In his book Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the 'War on Drugs' Alexander (1990) argues that for over a century, drug-control policy around the world and in Canada have been growing increasingly warlike. The costs of this drug war, in both money and human suffering, have been steadily increasing, although its objectives have not been met. Alexander cites extensive research that indicates that illegal drugs are no more harmful or addictive than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, and no more likely to cause anybody to go out of control. Opium sticks, for example, used to be sold at corner shops in England in the nineteenth century, without addiction becoming an overwhelming problem. Legal regulation and controlled distribution of drugs, similar policies adopted in Holland, or the methadone maintenance programs provided for some addicts in England, seem more likely to be successful in undermining the harm caused by criminal drug rings, than the prosecution of users (Hale, 1995). Alexander argues that the war on drugs continues because it meets other psychological and social needs that have little to do with the use of drugs as such. People live in a real world characterized by violence that is perpetuated by criminals, disappointed lovers, soldiers, guerillas, religious fanatics, reckless drivers, police, parents, spouses, and so on, and they face the threat of environmental pollution on a massive scale from nuclear waste, industrial chemicals, sewage, oil spills and so forth. Illegal drugs act as an excuse, and provide a scapegoat--something concrete to blame, and around which members of a society can mobilize their emotions and feel some sense of cohesion. The intensification of moral panic around drugs, like the 17th century crusade against "unruly" Puritans, helps to reinforce a sense of social cohesion and order in the face of divisible forces (Hale, 1995). Alexander's book, specifically Chapter 3, will be reviewed and analyzed, and how the work fits within the one of the four sociological paradigms, as well as the validity of his evidence and research will be discussed.
From the brief introduction about Alexander's above, one already senses a Durkheimian flavour in his work. However, Alexander does not emphasize the structural system as being the root cause of the drug-related problems. On closer examination, Alexander's view is more interpretive in nature, and his work closely fits the logic of the social constructionists. In social constructionist theory, illegal drug use, or crime in general, is not viewed as an entity, rather it emerges through the accounting processes, as the outcome of decisions about how to categorize experience. This perspective focuses attention on discourse, the common system of interpretation, through which crime comes to be defined and recognized. The work of professionals in the criminal justice system involves making interpretations and transforming this discourse into the organized practices of control and management of crime. These interpretive transformative practices constitute the site of ongoing struggle(Hale, 1995).
One of the major issues addressed in Alexander's book is whether or not a War on Drugs really exists. He says that the "War on Drugs" is really like a war in many way. The extent of global involvement cannot be assessed simply by counting bodies, although there has been much violence, but is best measured in terms of other wartime tactics: propaganda, spying, abrogation of normal peace-time rights, centralized authority, outrageously controlled spending, and so forth. Alexander is careful to note that exercising normal social and legal control in support of community standards on drug use is not part of the War on Drugs. However, he says that "attempts to create a 'drug-free' nation or world, to exercise 'zero tolerance', and to achieve desired standards of behavior through violent repression domestically and in the Third World are more like war measures than normal social control." (Alexander, 1990) Alexander tries to show that the War on Drugs has failed to control he social problem that instigated it, failed to deter drug use, all the while creating serious new problems in the process.
Constructionist theory is especially valuable in understanding morality crimes, those often referred to as victimless crimes. These are transactional crimes where the persons are exchanging illicit goods or services do not see themselves as either victims or criminals. Such offences include almost all sexual behaviour like prostitution, and the purchase of illicit drugs, and illegal gambling. (Hale, 1995) The roots of social constructionist theories of crime can be traced to Emile Durkheim's observation that crime is a natural social activity even in healthy societies. Crime is behaviour which violates the conscience collective or the shared beliefs and sentiments of the community. Crime is functional, and perhaps even essential for a society, because in their collective reaction to it people are drawn together to reaffirm their values and social cohesion. (Hale, 1995) The Puritans, for example, who settled in Massachusetts in the 1630s, created an extraordinarily strict and law-abiding community. The labelled many activities that were commonplace (dancing, card playing) as deviant for people like themselves. In doing so, they drew symbolic brackets around their community, defining behavioral boundaries between themselves and others, and thus identifying their group as distinct. Their preoccupation with rooting out deviants functioned to reinforce their community values and identity.
The labeling of drug users as deviant or criminals can undermine a person's self-esteem and set off a cycle of reaction and counteraction that drives the deviantized person into further acts of nonconformity and eventually total separation from the group. The person is transformed from someone who occasionally did wrong things into a deviant or criminal person. The experience of being treated as a degraded outsider can drive people to associate more extensively with other outsiders and begin to form a collective identity around a deviant subculture. Negative social reactions toward stigmatized people can thus function to promote rather than inhibit the development of deviant ways of life.
The war on drugs in the U.S may well be serving to aggravate all the problems associated with drugs by generating a process of secondary deviance. The prosecution and imprisonment of drug users turns them into social outcasts who are forced into closer and more exclusive association with each other. At the same time, drug prohibition promotes criminal mobsters who run the trade, and if forces up the cost of drugs, which further pushes users to turn to crime to get the money to buy them. (Alexander, 1990) Another sinister side effect of the "zero tolerance" for drugs is the rampant spread of AIDS among drug users, since the distribution of clean needles to addicts is a criminal offence in many places. In contrast, in the Netherlands where prohibitionist drug laws are no longer enforced mobsters cant operate since the market is controlled. The issue of legalization too has problems, however is another issue and will not be discussed here (Alexander, 1990).
Alexander says that the War on Drugs "has not been conducted incompetently, but that it is fundamentally misconceived and therefore cannot succeed."(Alexander, 1990). He cites many examples of extreme and senseless warlike tactics over this "great evil" of drugs. The extent of actual violence used in enforcing Canadian drug laws is hard to determine precisely, however, it is clear that many Canadians have been legally subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in the prosecution of the War on Drugs. This is possible because the law enforcement system has been granted enormous powers by the drug laws. Police, in fact have far broader powers in even minor drug cases than they do for murder, rape and other serious criminal investigations (Alexander, 1990). The very nature of the War on Drugs has opened up the doors for much corruption and violence by authority figures. As well, this has also given birth to a complex network of criminal activity in the form of a drug industry, that has spawned much violence and crimes within our own communities, and throughout the world.
In addition to the use of war measures as means of enforcing drug policy, there is an interweaving of the drug war and international political conflict. There is a close relationship between escalations of anti-drug measures and outbreaks of public fear of political enemies. Moreover, governments appear to use public revulsion towards drugs as a way of inflaming antagonism towards international foes and justifying violent action.
Although the War on Drugs makes use of the methods, language, and mentality of regular military wars, it fits more with the patterns of wars of persecution, rather than prototypical wars. Drug users and distributors are currently treated in much the same way as heretics during the Inquisition, the dispossessed English poor during the eighteenth century, and political dissidents in the unstable countries of the Third World. In each case, the miscreants seem to stand for real evils that threaten society, which allays its fears symbolically by organized persecution (Alexander, 1990).
Along with much of the world, Canada has been swept into a 'War on Drugs' that clouds its values, brutalizes its actions, and in the end, exacerbates the problems it was intended to solve. The War on Drugs is a cruel and costly failure (Alexander, 1990). Alexander suggests adopting good alternatives, 'peaceful measures' in place of war measures, so that drug-related problems can be approached with both greater humanity and better prospects for success. Alexander begins with details about large-scale and small-scale survey research, and police statistics, and how these widely used sources of information tend to be used in misleading ways, in order to convince the public support anti-drug actions. He then gives definitions for patterns of drug use, along a continuum of involvement, ranging from complete abstinence to addiction (see Appendix).
Alexander focuses in the topic of drug addiction and criticizes the common usage of the word. 'Addiction' is derived from the Latin addicere, meaning 'give over'. It was commonly used as a word for admirable devotion, or a pursuit. A new definition of addiction emerged in the 19th century when the temperance and anti-opium movement began applying the term to habitual drunkenness and habitual opium use. This new usage narrowed the meaning of the word by linking it to specific drugs, necessarily giving it an unfavorable negative meaning, by identifying withdrawal symptoms and tolerance as aspects of the definition, and by attributing addiction to the drug itself (Alexander, 1990). The temperance movement narrowed the definition of addiction as part of their campaign to arouse distaste towards habitual drunkards and to gain public support for alcohol prohibition In England, another social transformation tied the term addiction with opium by calling it an 'addictive' drug. The underlying aim was to allow medical professionals to expand their territory by changing what had been considered a weakness, into a disease called addiction. If opium use became a disease, then physicians could find employment curing it, and pharmacists could claim a monopoly selling opium, rather than leaving it universally cheaply available. This is but small part of the story on the changing nature of the word 'addiction', yet already the confusion can be seen.
Alexander goes on to talk about how addiction in our society is commonly associated with alcohol and illicit drugs, almost equating these terms with each other. He then tries to demonstrate that there are 'positive addictions' that are temporary and beneficial. Although his case for 'positive addictions' is not very concrete, he succeed in shedding light on the fact that the public perception on addiction as a massive social problem is highly exaggerated. By mentioning 'positive addictions' neither the author of this essay, nor Alexander, intend to condone such drug use, but the term is used to point out that drugs in and of themselves are not necessarily harmful, and that the user is not necessarily a bad person. One must look at the conditions, and circumstances, and nature of the drug use to gain a better understanding of this supposed 'drug epidemic' we are in.
Alexander points out that 'addiction' is often used to describe other everyday activities. He stresses there is little difference between negative addictions to drugs and to other activities. This has been show in the research literature, which tells of compulsive love relationships, and that one of an intense, irrational nature is ultimately as destructive as severe heroin addiction. Apparent differences between these two cases disappear once the distorted media view of heroin addiction is discounted and the two are systematically compared on the same dimensions(Alexander, 1990) Newspaper accounts of threats, shootings, and suicide by distraught lovers are common, yet the term addiction is not normally applied in journalistic accounts. But this obviously does not suggest that love is all addictive in the negative sense. Negative addictive involvement to many activities other than love can be compulsive and harmful as negative drug addictions. These activities include gambling, religious associations, hoarding of money, television-viewing, overworking, eating and dieting, and countless other activities. Just as addictions to these activities can lead to the same kinds of problems as drug addictions, the same kinds of remedies should be employed. For example, the broken homes and destruction of self-respect that accompany negative addiction to a cult are strikingly similar to those associated with alcoholism, and the remedy is based directly on techniques by Alcoholics Anonymous.
The drug-war definition of addiction is a 19th century medical and moral concept that was attached to a venerable word and used to promote the War on Drugs. It reduced the complex phenomenon of addiction to nothing more than a disease of excessive drug consumption accompanied by withdrawal symptoms and tolerance. It thus defined addicts as a separate group that could be pitied, despised, or cured, but --because they had the dreaded drug disease---could not be understood in the same terms as the rest of humanity. There are many other terms in the vocabulary of the War on Drugs that carry built-in justifications for the drug war in their definitions and common usage. One of the most familiar is 'drug abuse'. What exactly does this term mean? For the most part, it is used by people to describe the drug use they do not approve of, and it therefore refers to different drugs and patterns of drug use in different contexts. The term conveys the notion of social disapproval, and does not necessarily describe any specific pattern of drug use or consequences. Such a term is used as a battle-cry to get people to take action, or as Alexander put it "launch them into battle", but it can't be used to truly increase peoples' understanding of the people against whom the "battle" is being waged.
Alexander also criticizes the use of terms like 'physical dependence', which is rather misleading because it views the mind and body as separate entities. It is erroneous to consider drugs as a biological problem of the body, only, without consideration for psycho-social problems. We all have a "craving" for cake from time to time, and we don t associate this with any biological need for cake in particular. However, when a person has a "craving" for a drug, this mental event is assumed to be a physical problem. A look at 'love addicts' will further clarify this fallacy of mind-body dualism. We tend to only associate love to a mental/psychological state, so that when a teen in 'in love' with another person, we automatically assume it is an addiction in the mind, but not in their bodies. But if one were to sit down and talk to any teen, one is quickly revealed the truths of the matter(Alexander, 1990).
The problem with the War on Drugs approach is that it fails to treat drug problems at the source. All efforts are made to emphasize it's disastrous nature, but little is done in terms of correcting the underlying problems that lead people towards drug use. The eradication of drugs is seen as a cure, as though drugs were a problem in and of itself. Much of what society currently does to control drug use can reasonably be described as a War on Drugs, carried out by governments with much public approval. Warlike aspects of current drug-control policy and practice include: large scale practice of military and civil force; consistent use of war language by drug-policy officials; imposition of compulsory treatment on drug users who have not been convicted of crimes; promulgation of wildly exaggerated anti-drug propaganda; imposition of harsh criminal penalties, including death, that are normally reserved for murder and treason; abrogation of normal protection for civil rights (as under martial law); public and official support for people who inform members of their own families; support for violence, including torture, in the Third World; use of economic levers against the Third World that will cause the starvation of large numbers of people; widespread use of spies and agents provocateurs by enforcement agencies; imposition of suffering not only on drug traffickers and users, but also on police and medical patients. A final set of casualties in the War on Drugs is the young people, whose serious problems are ignored by a society that simplistically blames drugs instead of real causes.