Drug Law Enforcement Revisited: The "War" against the War on Drugs

By Alexandris Polomarkakis, Konstantinos | Journal of Drug Issues, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Drug Law Enforcement Revisited: The "War" against the War on Drugs


Alexandris Polomarkakis, Konstantinos, Journal of Drug Issues


Introduction

Law enforcement has been proclaimed as the most prevalent policy choice insofar as drug control is concerned. Few countries are more tolerant and put emphasis on a medical approach, through treatment provision ([Bennett & Holloway, 2005]). Instead, it seems that the majority supports a harm-minimization model based on coercion, prohibition, and criminalization as panacea in limiting the supply and use of illegal drugs ([Kerr, Small, & Wood, 2005]). This view comes in direct confrontation with a considerable part of the academic community that perceives law enforcement as inadequate--or failed--in achieving the said objectives ([Wodak, 2001]). Furthermore, those scholars strive for drug use to "be regarded as primarily a health and social issue, with funding raised for these measures to the level of drug law enforcement" ([Wodak, 2001], p. 866). Thus, another perspective is forged, challenging the long-standing policy of enforcement. In addition, the latter's criticism also highlights its shortcomings in dealing with the issue of illegal drugs and their misuse; had it been successful, not many voices to the contrary would have been heard. Law enforcement's adverse effects seem to spread across multiple fields, outweighing its potentially beneficial outcomes.

The present article is an attempt to investigate this viewpoint, starting with a general overview of the concept of law enforcement, its underpinnings, and the rationale behind it. Next, the problématique surrounding it is to be presented, to continue with its potential benefits, which seem not to be easily identifiable in the long run. The biggest share of this article is to be occupied by the analysis of law enforcement's shortcomings at both theoretical and practical levels with the use of country-examples where necessary. Finally, the conclusion would support the thesis that law enforcement does indeed more harm than good.

Law Enforcement as a Concept

As the centerpiece of--virtually every--drug policy worldwide, law enforcement is used to alleviate the harmful effects drugs have on people and society in general. The relevant drug legislation has been shaped around the concepts of "life sentences, anti-laundering measures and forfeiture and confiscation of assets" ([Dorn & South, 1990], p. 173), which belong to the criminal justice system. Therefore, the aim of this strategy is to incapacitate and punish the offender, to act as a personal and general deterrent, as well as to rehabilitate ([Herring, 2014]). In turn, this consequentialist justification for criminalization is linked with drug use being considered as a wrong, causing harm not only mainly to others but also to drug users themselves ([Shiner, 2006]).

The moral logic behind enforcement is further underpinned by the international community, mainly through the UN conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988, which promoted the criminalization of drug possession, use, and manufacture ([Wood, Werb, Marshall, Montaner, & Kerr, 2009]). These were reaffirmed in UN sessions on drugs that followed and in the new 5-year deal United Nations is to fund in Iran, whereby capital punishment is still in use, provoking vivid opposition due to pressing and glaring human rights concerns ([Dehghan, 2015]). United Nations's policy choice acted as the paradigm for many countries' choices in the field of drug control. The United States and Mexico are prime examples of avid supporters of the drug law enforcement regime, having been among the first countries to raise the flags of the war on drugs, a war whose results are as ambivalent as the choice of starting it in the first place. Despite that, other countries, such as the United Kingdom, which had adopted different trajectories in the past, seemed to follow, displacing the medical approach in favor of law enforcement ([Stimson, 1987]). The war on drugs became mainstream, with the Duterte regime in Philippines being the latest example of this trend. …

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