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Thedrug menace has become one of the most studied areas of moderncriminology especially the relationship that exists between drug useand criminal drug offenses. It has become a challenging task forpolicy makers and law enforcement officers to come up with the causesand implications of a drug crime relationship. There has been anincrease in the literature that explores the drug offenses andcriminology especially the hard drugs which have been cited ascausing abnormal and violent behavior on the victims. As such, therehas been an increased attention towards the increase in hard drugsand associated violence in most inner cities within the U.S with theinstability that has caused the rise of cocaine and homicides sincethe 1980s. This research paper analyzes the drug policies of the U.Sfrom the beginning of the last century as well as the theories whichtend to dissect the relationship that exists between drugs and crime.The paper also discusses the relationship that exists betweencriminal offenses and hard drug users1.

DrugPolicies in the U.S from a Historical Context

Thehistory of policies on drugs in the US can be discussed from severalapproaches including the reduction of risk or harm of the drug,prohibition, medicalization, the decriminalization, legalization andregulation. As much as there is a need for future research on thebest policy to effectively combat the relationship between drugs andcrime, the perfect strategy is the policy that the government iscurrently implementing. The policy of prohibition involves placingemphasis on severe penalties for possession and distribution ofillegal drugs. This policy is reliant on the theory of deterrencewhich works in two ways. The first way through which the theory worksinvolves the imposition of a swift and unpleasant form of punishmentfor ensuring that the offender is aware of what is wrong and right.Secondly, the imposition of a severe punishment can be a form ofexample to the rest of the individuals who are contemplating oncommitting the same crimes. The use of deterrence is a form ofprevention of crime that has been very vital in promoting criminaljustice.

Thepolicy on reduction of harm or risk can be quite challenging tounderstand, but the model is mostly used to ameliorate theconsequences which are associated with drugs that have an effect onthe health of the use. As such, the policy of harm reduction isspecifically aimed at reducing the harm that is done by the use ofdrugs through promoting proper education regarding the effects of thedrugs rather than incarcerating those who are involved in the processin the criminal acts of selling the illegal drugs. The use ofmethadone clinics is a typical example of harm reduction policy.Treatment with methadone involves keeping the drug addict through asupervised care which helps them not turn to criminal activities tosupport their addiction. The model of medicalization gives thesuggestion that the use of drugs is a medical problem that requiresthe intervention of a physician. A medical practitioner can beentrusted with managing the effects of addictive substances such asdrugs since they can successfully select and prescribe drugs thataddress the needs of the patient. The use of medical marijuana can besued to explain this model with most advocates proposing thatmarijuana can have some positive effects on patients who aresuffering from some diseases such as AIDs and cancer2.

Onthe other hand, the legalization and regulation policies on drugswork in sharp contrast to prohibition. According to this policy, thegovernment should come up with regulations that help in thedistribution and creation of minimum legal age for the use of drugswhile also implementing other regulatory frameworks which control theuse of drugs. The policy of legalization of drugs can have severalpositive impacts including the fall in the prices of drugs as well asusers being able to obtain the drugs at prices which are regulated bythe government and therefore not resorting to criminal activities tosupport their habits. Additionally, the levels of crime that arerelated to drugs will reduce and therefore resulting to less crowdedcourts and prisons. On the same note, the production and distributionof drugs will not be controlled by organized cartels andorganization. But the policy on the legalization of drugs has alsobeen criticized for the possibility of actually increasing theincidences of crime. According to the critics of the policy, theremoval of prohibitionist approach on drugs can lead to an increasein the number of users which will create new addicts who are not ableto support their addiction through the legitimate means and thereforewould automatically turn to criminal activities3.

Themodel of decriminalization refers to completely abolishing allcriminal penalties that are placed on drugs. This policy does notgive the government any role in controlling whoever possesses, sellsor purchases drugs. This policy advocates for an open marketregarding production and distribution of drugs. But all the policiesthat can be implemented on drugs are not mutually exclusive to eachother with some overlapping and having elements of another. Thehistory of US drug policy started with traditions which still have animpact on the policies which are enacted and implemented today. Thelibertarianism concept and emergence of legal markets are some of thefactors which still have an impact on the policies which areformulated in the present day. The libertarian concept has allowed anopen market where the government allowed for the production anddistribution of goods and services including drugs. The Puritanmoralist model which also forms the basis of US drug policies workscontrary to the libertarianism model. According to this model,negative behavior can have a negative impact on the community andtherefore the government should intervene and take action. This is apopular model and has been accepted in the early 1900s where the useof hard drugs was considered to be undermining the morality of thesociety in America4.

Inthe 19thcentury, several drugs were legal including opiates and cocaine. Suchdrugs could be sold in chemists and groceries. But the Pure Food andDrug Act of 1906 were passed under the Roosevelt administration, andthe legislation controlled the sale, possession, and manufacture ofdrugs. The Act also required that specific drugs such as alcohol,cocaine and heroin had content labels as well as the dosage. Beforethat, most drugs were sold as patent medicines with unknowningredients and labels which were misleading to the customers. ThePure Food and Drug Act led to the legislation of the Narcotics Act of1914 which stipulated that all the individuals who were involved inthe drugs business were to register with the Treasury Department andpay special taxes while also keeping all transaction records. The Actonly allowed licensed physicians to prescribe drugs to patients andno common person was allowed to possess or sell the drugs. The mainpurpose of the Act was not to reduce the use of hard drugs but togive the physicians the power to prescribe such drugs in good faithin a legal manner to the patients.

TheMarijuana Act was passed several decades after the Narcotic Act, andthe legislation was meant to control Marijuana which had gotten ontothe government`s radar of evil drugs. The drug came to the U.S.through the Mexican immigrants in the early 20thcentury and became popular by the 1960s. As a means of reducing itspopularity and use, the government started making exaggeratedportrayals of the effects of the drug with most scientificpublications describing the dangers that the use of the drug posed tothe society. Marijuana was labeled as a dangerous drug that couldstimulate lawlessness, crime, and violence in the user. The MarijuanaAct completely banned the possession or sale of any products relatedto marijuana. Later, The Controlled Substances Act was passed tofacilitate research and education on drugs. This specific legislationhad five classifications or schedules which were based on drugs whichhad the potential of being abused. The classifications ranged fromI-V with the schedule I drugs having a high potential of being abusedbut also having no medical benefits. Drugs within the first scheduleincluded heroin and marijuana. The second schedule drugs wereclassified as having a potential of being abused but also having alimited medical use, and they included cocaine, morphine, andcodeine. The remaining schedules were classified as having a lowpotential for abuse but also possessed some medical value andincluded drugs such as anabolic steroids and Valium among otherdrugs5.

Apartfrom government legislation, most agencies and institutions wereinstituted to control drug abuse in the United States. Such agenciesincluded Drug Enforcement Agency, the Coast Guard and US Customswhich had the responsibility of enforcing drug policies and gettingrid of shipments with drugs that did not come from the U.S. Up toPresident Reagan administration, the policies of the government ondrugs ranged from enforcement to rehabilitation. During the 1960s and1970s, drug abuse and criminal activities were at its peak in the USand most government agencies outlined marijuana and cocaine as theirpoint of focus. The Reagan administration resurrected the fight ondrugs and completely discouraged the abuse of drugs by coming up withthe term ‘Just Say No’

Thestart of the 1980s came with a new drug epidemic of crack cocainewhich was got the attention of all policy makers and law enforcementagencies. It was during this period that the famous Pablo Escobarfrom Colombia began his reign as the drug kingpin. Severallegislations were passed against drug cartels includinglife-sentences which were encouraged by the governor of New York,Mario Cuomo. Ed Koch, New York mayor even called for a death sentencefor anyone caught in possession of more than three pounds of cocaine.The President on his part called for a nation-wide fight against thedrug menace and even made huge allocations to relevant agencies tofight the scourge6.

TheAnti-Drug Abuse Act was then enacted in 1986 and was specificallydesigned to strengthen the efforts of the government in the fightagainst drugs in various ways. First, the Act imposed taxes on tradeon any country that did support the US in its fight against the drugwar. It also made provisions for seizing the assets of drug offenderssuch as property. The greatest provision that the Act stipulated wasintroducing sentences for anyone who was found in possession of anyform of cocaine. The same sentence was also applicable to for makinggrams of powder of cocaine. These efforts were justified by makingan emphasis on the harm that the drug was causing to blackcommunities. Due to the sentencing laws, most prisons in the US werecrowded as well as poor prison conditions, a factor which led to are-examination of the sentencing laws by some states. Even thoughthere were changes to the provisions set by the Act, the attitude ofthe nation towards drugs had been set, and law enforcement became thesole response of the government in fighting drugs. This policy didnot change under the subsequent governments with more federalexpenditure being allocated to drug abuse control. The policy ondrugs is undergoing rapid change, and this has had a huge impact onthe relationship between drugs and crime. The shifts in thesepolicies include the decriminalization of marijuana and lesssentencing for drugs such as cocaine as well as the reevaluation ofthe concept of mandatory sentencing.

TheRelationship between Drug and Crime

Theestablishment of a relationship between the use of drugs and crimerequires that several criteria are met. First, there has to be arelationship between the outcome of a violent act, and the use ofdrugs and the use of the drug must come before the crime iscommitted. Also, there has to accountability for the violent act ofcrime by other explanations which are related to the use of the drug.Assuch, the relationship between criminal activities and drugs can beexplained through various models including the use of the substanceleading to the act of crime, the crime leading to the use of asubstance or the relationship between the two phenomena beingexplained by common causes. The use of drugs can cause acting incriminal activities through three main theories including theeconomic compulsiveness, systemic violence, and psychopharmacologicalviolence theory. The perception of crime leading to substance abusecan be explained by criminals being found within a culture thatappreciates the use of drugs and the income that is generated fromthe criminal activities are used to support the drug use habit. Theindirect association between crime and drug use can be explained bythe fact that the two phenomena share common variables such asproblems in schools or a poor social environment and or introductionto gangs. There are also other several variables which can lead todrug abuse and engagement in criminal activities such as emotionaland social problems or family drug abuse history7.

Thepsychopharmacological model of substance abuse and crime can beexplained by the criminal behavior being caused by the effects of theuse of drugs. The effects of drugs which can lead to engagement incriminal activities include the changes that take place within thebiological processes of the body which leads to the alteration of thejudgment of the user. On the other hand, the economic compulsivenessmodel explains that an economic motivation can drive the drug usersto engage in criminal activities so as to support their addictivehabits. As a means of getting a source of income, the drug user willengage in violent crimes such as robbery, burglary or evenshoplifting. The systemic model of drug causing criminal activitiesexplains that dealing in drug is a violent activity which involvesengaging in aggressive behavior and interactions.

Ofthe three models, the psychopharmacological has not been empiricallytested and researched since most empirical studies tend to clusterall illicit drugs together. But it is easily understood that variousdrugs have various effects in terms of pharmacology and thereforethere is varied influences on the user perception towards criminaland violent activities. At the same time, the probability of apharmacological reaction leading to an aggressive behavior isdependent on other factors such as the drug being used and the degreeof impact of ingredients that are used. Other additional factors thatdictate the pharmacological reaction of the body to the drugs includethe dosage that is used in relation to the body size and tolerance ofthe user as well as the presence of any other drug or ingredient thatis taken at the same time with the drug8.Gender and the variation in hormonal action as well as biological andgenetic susceptibilities also have an impact on the degree ofreaction of the drug and the body of the user. Violence emanatingfrom the pharmacological effects of drugs has been associated withhardest drugs and can be exemplified by abuse of spouse or partner ora victim being in a defenseless state. The violent effects of the useof marijuana can also fall under the pharmacological violence eventhough this perception has been discredited by most studies whichhave cited that there is no pharmacological impact of the use ofmarijuana on violent criminal activities. From an empirical point ofview, it can be concluded that psychopharmacological violence cannotbe a sufficient theory to explain the relationship between drug andcrime9.

Froman economic compulsiveness theory point of view, an economic crimeinvolves the use of illegal money to purchase illegal drugs such asheroin and cocaine. A drug user can engage in criminal activitiessuch as prostitution, robbery, and burglary just to get money topurchase their favorite drug. But in most cases, most of thecriminals looking for money to indulge in drugs do not engage inviolent criminal activities but always opt for non-violentactivities. Inmost cases, female drug addicts who are economically motivated toengage in crime only commit non-violent activities such asprostitution and shoplifting. Prostitution has been considered as aneconomic activity which is common in crack-cocaine female users.Systemic violence can only take place between individuals who areinvolved in the business of production distribution and selling ofdrugs10.A typical example of systemic violent crimes involves drug cartelskilling opponents or thieves with the aim of marinating their nichewithin the business and or controlling their drug territory. Thistheory of drug and crime relationship always account for a largeportion of criminal activities such as homicides. The common drugthat has been found in homicide victims has been identified asmorphine and cocaine which both account for 11% and 3% of allhomicide cases in drug-related crimes11.

Heroin,Cocaine, and Crime

Eventhough there are a lot of legal and illegal drugs which can berelated to criminal activities, heroin and cocaine are the mostcommon drugs which have led to increased criminal offenses. Heroin isa drug that is derived from morphine and has several street namessuch as dope and tar and has been labeled as the most dangeroussubstance to have ever existed in human history. The drug, which hasbeen classified as a Schedule I substance, has been in the U.S sincethe early 20thcentury with its use having risen steadily within the century.Heroinusers do not always engage in violent crime but mostly in crime thatgenerates income that can help them to afford the drug. Therefore,most criminal activities emanating from the then use of heroine areeconomic compulsive rather than systemic or psychopharmacological.According to proposers of the legalization of heroin, if cheap heroinis made available then there would be no crime that is related to thedrug. Research also shows that both male and female users do notengage in criminal activities that are violent but rather those thatcan generate enough income to support their habits12.But in most cases, the criminal activities that the user engages inare most likely to be able to purchase more illegal drugs, but it canalso be noted that drug treatment can have a significant effect inreducing the number of crimes that generates income. As such, it isimportant to reduce the use of the drug through treatment.

Heroinusers can be categorized into four categories on how they play a roleon criminality. These categories include an occasional user, astabilized addict, a free wheel addict and a street junkie. Anoccasional heroin user is not typical using the drug and has a highstructure of life. They are individuals who are just starting toindulge in the drug and most cases do not engage in any criminalbehavior to support their addictive behavior. The occasional useralways relies on their legitimate source of income to get the drug.On the other hand, the stabilized heroin addict has a highavailability of the drug and lives a moderate lifestyle. To be atthis stage, the user shall have done experiments in the variouscriminal activities and has discovered the ways of hustling their wayto get enough income to purchase the drug.

Thestabilized heroin addict also is refining their skills to be able tomaintain a successful career in drug crime activities, and such auser mostly engage in hustles such as theft and prostitution.Freewheel addicts of heroin do not have a definite daily structure andhave huge amounts of the drug at their disposal. Due to theavailability of the drug, a free wheel addict will have an escalateduse of the drug and engage in stable routines such as crime to gettheir daily dose. Lastly, the street junkie has a very little lifestructure with a very minimal availability of the drug13.Thejunkie does not have a stable and legitimate employment and mostlylive from a fix to fix and can resort to ordinary crime to get theincome to purchase the drug. Some of the junkies take huge risksabout criminal activities and therefore are more likely to bearrested because they lack an alternative14.

Crackcocaine is a type of cocaine that is formed by mixing baking soda,cocaine hydrochloride in boiling water. This type of cocaine has beenvery popular due to its price and the powerful gratification it givesafter a short period. The epidemic of the drug only became relevantin the US from the mid-1980s as it led to a national rise in therates of criminal activities that emanated from the use of the drug.Crack cocaine is more addictive and produces an intense and highstimulative action by the user. Most of the crack-cocaine users beginby using drugs such as marijuana, alcohol before indulging intococaine and even heroin. Most cocaine users are involved in criminalactivities including business offenses such as burglary andshoplifting15.

Thereis a similarity in criminal patterns and the use of cocaine includingthe initiation of use of drugs with the users having had experimentedwith other light forms of drugs. Additionally, both heroin andcocaine users are also involved in many forms of crimes even thoughmost of these crimes often lead to arrests. There is also arelationship between the amount of drugs used and the degree ofcriminal activities committed both in crack cocaine and heroin users.Therefore an increase in the dosage of the drug used leads tocommitting more crimes. The only difference that exists betweenheroin and cocaine users was the economic stability that cocainedealers had as compared to heroin users.


Inconclusion, the discussion and research surrounding the relationshipbetween drugs and crime is a complex phenomenon. But a lot ofresearch has been done on this specific field following thepopularization of drug wars initiatives that was initiated byPresident Reagan administration from the mid-1980s. This specificresearch study has explored the various policies that have beenimplemented by the government on drug wars and the changes that havetaken place in a drug war with time. At the same time, the paper hasanalyzed the relationship that exists between drugs and crime with aspecific focus on heroin and cocaine as well as the specific crimesthat the users of the two drugs commit16.

Accordingto the research paper, the drug policies in the US have changed fromthe traditional concept of the open market to a prohibitionist policythat entails severe penalties that are attached. But thisprohibitionist policy approach in the regulation of drug use has nothad a major impact in reducing the criminal activities. This has ledto drug policies being enacted at the state level which has often ledto contradiction with the federal laws. The impact of thelegalization of illicit drugs is still questionable, and it is notsure whether it will reduce the scourge or just increase its impacts.The paper has also discussed the tripartite framework which explainsthe relationship between drugs and crime by using three theories. Thepharmacological violence emanates from the biological impacts of thedrug use while the economic compulsiveness model proposes thatcriminal activities are as a result of income generating actions toobtain money to finance the addictive habit. On the other hand,systemic violence emanates from the context of the drug business andhaving control of the drug markets. As much as a single theory cannotbe used to explain the connection between the use of drug and crime,it has become apparent that the psychopharmacological theory is notempirically evidenced while the economic compulsiveness and systemicviolence theories have enough scientific support.

Lastly,the paper has also examined the criminal offenses that are related tococaine and heroin. The research concludes that independent of othervariables illegal drugs are not associated with violent crimes.Rather, most users of illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin mostlycommit crimes that are less violent so as to support their habit ofdrug addiction. With the ever dynamic society and culture, there is agreat need for more research on the relationship between drugs andcrime as exemplified by instances such as the entrance of new drugsthat can lead to more violent crimes and assaults such as rape andarmed robbery.


Aldhous,Peter. 2013. &quotStates Lead the US toward a New Era in its War onDrugs&quot. New

Scientist219 (2931): 12. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62070-9.

Allen,C. 2014. &quotThe Links between Heroin, Crack Cocaine and Crime:Where Does Street

CrimeFit In?&quot. BritishJournal Of Criminology45 (3): 355-372. doi:10.1093/bjc/azi001.

Bennett,Trevor and Katy Holloway. 2012. UnderstandingDrugs, Alcohol and Crime.3rd ed

Felson,R. B. and J. Staff. 2015. &quotCommitting Economic Crime for DrugMoney&quot. Crime&amp


Frydl,Kathleen. 2013. TheDrug Wars in America, 1940-1973.1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge



SIMMONS,and PAUL DILLON. 2010. &quotIllicit Drugs And The Media: Models OfMedia Effects For Use In Drug Policy Research&quot. DrugAnd Alcohol Review30 (4): 397-402. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2010.00239.x.

Kriegler,Anine. 2016. &quotBook Review: The Drug Effect&quot. SouthAfrican Crime Quarterly,no. 41


Lynch,M. 2012. &quotTheorizing the Role of the `War on Drugs` in USPunishment&quot Theoretical

Criminology16 (2): 175-199. doi:10.1177/1362480612441700.

Mitchell,O. and M. S. Caudy. 2015. &quotRace Differences in Drug Offendingand Drug

DistributionArrests&quot. Crime&amp Delinquency.doi:10.1177/0011128714568427.

1 Allen, C. 2014. &quotThe Links between Heroin, Crack Cocaine, and Crime: Where Does Street

Crime Fit In?&quot. British Journal Of Criminology 45 (3): 355-372. doi:10.1093/bjc/azi001.

2 Allen, C. 2014. &quotThe Links between Heroin, Crack Cocaine, and Crime: Where Does Street

Crime Fit In?&quot. British Journal Of Criminology 45 (3): 355-372. doi:10.1093/bjc/azi001.

3 Bennett, Trevor, and Katy Holloway. 2012. Understanding Drugs, Alcohol, and Crime. 3rd ed

4 Lynch, M. 2012. &quotTheorizing the Role of the `War on Drugs` in US Punishment&quot Theoretical

Criminology 16 (2): 175-199. doi:10.1177/1362480612441700.

5 Bennett, Trevor, and Katy Holloway. 2012. Understanding Drugs, Alcohol, and Crime. 3rd ed

6 Mitchell, O. and M. S. Caudy. 2015. &quotRace Differences in Drug Offending and Drug

Distribution Arrests&quot. Crime &amp Delinquency. doi:10.1177/0011128714568427.


SIMMONS, and PAUL DILLON. 2010. &quotIllicit Drugs And The Media: Models Of Media Effects For Use In Drug Policy Research&quot. Drug And Alcohol Review 30 (4): 397-402. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2010.00239.x.

8 Frydl, Kathleen. 2013. The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

9 Frydl, Kathleen. 2013. The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

10 Frydl, Kathleen. 2013. The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

11 Felson, R. B. and J. Staff. 2015. &quotCommitting Economic Crime for Drug Money.&quot Crime &amp

Delinquency. doi:10.1177/0011128715591696.

12 Aldhous, Peter. 2013. &quotStates Lead the US toward a New Era in its War on Drugs.&quot New

Scientist 219 (2931): 12. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62070-9.

13 Bennett, Trevor and Katy Holloway. 2012. Understanding Drugs, Alcohol, and Crime. 3rd ed

14 Frydl, Kathleen. 2013. The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

15 Kriegler, Anine. 2016. &quotBook Review: The Drug Effect.&quot South African Crime Quarterly, no. 41. doi:10.17159/2413-3108/2012/v0i41a836.

16 Bennett, Trevor, and Katy Holloway. 2012. Understanding Drugs, Alcohol, and Crime. 3rd ed