), or obtained without benefit of a prescription, possession and sale are illegal. Notice, too, that, technically speaking, drug use is not a crime; it is possession and sale that are against the law. When observers refer to the illegal use of prescription drugs, this is shorthand for nonprescription possession and sale for the purpose of illicit use. For Schedule I drugs, likewise, although it is possession and sale that are technically illegaland not useit is ultimately the use of these substances that the law is presumably intended to control.
A small exception to the punitive policy toward Schedule I drugs is provided by the partial decriminalization of marijuana in nine states of the United States: California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. (In 1989 and 1990, the electorate of two states, Oregon and Alaska, votedat least partiallyto recriminalize small-quantity marijuana possession.) In these partially decriminalized states, possession of a small quantity of marijuana (the amount varies from one state to another) is not a crime. If someone is apprehended with less than the stipulated amount, one cannot be arrested (although one's stash will be confiscated) or convicted and will not serve jail or prison time, and one has no criminal record. For such an offense, one will receive a citation much like a traffic ticket, and pay a small fine. The sale or transfer and the cultivation of marijuana, and the possession of more than the stipulated amount, remain on the books as crimes in these states; only the possession of small quantities is exempt. All the partial decriminalization statutes were enacted in the 1970s; since 1980, no state has decriminalized marijuana possession. As we'll see in Chapter 6, there is a world of difference between the partial decriminalization policy just described and one of full or complete decriminalization, which is, as yet, only pie in the sky.
In short, then, at present, the predominant legal stance in the United States is punitive toward a wide range of drugs. Many drugs are completely illegal; their possession and sale is controlled through the criminal law in every jurisdiction of America. These are the prohibited drugs. The punitive approach has been pursued more or less continuously in this country since the passage of the Harrison Act of 1914. Prior to that time, drugs such as heroin, morphine, cocaine, and marijuana were contained in a variety of medicines and could be purchased, without prescription, in a variety of retail outlets, including pharmacies and even grocery stores. Historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of persons, mainly women, became addicted before or just after the turn of the nineteenth century as a result of the indiscriminate use of these "patent medicines" which contained psychoactive drugs, mainly narcotics (Courtwright, 1982; Morgan, 1974; Musto, 1987). The Harrison Act outlawed the over-the-counter or off-the-shelf purchase of what it referred to as narcotics, which many of these patent medicines contained. (The act included narcotics or opiates such as opium, morphine, and heroin, as well as, oddly enough, cocainewhich is actually a stimulant.) With the passage of the Harrison Act, these so-called patent medicines could no longer be sold in the United States. However, hundreds of thousands of persons remained addicted to their ingredients and sought prescriptions to maintain their addiction.
The Harrison Act did not technically outlaw the possession and sale of narcotics as such; it required lawful manufacturers and dispensers of these drugs to be registered and taxed and keep records of their drug transactions. The act's language permitted the prescription and dispensing of narcotics by physicians to their patients for "legitimate medical purposes" and "in the course of legitimate practice." After 1914, many physicians continued to maintain their addict-patients on drugs by writing prescriptions for anyone who was addicted. However, in a series of rulings, the Supreme Court determined that medical maintenance was illegal (Inciardi, 1992, pp.l5-16). Tens of thousands of physicians were arrested for writing prescriptions for addicts, and roughly 3,000 actually served jail or prison time. As a result, by the early 1920s, physicians had abandoned treating addicts; by the end of 1923, every narcotic addict in the United States was by definition a criminal. In addition to the penalization of narcotics (and cocaine) through the Harrison Act, although a number of states had already criminalized the possession and sale of marijuana earlier, by 1937, laws were in place which made it illegal to possess and sell marijuana in every state of the United States. Additionally, that year, a federal law, the Marihuana Tax Act, was enacted. The Harrison Act and the Marihuana Tax Act represent punitive policies toward the drug problem; whether through intent or practice, they prohibited and criminalized the use and sale of narcotics, cocaine, and marijuana.
In a nutshell, the punitive policy toward drug use is this: To solve the drug problem, its proponents argue, arrest sellers and users, convict them, prosecute them to the full extent of the law, and incarcerate them. If any nonusers contemplate taking up the habit, the example of what happens to those who get caught should dissuade them from such foolish behavior. Of course, as I said earlier, there are variations on a punitive theme. Some advocates of criminalization approve of the current policy; others call for even harsher laws, longer and more-certain prison sentences, fewer alternatives to incarceration, less discretion by judges, even (rarely) execution of the most serious offenders. In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Darryl Gates, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department testified that casual marijuana smokers "ought to be taken out and shot," because, he said, "we're in a war" (Beers, 1991, p.38). William Bennett, former federal drug "czar," speculated on a nationwide radio talk show that perhaps anyone who sells illegal drugs to a child should be beheaded. "Morally," he said, "I don't have any problem with that at all" (Lazare, 1990, p.25). Most criminalizers do not support such harsh penalties, of course, but they do endorse criminal penalties for most of the currently illegal drugs. In short, regardless of how severe or mild the penalties proposed, the criminal law, arrest, and incarcerationpunishmentremain the cornerstones of the punitive approach to drug abuse. It is our current policy for many drugs, and it is a policy that most Americans support. Public opinion polls find that roughly 90 percent of all Americans believe that the possession and sale of hard drugs should remain illegal, and 75 percent support such a policy even for marijuana.
At present, then, the United States follows the maintenance model for 100,000 or so narcotic addicts who are enrolled in methadone programs; the partial decriminalization model for small-quantity marijuana possession in nine states; the legalization model for alcohol and tobacco cigarettes; the medical or prescription model for psychoactive pharmaceuticals such as Valium, Halcion, morphine, Prozac, Thorazine; and a criminalization or punitive model for its illegal drugs: marijuana (completely illegal in 41 states), crack, ecstasy, PCP, LSD, and heroin (completely illegal), and a variety of prescription drugs, such as barbiturates, amphetamine, and cocaine, which are completely illegal if used recreationally or without benefit of prescription. To put the matter another way: All recreational drug use in America is prohibited unless otherwise exempted. The exceptions are alcohol and cigarettes. Marijuana is a partial exemption in that, even in the decriminalized states, the user cannot possess above a given quantity and, even if he or she does possess less than that, may receive a fine similar to a traffic ticket. (The prescription drugs do not represent an exception to this rule, since, in principle, they are to be used exclusively for therapeutic, not recreational, purposes.) In effect, in the United States, the only significantly psychoactive drugs that users are completely free to take legally for pleasure (caffeine excepted) are alcohol and tobacco.
SUMMARY OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM
Of course, in addition to what the law says about drug possession and sale (the "de jure" reality), we must also consider the actual enforcement practices with respect to drugs (the "de facto" reality). For instance, in the states where marijuana possession is a crime, what is the statistical likelihood that someone who is apprehended will be arrested with two joints in his or her possession? It depends on the officer and the jurisdiction, of course, but arrest is a great deal less likely than it is when someone is caught with a kilogram of heroin, even though both substances may be technically equally illegal. The fact is, for crimes generally, a substantial proportion of suspects who are apprehended committing a crime are simply released without being arrested; moreover, only a small minority of first-time offenders convicted of even a serious crime or felony will actually be sent to prison (Walker, 1994, pp.41-43). The factor that influences the likelihood of arrest and conviction (aside from the quality of the evidence) is the seriousness of the offense. And many officers and departments do not consider small-quantity marijuana possession specifically, and small-quantity drug possession generally, serious enough to warrant arrest. (Still, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's figures, there were over 350,000 arrests for marijuana violations in the United States in 1994, over 80 percent of which were for the possession of a quantity of the substance rather than for distribution or sale.) It is important to know that actual enforcement practices may be quite different from what the law says.
What does our current trend on drug policy look like? Is our drug policy becoming more punitiveor less? As we moved from the 1980s to the l990s, and as we move into the twenty-first century, are the suggestions of the legalizers taking hold? Who's winningthe "hawks" or the "doves"? The evidence is very strong that the punitive or punishment oriented approach is winning out. We saw some of the figures in the Preface. This is part of a more general trend, nationwide, for all crimes; the country seems to be abandoning the treatment-oriented or rehabilitative approach and moving increasingly in the direction of incarceration as a solution to the crime problem. "Lock 'em up and throw away the key!" seems to be our contemporary watchword. Budgets are increased every year for the construction of new jails and prisons; even so, our jails and prisons continue to be filled to overcapacity. Between 1970 and l99S, the state and federal prison population increased from 200,000 to over one million, while the number of inmates per 100,000 in the general population more than tripled during this period, from 100 to over 300. There are two main reasons for this virtual explosion of incarcerated offenders. First, inmates, especially those convicted of violent offenses, are being kept in prison longer; that is, increasingly, they are serving out a longer portion of their sentences instead of being released early and placed on parole. For instance, in 1988, violent offenders served 43 percent of their sentence, whereas today, this figured climbed to 51 percent (Butterfield, 1995). Parole boards are becoming increasingly choosy about which prisoners they will release early. And second, while first-time drug offenders in the past were very rarely sent to prison (in the past, probation was a common sentence for a drug offender), today, increasingly, they are far more likely to be incarcerated. In 1980, only 8 percent of the population of state prison inmates were incarcerated for a drug offense; today, this is 26 percent; over a third of new admissions to prisons are drug offenders (Butterfield, 1995; Lindesmith Center, 1996). Hence, our hugely expanding prison population. American society is not committing more crime (in fact, the crime rate has been dropping since the 1980s), but our criminal justice system is clearly becoming more punitive, specifically toward violent offenders and drug offenders.
ARE WE BECOMING INCREASINGLY
PUNITIVE ON DRUG CONTROL?
Reuter (1992, p.21) estimates that, in the early 1990s, nearly $30 billion was spent per year at all levels of government on drug control, more than a tripling over the past decade and a half. Of this total, roughly 75 percent was for enforcement of the drug laws; only 25 percent remained for treatment and education. But budgetary allocations represent only one measure of the growing strength of the punitive approach to drug control, says Reuter. The harshness or length of the sentences handed down, as well as those actually served, for drug offenses have increased significantly in the past decade and a half. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 1980, there were 581,000 drug arrests nationally; in 1994, there were 1,351,000. Between 1980 and the 1990s, the percent of drug arrests that resulted in conviction rose dramatically, and the percent of convictions resulting in a prison sentence, likewise, increased dramatically. On average, a drug violator released from federal prison in 1992 served a 33-month sentence; those sentenced in 1992 must serve a mandated minimum of 70 months (Lindesmith Center, 1996). In fact, the number of convicted drug felons going to prison increased by over 10 times during this period, and the total number of prison years they received, likewise, increased by over 10 times
(Reuter, 1992, p.25). As of 1996, just under two-thirds of the nearly 100,000 inmates of federal prisons are serving time for drug violations. The conclusion is inescapable: The "hawks" are winning; the punitive approach to drug control has become more ascendant over time. There is no evidence to suggest that this will turn around any time soon; for the time being, the cry of reformers remains a voice in the wilderness.
Chapter 5. Strange Bedfellows: Ideology, Politics, and the Drug Legalization Debate