Crack and the Evolution of Anti-Drug Policy

Crack and the Evolution of Anti-Drug Policy

Crack and the Evolution of Anti-Drug Policy

Crack and the Evolution of Anti-Drug Policy

Synopsis

An authority on anti-drug policy and "crack" since it became a popular street drug in the mid-1980s, Belenko traces the development of America's policy response in the context of changes in policy that were underway when crack first appeared. He summarizes the state of our knowledge about crack, its pharmacological properties, its use and effects on health and behavior, and its distribution. Moreover, he makes recommendations about policies to deal with the next drug epidemic. This empirical analysis and public policy study is intended for teachers, graduate students, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in drug control and treatment, criminal justice law enforcement, and in public administration.

Excerpt

During the first few months of 1986, a newly popular street drug burst into the American consciousness with a spate of media and political attention that was unique for its ubiquity and intensity. This novel form of smokable cocaine, called "crack," quickly became the cynosure of a rather aggressive policy response to illicit drugs. For the next five years, the focus of anti-drug policy was on the punishment and control of drug users and sellers, especially crack. Many states passed laws increasing the penalties for crack possession or sale. Congress enacted two comprehensive Anti- Drug Abuse Acts that emphasized interdiction and law enforcement. Anti-drug street-level law enforcement began targeting crack markets, resulting in thousands of arrests of crack offenders who rapidly filled the nation's jails and prisons.

Crack arrived during a period when I had been studying the impacts of caseload pressures on the functioning of the criminal court system. I also had a long-standing interest in the relationship between drug use and crime and on drug policy issues. To me, the policy response to crack seemed to have less to do with the actual dynamics of the crack-crime connection than an almost visceral societal reaction to this particular drug. I was struck by how there appeared to be such societal insecurity about our social and political institutions that public officials and the media expressed strong fears that a psychoactive drug used by very few people might actually destroy America. I soon became involved in two federally funded research projects to investigate some aspects of the crack phenomenon. One project, undertaken in collaboration with Jeffrey Fagan and Bruce Johnson, exam-

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