SOSC 2350 Note 20
Moral Panic and The War on Drugs
Problem with Metaphors
- There is a problem of rhetoric and particular images and descriptions
- The War on Terror – look at the similarities between this and the war on
o Even after many years after 9/11 this characteristics has come to
dominate western thought processes in an unprecedented way
o Is this a real war?
No – it’s different from the way we traditionally look at wars.
There is no obvious enemy. There is no specific attacking force.
There is also no clear objective when this war would be over
Conflict isn’t understood or seen normally – it is not something
to be negotiated or mediated. It’s a conflict between absolute
good and absolute evil
Therefore, the war on terror is like a metaphor, and like most
metaphors it tends to mislead
- One could argue that on 9/11 it was a result of 9/20.
o It was on 9/20 that Bush delivers his address on TV, he reveals the
following incites on the enemy on who we’re facing and the timetable.
o Bush claims that it is a new time of evil.
o This war will not end until every terrorist group within the global
reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
This shows how impossible the goal is – it suggests that people
will be living in a state of war forever.
War on Drugs
- Reagan addressed that his generation will remember how America “swung”
into action in WWII. They’re in another war for their freedom. They must
- The threat of drugs isn’t just in the act – the threat is also in the response that
the state takes in attempt to prevent behaviour (drugs)
John Stuart Mill
- The principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted in
interfering the liberty of action of any member is self-protection. This is to
prevent harm to others. His own wellbeing, either physical or moral, is not a
o The scope of criminal law is limited – acts can only be made criminal if
they are made concrete (objectively identifiable harm)
If something is found offensive, we cannot simply criminalize
- Each Drug using Mill’s logic, must be considered on its own merits:
o What are the particular drugs? What’s its potential for social and
personal harm? How can we limit the drug?
o We need a policy that is tailor-made for each drug. o Intervention is limited to action that causes harm to society.
Weber on Modern Law
- Modern law is premised on logical and consistent rules
- Emblematic instance of rationalization
o Decision-making based on reason and efficiency concerns replaces
patterns of thinking based on customs, emotion, etc.
o There must be a scientific method that applies specific logic.
- Modern law:
o With its logical consistent rules and procedures
o Provides a means for rational social control in a democratic self-
- Modern law is said to be emblematic in Weber’s sense of rationalization.
o Do Canada’s drug policies conflict with this idea?
o Does Canada’s drug policy consist with this theory?
Canadian Drug Policy
- It makes little sense – there is no reliable correlation between the level of
harm of a drug and its legal status
o Le Dain Commission shows disproportionate amount of money and
time spent on convictions compared to the amount of harm from
cannabis; reform laws to allow for the regulation of its possession and
cultivation (like the regular use of alcohol)
The final report recommended that Cannabis be removed from
the narcotic patrol act.
3/5 commissioners endorsed the majority of the report.
They wanted to combine treatment and criminal
punishments retaining criminal status, but because
weed has low toxicity, they demanded that weed should
be decriminalized, but not legalized.
o There was still a need to deter young people
from potential harms.
o There was a disproportionate amount of money and convictions spent
as opposed to what the government spent – the government should
reform its laws in a manner that is very similar to the selling of
o The report is quite thoughtful and thorough – however, its
conclusions were largely ignored.
o It subscribes to the view that criminal law has a paternalistic function
that is embedded and justifies certain things. It justified restricting
individual rights so as to restrict individual’s rights so as to prevent
harms and keep social order.
The state has a right to restrict drugs to prevent harm to
themselves, as well as to prevent harm to society.
o The Le Dain Commission had two sharply contrasting positions Commissioner Camble wrote against the decriminalization of
drugs due to conservative views
The state has a role to play in safeguarding social
The state is responsible for enforcing conventional
morality on drug use, regardless of the actual harm.
Since drugs pose a concern on societal morality, the
criminal sanctions on weed use are kept.
Since Canadian Drug laws haven’t changed that much even for
Cannabis even despite the Le Dain commission, there seems to
be an embodiment of a view about supporting legislated
o Bertrand’s position went to limiting state intervention to the sale of
addictive drugs only, while suggesting that any intervention at all of
private drug use is intolerable and is a clear violation of citizen’s
- From a Human Right POV, drug use and drug laws are highly problematic –
laws against Cannabis are abuse, they’re abusive of the powers bestowed on
the state by the people.
- Both of these approaches are useful – they’re not taking us very far, instead
we should focus on civil rights
o Both efficiency and effectiveness are no longer worth discussing, now
we must discuss the specific civil rights
- Current criminalization approach is ineffective: is that a deterrent?
o The harm that a law seeks to prevent has to be greater than the pain
associated with its prosecution
o Part of trying to prevent a particular action – the harm has to be much
more significant than the cost of the result of the prosecution
THIS IS THE EFFICIENCY ARGUMENT.
- Criminalization adds substantial aggravating social harm
- Efficiency Argument: the nature of the war on drugs is such that the more
vigorously a nation wages it, the more catastrophic are the social
consequences inflicted upon it
Loic Wacquant – he’s a professor of Sociology at Bolt Law
School, and he focuses on social harm and drug policy.
o The US has achieved the highest rate of imprisonment in the world at
the cost of 55$ billion per year
o Almost 1/3 of almost people behind bars in the world are in the U.S.
prison. However, the U.S. constitutes only 1/20 of the world
This only talks about the continental U.S. property
o In the U.S. federal system alone, 62 percent of inmates are drug
- In the U.S. although it is the drug use that cuts across racial lines, it is
primarily young black males who are placed in carceral institutions. o Consider this as a method of racial inequality. Since 1989, Blacks
make up a majority of people entering prison
In 40 years the inmate population completely reverses.
It shifts from 70% white to 70% black and Latino
This is the blackening of the carceral system.
o What is this story about?
- Social consequences – what does it do to the criminal system itself?
o It diverts the criminal system from people who commit more crucial
o In the US the concept of civil liberties has been seriously eroded by
certain practices such:
Mandatory drug testing, obtaining warrants, random searches
for drugs in high school lockers
This is a social consequence
o This must be attached to conversations about efficiency and
effectiveness, the first thing that needs to be done is defining the
justification of the war on drugs – what is so dangerous that we need
to pass such laws?
Office of National Control Policy: Illicit drug use degrades
human character, and a purposeful, self-governing society
ignores its people’s character at great peril. Drug users make
inattentive parents, etc. Using drugs is a hollow, degrading,
deceptive pleasure…and pursuing it is an appalling self-
This is a moral attribute because they’re different from
us and therefore we have to combat them.
o The public generally doesn’t think of alcohol and tobacco as drugs
- When we talk about “drug-free America” we only talk about illicit drugs.
o You would think that if you would ban certain drugs, you would ban
the ones that are going to have the most harm to the consumers
There is a scientific basis to this argument to go after drugs
that cause the most harm
- Most users by cocaine are not harmed by its use – most consumers who use
alcohol also use cocaine.
o There are some peo