Drugs and crime are intimately related in the public mind. When a gangland execution is reported in the media, most of us immediately begin thinking about a possible drug connection. Drugs are behind the extraordinarily high murder rate in the nation's largest cities, we feel. Innocent bystanders are gunned down on the streetand behind every such slaying, drugs are seen as being responsible. Decent, honest, law-abiding citizens are held hostage to drug dealers, afraid to leave their apartments at night. Robbery, burglary, auto theft, simple larcenythese and other property crimes are committed on a massive scale to pay for millions of drug habits. Assault, rape, reckless endangerment, child abuse, automobile fatalities: Much of it is committed when the offender is under the influence.
The connection between drugs and crime is real, of course, although somewhat exaggerated in the public's mind, and in the media as well. All researchers recognize that determining the causal link between drug use and criminal acts is not an easy matter. If the police discover a body in a known crack house, was the killing drug-related? Not necessarily. The deceased may have died of natural causes, or as a result of actions completely unrelated to drugs. To some degree, the designation "drug related" is a construct, not an objective reality (Brownstein, 1993). Even the fact that drugs and crime are frequently found together or correlated does not demonstrate their causal connection. Still, all observers agree that the drugs-crime connection is strong. Drug users do have a significantly higher than average crime rate. In fact, the recreational users of all drugsalcohol and tobacco includedhave a substantially higher crime rate than do drug abstainers. (Let's return to this theme momentarily.) What's behind this connection? What causes it? And what can we do about it? Quite obviously, the criminalizers and the legalizers have precisely the opposite solution. The criminalizers think that severe penalties will take the criminals off the street, discourage potential offenders from breaking the law, and lower the crime rate. The legalizers think that removing criminal penalties from the currently illegal drugs would sever the drugs-crime connection by removing the motives for property crime (because drugs would be cheap) and violent crime as well (because there would be no illegal empire to protect). How would it work? And would it be successful?
One building block of the legalization position is that it is law enforcement itself that is largely responsible for the high rate of crime in our society. If the currently illegal drugs were to be legalized, they say, the crime rate would decline sharply and drastically. Legalization would "take the crime out of drugs," its advocates argue. This will take place in at least four distinctly different ways.
First, since, under legalization, drug possession would no longer be a crime, not arresting addicts and usersand, in all likelihood, petty, street-level user-dealers as wellwould free up the criminal justice system to the tune of hundreds of thousands of arrests per year, and keep hundreds of thousands out of the nation's prisons, and put them into treatment programs.
Second, since drugs would be sold legally and at low cost, addicts and drug abusers would no longer be forced to commit crimes in order to obtain their substances of choice. Their current crime rate is a function of the illegality of cocaine and heroin; transform that legal status, and the crime rate of hard-drug users will plummet, again, freeing up our criminal justice system so that it can focus largely on the violent criminal.
Third, legalization would result in the deflation of the profits earned by dealers which, in turn, would result in the virtual elimination of gang "turf" wars and other violent disputes that erupt around the drug trade. As much as half the urban street violence can be traced to the drug trade; eliminate drug profits, violence will decline, and many lives will be saved.
And fourth, legalization would virtually wipe out organized crime, at least that sector of it that earns its livelihood by selling the currently illegal drugs. A major source of the underworld's profits will be eliminated overnight; organized crime will shrink correspondingly.
Do these arguments in favor of legalization make sense? Will legalization reduce or "take a bite out" of crime? Are these points empirically sound? What evidence do we have to address these points? Conceptually, at least, we have to make a distinction between crimes committed by users in the course of their everyday lives and those committed by dealers in the course of their illicit business. In addition, we have to keep the distinction between crimes of violence and property crimes fresh in our mind. These two distinctions will become relevant as our discussion unfolds.
If drug possession and sale are legalized, by definition all the current drug crimes would no longer be against the law. In this sense, legalization would produce a direct and immediate drop in the crime rate as a result of taking the drug laws off the books. Or would it? This depends entirely on the specific legalization program under consideration. The details of the plan under consideration are far from a trivial matter. Details represent a series of conditions which determine or influence what the targeted population is likely to do, and that is different for different conditions.
Many legalization plans propose controls for the currently illegal drugs similar to those now in place for alcohol. Alcohol is a legal substance; anyone above a certain age may purchase it. Let's be clear about this: In the United States, there are far more arrests related directly to the use, possession, and sale of alcohol, a legal substance, than is true for all the illegal drugs. In 1994, according to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, arrests for drug abuse violations numbered 1.3 million. But there were just under 1.4 million arrests for driving under the influence, over half a million for violations of the liquor laws, and nearly three-quarters of a million for drunkenness. (This does not count the arrests for violations that are code words for alcohol-related offenses, such as disorderly conduct and vagrancy.) Of course, this statement must be met with a strong qualifier: Though there are many alcohol-related arrests, and consequently, a sizable segment of jail or temporary holding facilities is devoted to them, there are very few arrests that result in prison incarceration. In contrast, over 60 percent of federal and 26 percent of state prisoners (and a third of newly incarcerated state offenders) are incarcerated for drug offenses (Butterfield, 1995). Alcohol offenses tie up a huge proportion of police and jail resources, but practically none in prisons. In any case, if the laws and their enforcement against the now-illicit drugs were similar to those now operating for alcohol, it is clear that this would not eliminate drug crimes or arrests on drug charges. It is not inconceivable that, under legalization, the current drug arrest figures may actually rise as a result of two developments: One, as I argued, under legalization, more people will use drugs; and two, the police will use charges like public intoxication and driving while under the influence as a new means of controlling drug abuse. In any case, an alcohol-type legal control system will not eliminate drug arrestsand it may actually increase them.
The marijuana decriminalization or "harm reduction" program that now prevails in the Netherlands is often cited by legalizers as a model drug plan the United States might adopt. Yet, it has not resulted in the disappearance of drug crimes. Recall that in the Netherlands, the possession and sale of small quantities of marijuana, while technically against the law, are tolerated in practice; the possession and sale of large quantities of marijuana remain a crimeboth in the law and in its enforcement. Moreover, the possession and sale of the hard drugs by users, addicts, and petty street dealers, again, while illegal, results in very few arrests. Yet, as we've seen, in the Netherlands, roughly a third of the prison population is made up of drug offenders; most were arrested for the sale of substantial quantities of the hard drugs. This is comparable to the United States, where, again, just over a quarter of the state prison population is made up of drug violators (Butterfield, 1995). Clearly, then, certain legalization or decriminalization programs will not eliminate drug crimes.
Picture a far more modest legalization scheme: some form of drug maintenance or a prescription plan. In the United States at present, as we've seen, roughly 100,000 narcotic addicts are enrolled in methadone maintenance programs. Under these programs, narcotic addicts are not granted complete, free, or unrestricted access to any psychoactive substance they wish to take. Instead, they are administered maintenance doses of methadone, a slow-acting narcotic. These doses are administered orally rather than injected, so that they do not produce a high or intoxication. However, only a minority of the nation's narcotic addicts are enrolled in these programs (100,000 out of between half a million to a million), partly because funding for them is limited and partly because most narcotic addicts do not want to be maintainedthey want to get high. Most enrollees violate the terms of the program by taking illegal drugs; most drop out of the program against the advice of the staff, presumably to return to a life of addiction; most continue to commit criminal behavior, even when they are enrolled in the program. However, roughly a third to 40 percent, as I pointed out earlier, are helped in some major way, as a result of a significant decline in their use of heroin and other drugs, as well as a reduction in their crime rate. If drug legalization is to look anything like the current methadone maintenance program for narcotic addicts, then what we should expect is a significant drop in the overall rate of illegal drug use for enrollees as a whole (to perhaps one-half or one-third of their previous level). However, roughly a third of all enrollees will continue to take illegal drugs frequently, and will drop out of the program; a third will take them less frequently, and will bounce in and out of the program; and a third will remain semi-abstemious as a result of the program (Hubbard et al., 1989). Again, while this is an improvement, it does not result in an elimination of drug crimes among addicts. If legalization is to look like our present methadone maintenance program, we should expect similar results. In fact, perhaps we should expect poorer results, since, now, methadone programs only enroll the addicts who are most committed to giving up illegal drug use. If these programs were to be expanded, they will inevitably enroll a far higher percentage of less-committed addicts and, hence, a higher volume of drug violations.
Considering methadone maintenance programs forces us to face an obvious dilemma in "fine tuning" the dispensing of drugs in any legalization system.
On the one hand, if the restrictions are as strict as they are for our current methadone maintenance program, many users, abusers, and addicts will not be willing to enroll because it does not give them the drug they want, or the drug in sufficient doses, or administered the way they want. Most users want to get high, they do not wish simply to be maintained and, hence, refuse to enroll in a maintenance program. As a consequence, a restrictive program, such as the methadone programs we now have, will result in many drug violations among users, including enrollees.
On the other hand, under a viable legalization program, what are our criteria for eligibility to be? Should anyone above a certain age be allowed to obtain any quantity of any drug, no matter how large, at any level of potency? What would the price of newly legal drugs be pegged at? The price of the currently illegal drugs is hugely inflated above what they cost to manufacture under free-market conditionsby a factor of 20 to 50 times. Should drugs be priced at what the market will bear? If this means selling crack at 50 cents a dose, within the budget of any sixth-graderso be it? If not, will an illicit market step in and supply what the market wants, but cannot obtain legally?
The fact is, under almost any conceivable form of legalization, that is one with some restrictions, an illicit market will "continue to thrive alongside the legal one" (Kraar, 1990, p.71). The lower legal prices are (and the more accessible drugs are), the smaller this illicit market will be; the higher legal prices are (and the less accessible drugs are), the larger it will grow. If there is an "iron law of prohibition" it is this: An illicit market in a hugely desired product will shrink only to the extent that the demand for that product is satisfied; to the extent that it is not, the illicit market will grow correspondingly. The claim that legalization will dry up an illicit drug market seems extraordinarily naive, given that it fails to stipulate the single most crucial factor: the price and availability of the newly legalized substances. Is it really possible that any informed observer imagines that free and ready availability of drugs will not significantly increase their use and abuse and, hence, multiply the damage they cause?
Hence, the dilemma can be stated quite simply: The more restrictive the program, the larger the volume of illicit use, and therefore the more frequent the drug crimes; the less restrictive the program, the smaller the volume of illicit usebut, almost certainly, the greater the legal use (Moore, l990a, p.l6). Programs with many restrictions will have little licit but much illicit use, whereas programs with few restrictions will have much licit but little illicit use. Programs which claim to wipe out drug distribution crimes will do so only at the expense of distributing psychoactive substances to anyone who wants them, and will encourage use; to the extent that there are restrictions, an illicit market will arise to meet that demand. The same economic market principle operates for less-than-full legalization programs as for our current punitive policy. The only legalization plan that would result in eliminating drug-related crimes or arrests for sale and possession is a complete free-market or laissez-faire program (Szasz, 1992), which calls for virtually no restrictions on drugs whatsoever. This plan has no likelihood whatsoever of implementation in the foreseeable future. As I said earlier, it is difficult to imagine any legislator or serious policy analyst urging a program that calls for controls on powerful and dangerous psychoactive drugs that are no more stringent than those that apply to the possession and sale of tomatoes.
Currently, drugs and crime are connected in very specific ways; their connection bears directly on the issue of whether or not property crime would decline under legalization. At least three "models" spell out the different ways they could be connected: the "enslavement" or "medical" model, the "criminal" model, and the "intensification" model.
THE DRUG USEPROPERTY CRIME CONNECTION: THREE MODELS
The enslavement (or "medical") model is the one that has been adopted by the legalizers. It goes as follows. Addicts and abusers become "enslaved," unable to control their use of they drug; they spend so much money on it that they are unable to support their habit by working at a regular, legitimate job. Consequently, they must engage in crime; they have no choice in the matter. The enslavement model argues that addiction came first and crime followed as a consequence; addicts turn to crime because of their addiction. In the absence of addiction, those persons who are now enslaved to a drug would not commit moneymaking crimes, at least not to the same degree. Under legalization, in contrast heroin and cocaine would cost just a dollar or so per dose, and a huge slice of crime would be wiped out virtually overnight (Inciardi, 1992, pp.l50,153,159,248,263). The enslavement model makes two assumptions: first, that addicts and abusers are motivated to use their drugs of choice primarily because they want to avoid painful, body-wracking withdrawal symptoms and, second, that they will be satisfied with maintenance and will not seek intoxication or a high.
The criminal model argues that it is not addicts who turn to crime but criminals who turn to drugs. Long before they become dependent on heroin and cocaine, those who eventually do so were already engaging in a variety of criminal activities. Persons who eventually become drug addicts and abusers were delinquents and criminals first; only later do they turn to drug use. The type of person who engages in criminal behaviormoneymaking crimes includedis the same type of person who experiments with and becomes dependent on drugs. Addiction has nothing to do with their criminal behavior; they are not enslaved to a drug so much as participants on a criminal lifestyle. Their drug use is a reflection or an indicator of that lifestyle; it is a later phase of a deviant tendency or career. Take away the drugs and they would still commit a great deal of crime; make drugs inexpensive, and they would still commit a great deal of crime; make drugs legal, again, and they would still commit a great deal of crime. Such persons belong in prison, this argument holds; legalization isn't going to reform their criminal tendencies (Inciardi, 1992, pp.l51,160-163).
The intensification model represents something of a blend or compromise between the enslavement and the criminal models (Inciardi, 1992, pp.l58,163,248). It argues that, yes, criminal careers are already well established long before someone abuses, becomes dependent on, or even uses illegal drugs. Take away the drugs and, indeed, these same persons would still commit crimes vastly in excess of the rate of the general population. Legalization will not eliminate their criminal activities; indeed, most drug-dependent persons are deeply entrenched in a criminal lifestyledependency or no dependency, drugs or no drugs. Drug abuse and criminal activity are simply part and parcel of the way some people live. Drugs and crime are not causally connected so much as manifestations of the same deviant tendencies. On the other hand, the heavy use of cocaine and heroin certainly intensifies the likelihood that addicts and abusers will commit crimes, especially moneymaking crimes. Researchers have followed samples of heroin addicts over a period of years. The number of days on which these addicts committed crimes was extremely high during periods of nonaddiction (that is, during abstention or when enrolled in a methadone maintenance program)but strikingly lower than the number of days during which they remained addicted (Anglin and Speckart, 1988; Nurco et al., 1988). The conclusions are inescapable: Drug abuse does not create or cause criminal behavior, but it does intensify or drive it. Legalization would not wipe out moneymaking crime among addicts and abusers, but it may very well reduce it (Inciardi, 1992, pp.l58, 163, 248).
Would some form of drug legalization reduce the incidence of moneymaking crimes among drug addicts and abusers to practically zero? Almost certainly not. Most are involved in crime as a way of life; very few have a legitimate job; very few have enough education to make them marketable. Most commit crimes just to stay alive. In the world of chronic street-drug abuse, criminal activity is routine, deeply entrenched. It is simply how a certain segment of the abuser population earns money to obtain what it wants. Legalization is not going to change this very much. On the other hand, would legalization reduce the likelihood that heroin addicts and cocaine abusers would commit moneymaking crimes? In all likelihood, yes. Now, as we've seen, the total amount of crime committed by addicts who are enrolled in treatment programs declines to between one-half and one-third of its former level (Hubbard et al., 1989). Remember, however, that methadone maintenance clients represent a fairly small, self-selected sample of addicts who are motivated to succeed; if all addicts were able to walk into such a program whenever they felt the impulse to rehabilitate themselves, would their crime rate be as affected as is the case now, with a more restrictive program? If legalization were to increase the number of addicts and abusers significantly and strikingly, the total crime rate may very well increase along with it. And under legalization, would users, who would then spend less money on drugs, begin spending the same amount on other goods and services and, as a consequence, commit the same amount of crime? This is a distinct possibility.
As we saw, crimes of violence must be at least conceptually separated from property crime. Their dynamics are not necessarily the same; in fact, their motives are quite different. (At the same time, most of the same persons who commit crimes of violence also commit property crime.) The legalization model, at any rate, rests on a sharp distinction between them. As with the connection between drug use and moneymaking crimes, we encounter three models of the drugs-violence nexus, or why violence is more common among drug abusers than the rest of our citizenry: the psychopharmacological model, the economic-compulsive model, and the systemic model (Goldstein, 1985; Goldstein et al., 1989). They do not correspond exactly to the three models for moneymaking crimes I just spelled out, although the economic-compulsive model is similar to the enslavement model above, and the systemic model corresponds more or less to the criminal model. It is important to note that these three models are not mutually exclusive; that is, one is not right, while the other two are wrong. In fact, one could be right in explaining the dynamics of a particular criminal event, while, for another specific crime, another model best explains its unfolding. All may be right in explaining the drug use-violence link for different specific crimes; on the other hand, it is possible that one of them best explains a great deal more drug-caused acts of violence than the other two.
DRUGS AND VIOLENCE: THREE MODELS
The psychopharmacological model says that drugs cause violence because of their direct effects. As a result of taking a specific drug, this model argues, users become irritable, excitable, impatient, and irrational and, hence, are much more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Judging by their direct or pharmacological effects, it might seem reasonable that narcotics would depress or reduce violent behavior because of their soothing, calming, soporific effect; marijuana as well is more likely to lower the user's violent tendencies and hence, reduce the incidence of violent behavior as well. In contrast, again, simply going on their direct pharmacological effects, cocaine and amphetamine would seem to increase the criminal behavior of users as a result of these drugs' tendency to stimulate overall activity, alertness, edginess, suspicion, paranoia, and behavioral fixations. It should also be said that heroin and the narcotics could generate an excitable, impatient, irritable state during withdrawal (Inciardi, 1992, p.l61).
The economic-compulsive model argues that what causes the higher rate of violence among addicts and abusers is not so much the direct or pharmacological effects of drugs but the fact that users are dependent on drugs and, thus, engage in a great deal of violent crime that is a by-product of that dependency. In supporting a costly drug habit, addicts and abusers have to commit such crimes as theft, prostitution, and robbery; in committing them, they come into abrasive and sometimes violent confrontation with victims, bystanders, and the police. Moneymaking crimes become violent crimes inadvertently, by accident, without design, simply because victims and others fight back or because drug abusers often lack good judgment about using the most effective means of carrying out the deed. They are not "really" violent criminals, this reasoning goes, they're just involved in moneymaking activities that unwittingly force them to become violent upon occasion. Their violence is an extension of their "enslavement" to drugs.
The systemic model argues that drug abusers are more likely to be violent than the rest of us because drug abuse is densely woven into a lifestyle that is, by its very nature, violent. This is especially the case when we consider drug selling in addition to the use and abuse of illegal drugs. One cannot be a drug dealer, especially in the inner city, without facing the possibility of violence; it is a world that is saturated with violence. In a study of over 400 homicides in New York City, Goldstein et al. (1989) found that over half were "drug related." Four out of 10 of all these homicides, and eight out of 10 the drug-related homicides, specifically involved cocaine. The connection in nine out of 10 of the cases of cocaine-related homicides was systemic in nature. It was the social context of the drug trade that generated the vast majority of these killings; these homicides were results of territorial disputes, robbery of a drug dealer, assaults to collect a debt, punishment of a drug worker, disputes over a drug theft, and disputes involving a dealer's selling bad drugs.
In other words, the world of selling cocaine, especially in certain contexts, is an ugly, brutal, violent, inherently disputatious world. Arguments are frequent. Predators roam the street looking for opportunities to rip dealers off or muscle in on their territory. Dealers dilute the merchandise for a fatter profit. Users attempt to acquire merchandise without paying for it. Huge sums of cash are exchanged; valuable merchandiseillegal drugsis moving from one location to another, from hand to hand, apartment to apartment, vehicle to vehicle. The temptation to cheat, steal, and shortchange is always great. Violence is a means of social control in such a world; it is an ever-present reality.
But we can take this a step further: It is not only the world of drug dealing in which violence is common (although this is especially the case); so is the street world of drug abuse generally. A later study by the same research team (Goldstein et al., 1991) obtained detailed, day-by-day accounts of the criminal activities and drug use of nearly 300 street cocaine users for eight weeks, or 56 days. The sample was divided into nonusers (former cocaine usersthat is, they were nonusers for the period of this study), "small" users (who spent less than $34 per day on cocaine during the study), and "big" users (who spent more than $34 per day on cocaine). The researchers sampled men and women equally. This study provides a somewhat different slant on the reality of the connection between drug, especially cocaine, abuse and violence than the study cited earlier.
About half the sample were involved with at least one seriously violent episode during the eight weeks of the study (55 percent for the men, 59 percent for the women). However, the violence in which men were involved was mainly as a perpetrator, while the violence most of the women were involved in was as a victim. Moreover, as volume of cocaine use increased, the men were increasingly likely to be involved in violence as a perpetrator, while for the women, as cocaine use increased, the likelihood of being a victim of violence increased (pp.356, 357). For men, violence as perpetrator was related to involvement in robbery; for women, violence as victim was related to domestic disputes with lovers, boyfriends, and husbands, as well as to disputes with friends and acquaintances. In this study, alcohol played a prominent role in violent episodes, and an extraordinarily high proportion of the violent events reported by the sample stemmed from the psychopharmacological dimension, and far less from the systemic or economic-compulsive dimensions (p.361). And in most of these events, alcoholnot cocainewas the drug most intimately connected to violence. Interestingly, of all the categories in the sample, the "big" male cocaine users were the most likely to be involved in violence, but their violence was least likely to be related to cocaine use or distribution (p.364).
The conclusions we can draw from this study seem clear. Heavy, chronic street abusers of illegal drugs are involved in a great deal of violence. Heavy (or "big") male cocaine users are often victimizers; they frequently engage in a variety of crimes, both economic and violent. The specific motive of paying for and supporting a drug habit is almost beside the point. Rather, most engage in crime more or less as a way of life. Even crimes with an economic motive, such as robbery, often turn violent. Many of their acts of violence are alcohol-related. Women, too, are frequently implicated in acts of violence, but more often as a victim than as a perpetrator. It is almost inevitable that women who are involved in the illegal street drug scene will be victimized; in fact, the more they use cocaine, the greater that likelihood is. Drug use either places them in vulnerable situations or is a measure or indicator of their involvement in the violence-saturated street drug scene. It is extremely unlikely that legalization will transform the violent nature of the world of heavy, chronic drug abuse very much. That violence is a part of the way that frequent, heavy drug users live their lives; it is systemic to their subculture. In assuming that the ordinary, routine, day-to-day, garden-variety violence will decline substantially if the currently illegal drugs were to be legalized, the legalizers do not make a terribly compelling argument.
The connection between drug use and criminal behavior is strong, intimate, and, in all probability, ineradicable. But is it causal in nature? If so, what is the nature of the causal relationship between them? As we've seen, the causal connection is extremely complex. Certainly illegality and, hence, the cost of illegal drugs influence the crime rate, that is the exact magnitude of crime. But illegality and cost do not determine criminality. Recall that, among cocaine abusers, the drug that was most intimately connected with violence was alcohol, not cocaine, and that the more that they used cocaine, the less that cocaine played a role in their violence (Goldstein et al., 1991).
THE DRUGS-CRIME CONNECTION GENERALLY
The role of the unexpected is made stunningly clear when we examine the correlation between legal drug use and criminal behavior. The relationship between alcohol and tobacco use and the commission of crime is strong and significant. Practically every study that has ever been conducted on this relationship has found that drinkers and smokers are more likely to engage in criminal behavior of all kindsboth property crime and crimes of violencethan is true of substance abstainers. Moreover, the more that one drinks, at any rate, the greater this likelihood is (Akers, 1984; O'Donnell et al.,1976, pp.82,83). Again, what's the causal connection? And if this is true of crime's connection with legaland fairly inexpensivedrugs, what does this say about the impact that legalization will have on the criminality of users of the currently illegal drugs? Then, too, if systemic violence is characteristic of heavy users of illegal drugs (cocaine and heroin, at any rate), what accounts for the higher crime rate of drinkers and smokers? After all, most consumers of alcohol and tobacco are presumably not members of a criminal subculture; where does their higher rate of criminality come from?
Let's be clear about this: Most drinkers and smokers are law-abiding; most do not engage in crimeserious crime at any rateand most are not "criminals." When criminologists assert a connection between drug use and crime, they are talking about a correlation, a statistical, not an absolute, relationship. In comparison with alcohol and tobacco abstainers, drinkers and smokers have a higher rate of criminal offenses. Of course, there are many drinkers and smokers in the population, so this does add up to a lot of crimes, but very few of them commit the crimes that are likely to lead to arrest and incarceration. Still, when we're talking about differences, they are significant. And they do shed light on what is likely to happen if the currently illegal drugs were to become legalized. So, what accounts for the relationship? What's the explanation?
The explanation, according to some criminologists, is quite simple. Crime does not cause drug use, and drug use does not cause crime; attempting to determine a causal relationship between them is "a waste of time and money" (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990, p.234). It is not even necessary to refer to a criminal subculture, they say. (Although it may be a factor in the equation.) What's important is that "crime and drug use are the same thingthat is, manifestations of low self-control" (pp.233-234; the italics are mine). Essentially, this argument goes, the type of person who uses psychoactive substances (alcohol and tobacco included) is also the type of person who commits criminal offenses. Both drugs and crime "provide immediate, easy, and certain short-term pleasure" (p.41). Both entail engaging in an activity that satisfies a hedonistic desire for something that involves a measure of danger, risk, or harm, either to oneself or to another. And who is willing to take such risk, to expose oneself to such danger, to harm oneself or another? An actor who lacks self-control. After all, the pleasure is immediate, but the pain takes place over the long run. Hence, it is an inability to control one's desire for risky pleasures that is the key here, and that may be found both in substance abuse and in criminal activity.
Again, this is not to say that all or most substance users engage in (nondrug) crime. Or that all or most criminals are substance users or abusers. (Although the second statement probably is true.) What it is to say is that drug users and criminals are essentially the same people, at least those who use drugs and commit crime at a certain level of frequency and seriousness; these two denizens are cut from the same cloth. The kind of person who engages in one activity is likely to engage in the other; they are, in fact, motivated by the same impulse.
This fundamental fact has important implications for what is likely to happen if the currently illegal drugs were to be legalized. The fact is, the routine, garden-variety criminal behavior of the vast majority of heavy substance abusers is likely to be fundamentally unchanged under a program of drug legalization. Currently, the day-to-day lives of drug abusers is saturated with crime and violence; under legalization, by what magical formula is this going to be transformed overnight? If drugs were distributed inexpensively, would our current abusers commit the same level of crime to obtain more nondrug commodities? Hard-core drug abusers are typically uneducated (most are not even high school graduates), unskilled, and essentially unemployable. How will legalization change this? How will abusers obtain the basics, such as food and shelter, to live after drugs are legalized? It is not clear that legalization can transform a way of life very much. Sure, among current abusers, moneymaking crimes may decline, but this is likely to be purchased at the cost of drawing a greater number of users into the drug scene, and increasing their involvement in the drug subculture. Being able to obtain drugs legally will not change the fact that most drug abusers, now and in the future, are low impulse control, high-crime perpetrators. It is difficult to imagine what will turn them into law-abiding citizens, although some feasible programs could, conceivably, lower their crime rate a bit.
Would legalization eliminate or substantially reduce the volume of violence that stems from drug dealing? It depends on the exact program in question. Extremely liberal programs relying on the ready availability of drugs on demand may very well eliminate the need for an illicit drug market, and thus have the projected impact. But as with users generally, without a source of income and essentially unemployable in legitimate jobs, how will the dealers of today earn their livelihood? Will crime including violence, become their only source of income? What will replace what they now have? And will legalization wipe out or weaken organized crime? (Keep in mind that "organized crime" is a good deal less organizedthat is, far more decentralizedthan most people think.) The repeal of Prohibition didn't wipe out organized crime in the 1930s; in fact, Prohibition capitalized the later enterprises, some of them legal, that organized crime turned its attention and talents to. What would these ambitious, daring entrepreneurs have in store for us if a major source of their income were to be eliminated overnight? Would they become more ruthless in taking over legal enterprises? Would they turn their attention to more or less legal financial speculation? Would their new enterprises entail more, or less, danger to the public than the sale of drugs does now? Or, would the old organized criminals now be selling legal drugs? Would they then be in much the same position that purveyors of alcohol and tobacco are now? After having "gotten rich from illegal drugs," would dealers then "launder their images and play key roles in the now-legal distribution system" (Jacobs, 1990, p.29)? Would their new, legal source of income magnify their power and influence? It's anyone's guess. But one thing is certain: A legal change is not going to force them out of business. They'll do something, but whether this will involve moreor lessmischief for the rest of us has to remain in the realm of speculation.
VIOLENCE, DEALING, AND ORGANIZED CRIME
Of course, the other side of the equation is that, to the extent that legalization programs are more restrictive, an illicit market will be correspondingly larger. As we've seen, illicit drug dealing can be shrunk down only to the extent that the current demand for these drugs can be met. To the extent that restrictions block access to them, an illicit market will flourish correspondingly. And, of course, as I've argued, increases in use are an extremely likely consequence of less-restricted access. An illicit market can be diminished, and whatever benefits there are in a reduction in the crime rate along with it, only at the expense of an increase in availability and therefore use. As with use specifically, this represents one of the central dilemmas in the issue of legalization.
If a knowledgeable observer were to summarize the probable impact of legalization on criminal behavior, it would go something like this.
Legalization is likely to reduce economic crimes among current heroin and cocaine abusers to a certain extent, although probably not dramatically. But drug abusers commit a great deal of crime in their day-to-day lives, and most of that volume is not going to be affected very much. Moreover, we do not know what the impact of increased use is likely to have on the crime rate of current nonusers. And what are current dealers, high and low, going to do once their livelihood is taken away? To imagine that they will turn into law-abiding citizens overnight is fanciful. An experienced gambler is not likely to wager much money on the bet that legalization will have a dramatic impact on the crime rate.
Chapter 10. Alcohol and Tobacco: The Real Dangerous Drugs?