From: Michael Tomry and James Q. Wilson, (Eds.)

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Drugs and Crime

by James Q. Wilson 2400 S.H.

From: Michael Tomry and James Q. Wilson, (Eds.) Drugs and Crime, 1990
1. Some people argue that we must "stamp out" drug abuse in order to reduce
crime, break up criminal gangs, and improve public health. But there is no reason to
believe that vigorously enforcing the drug laws will achieve any of these goals and
many reasons to think that they make matters worse.
2. Consider crime: there is no doubt a strong association between the use of
drugs and aggressive behavior, but, as Jeffrey Fagan points out, it is far from clear that this correlation amounts to cause. People who become aggressive after drinking
alcohol or using cocaine usually turn out to be people who were aggressive before
consuming these substances. Personality factors and social settings seem to have a
large, perhaps dominant, effect in determining whether getting high will lead to
aggression, moody introspection, or quiet gaiety. Heroin seems to induce in its users
euphoria, drowsiness, and sexual impotence, but not aggression. There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting that using phencyclidine (PCP) or amphetamines or smoking crack will cause violent behavior, but so far not much systematic evidence supports this theory.

3. There is also a strong association between drug use and street crime, and here

the research shows that, for at least certain drugs, their use - or more accurately, their purchase - does cause higher rates of income generating crime. During periods when heroin addicts are using the drug heavily, the rate at which they commit crimes is much higher than it is during periods when they are relatively abstinent. The reason is that the illegality of heroin produces a black market in which price rises to the point where many addicts can only support their habits by theft or prostitution.
4. Though the search for drugs may cause criminals to increase the rate of their
criminality, it is not a desire for drugs that leads people to criminality in the first place.
Jan and Marcia Chaiken suggest that many heavy drug users were committing crimes before they turned to drugs; they began spending money on drugs in part because crime had produced money for them to spend and in part because criminality drew them into a social setting in which drug use was common and expected.

5. For all these reasons, it is not clear that enforcing the laws against drug use

would reduce crime. On the contrary, crime may be caused by such enforcement
because it keeps drug prices higher than they would otherwise be.

1. Does the author believe that enforcing anti-drug laws would result in lower crime rates? (circle the correct answer):


Quote from the text to support your answer:


[7 pts]

2. (3) How are Fagan and Chaiken’s theories similar? (para. 2 and 4)


[7 pts]

6. Or consider criminal gangs: tough law enforcement may break up those criminal enterprises that traffic in drugs, but it may also make such enterprises more skilled, more ruthless, and more dangerous. The more profitable drug sales are, the greater the incentive dealers have to protect their profits by arming themselves against rivals, forcibly maintaining discipline among subordinates, and corrupting or otherwise resisting the criminal justice system. Critics of drug enforcement often compare the effects of our drug laws to those prohibiting the sale of alcohol: any effort to suppress the use of a popular substance will create rich and powerful criminal syndicates.

7. Or consider public heath: injecting drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, can lead to hepatitis or AIDS if contaminated needles are used, and such needles are more likely to be used if the drugs are consumed surreptitiously. Over half the AIDS victims generally contracted the disease through intravenous drug use. Drugs sold illegally are beyond the reach of the pure food and drug laws; as a result, many addicts use heroin that has been "cut", or adulterated, with harmful substances. When marijuana is grown illegally, it may be produced in fields sprayed by the police with dangerous herbicides or covered by the growers with harmful fertilizers. And even when a drug is free of poisons, its strength is often unknown, so that a user may unwittingly take a fatal overdose. Mislabeling a drug is not a crime to those who sell drugs illegally.

8. In short, attempting to suppress the use of drugs is very costly. This fact has

led many people to call for their legalization, either totally or under some form of
government regulation. Should we therefore eliminate the costs of law enforcement by repealing the laws against drugs? The result would be less crime, fewer and weaker gangs, and an opportunity to address the public health problems in a straightforward manner.

  1. On the other hand, legalizing drugs would also entail costs. Those costs are much more difficult to measure, partly because, to a large extent, they are moral and partly because we have so little experience with legalized drugs that we can not be sure of what those costs would be.


3. Which reason does the author give against enforcing anti-law drugs?


[7 pts]
4. What is the purpose of paragraph 9?

    1. to offer a reasonable alternative to dealing with drugs

    2. to sum up the main idea

    3. to indicate the futility of finding a solution to the drug problem

    4. to illustrate the complexity of the drug issue

[7 pts]

10 The moral reason for attempting to discourage drug use is that the heavy

consumption of certain drugs is destructive of human character. These drugs --
principally heroin, cocaine, and crack -- are, for many people, powerfully reinforcing. The pleasure or oblivion they produce leads many users to devote their lives to seeking pleasure or oblivion and to do so almost regardless of the cost in ordinary human virtues, such as temperance, fidelity, duty, and sympathizing. The dignity, autonomy, and productivity of many users, already impaired by other problems is destroyed.
11. There are, to be sure, many people who only experiment with drugs or who use them regularly but in a "controlled" way. Citizens differ in how seriously they view such use. Some will argue that if users can maintain their moral character while consuming drugs, no social problem exists. Moreover, a national survey suggests that drug use by casual or controlled users has been declining in recent years. The proportion of Americans saying that they currently use any drug has dropped significantly since 1985; however, this statistic, from an essay by the Office of National Drug Control Policy 1989, is concerned with the heavy user of the most dangerous drugs - heroin and cocaine. And for that group, the news is bad. The same survey shows that the proportion of cocaine users who consume it frequently (i.e., weekly or more often) has doubled since 1989. For such consumers, the moral costs of drug abuse are undeniable.
12. But there are some people who deny that society has any obligation to form and sustain the character of its citizenry. Libertarians would leave all adults free to choose their own habits and seek their own destiny so long as their behavior did not cause any direct or palpable harm to others. But most people, however willing they may be to tolerate human eccentricities and support civil liberties, act as if they believed that government, as the agent for society, is responsible for helping instill certain qualities in its citizens. This is one reason (indeed, it was the original reason) for mandatory schooling. We not only want to train children to be useful, we want to train them to be decent. It is the reason that virtually every nation that has been confronted by a sharp increase in addiction to any psychoactive substance, including alcohol, has enacted laws designed to regulate or suppress its use. (The debauch produced by the sudden arrival of gin in eighteenth-century England led to debates not very different from the ones we are having today about cocaine.) Great Britain once allowed physicians to prescribe opiates for addicts. The system worked reasonably well so long as the addicts were middle-class people who had come by their dependence as a consequence of having received painkillers in hospitals But as soon as oblivion-seeking youth became heroin addicts, Britain ended the prescription system, replacing it at first with a system of controlled dispensation from government clinics and then with a system of substituting methadone for heroin coupled with the stringent enforcement of the laws against the latter.

13. Even if we were to decide that the government had no responsibility for character formation and should only regulate behavior that hurt other people, we would still have to decide what to do about drug-dependent people because such dependency does in fact hurt other people: a heroin addict dreamily enjoying his euphoria, a crack smoker looking for that next high, a cocaine sorter eager for relief from his depression - these users are not likely to be healthy people, productive workers, good parents, reliable neighbors, attentive students, or safe drivers. Moreover, some people are directly harmed by drugs that they have not freely chosen to use. The babies of drug-dependent women suffer because of their mothers' habits. We all pay for drug abuse in lowered productivity, more accidents, higher insurance premiums, bigger welfare costs, and less effective classrooms.


  1. What moral reason might society use to dissuade drug use?


[8 pts]
6. (7) State ONE reason taken from paragraphs 10-11 in support of and ONE reason objecting to the legalizing of drugs.

Support Objection

a. ____________________________ b. ________________________

____________________________ _________________________

[8 pts]

14. The question is whether the costs of drug use are likely to be higher when the

drug is illegal or when it is legal. In both cases, society must pay the bill. When the
drug is illegal, the bill consists of the law enforcement costs (crime, corruption, extensive and intrusive policing), the welfare costs (poorer health, lost wages, higher unemployment benefits, more aid to families with dependent children, and various treatment and prevention programs), and the moral costs (debased and degraded people). When the drug is legal, the bill will consist primarily of the welfare costs and the moral costs. Which bill will be higher?
15. The answer chiefly depends on how many people will use the drug under the two scenarios. We have a rough idea of how many people regularly use heroin and cocaine under the present illegal scenario. How many will regularly use it under the legal scenario?
16. No one knows for certain, but it will almost surely be many more people than now use it. The free-market price of cocaine is probably no more than 5% of its present black-market price The consumption of a widely desired, pleasure-inducing substance will, without question, increase dramatically if the price is cut by 95% (Kaplan & Moore. 1988). But suppose that the government levies taxes on the legal cocaine, either to raise revenue, discourage use, or both. The higher the government sets the tax on, and thus the price of, the drug, the less will be consumed, but the greater the incentive the drug user will have to steal (in order to pay the high price) or to manufacture the drug illegally (in order to undercut the government price). Either way, high taxes gel us right back where we started. There is no such thing as an optimal price of cocaine because there is no such thing as an optimal mix of two radically opposed goals - to reduce drug use and to prevent drug-related crime.
17. Moreover, the true price of the drug is the monetary price plus the difficulty and inconvenience of the search for it and the risk associated with consuming a product of unknown quality. Though drugs are sold openly on the streets of some communities, for most people - especially for novice, middle-class users - they are hard to find and are often found only in unattractive and threatening surroundings. Legalizing the drugs, even if the price is not cut, will make the drug more attractive by reducing the costs of searching for the product, negotiating a transaction, and running the risk of ingesting a dangerous substance. The combined effect of lowered market prices and lowered transactions costs will be very great.

18. Just how great cannot be known without trying it. And one cannot try it

experimentally, for there is no way of running a meaningful experiment. The increase in drug use that would occur if people in one neighborhood or patients at one clinic were allowed to buy the drug at its market cost can give us no reliable information on how many people would use it if the drug were generally available in all neighborhoods and at any clinic.


7. (9) Which 3 “costs” is the writer referring to in his question in paragraph 14?
[9 pts]

8. (6) What is the dilemma posed by paragraphs 14 and 15?

Complete the sentence:

Since we don’t know _____________________________, society can’t decide
_______________________________________________________. [8 pts]

9. (10) How can the “true price” of a drug be determined?

    1. ___________________________________________

    1. ___________________________________________

    1. ___________________________________________

[9 pts]

19. The experience of other countries confirms that ease of availability is associated with large increases in use. When Great Britain allowed private physicians to prescribe heroin and young people began to avail themselves of this source, the number of known addicts (many more than were known to the authorities) increased thirty fold during a 15 year period. It was because of this increase that the British government changed the law. After a brief period in the 1970s when the number of known heroin addicts stabilized, a new storm broke. Between 1980 and 1985, the number of newly notified heroin addicts increased fivefold. Geoffrey Pearson (1990) estimates that by the mid-1980s Great Britain had some 15,000 registered drug addicts and probably ten times as many unregistered ones; this in a country whose "system" some people once thought should be a model for the United States. The increased availability of heroin in Europe, a continent once generally free of addicts, has been followed by a sharp increase in the number of addicts.

20. Even if legalization increases the number of addicts, would it not dramatically
decrease the number of crimes committed by addicts? Not necessarily. No doubt the average number of crimes per addict will fail (few people would have to steal in order to buy drugs at market prices), but the increase in the number of addicts would mean an increase in the number of people leading such deviant lifestyles that occasional crime might be their only (or their preferred) means of support. Thus the total number of crimes committed by drug users might not fall at all.
21. Because we cannot know what our level of drug use would be under a legalized regime (though we can be certain it would be much higher than today) and because people disagree about many of the costs - especially the moral costs- of drug use, the debate over legalization will never be resolved. However, being aware of these issues will help people focus the debate on the right question. That question is this: how can we minimize the sum of the law-enforcement, moral, and welfare costs of drug use? If we want drugs to be illegal, it is because we believe that the very high law-enforcement costs will be offset by lower moral and welfare costs. If we want drugs to be legal, it is because we believe that the higher moral and welfare costs will be offset by the lower law-enforcement costs. In making this choice, we are making an estimate of how large the drug-using population will be in each case, and we are assigning a value to the tangible but moral costs.


10 (11) According to the experience of Great Britain in issuing prescriptions for heroin, what general conclusion has the writer reached?

Complete the following sentence:

The easier ________________________________________, the more _______

__________________________________________. [8 pts]

11. (12) a. Which assumption does the writer reject in paragraph 20?

By legalizing drugs, we _________________________________________
b. How does he arrive at this conclusion?

[8 pts]

12. Which two factors prevent settling the debate about whether to legalize drugs or not?

  1. ________________________________________________________

b. __________________________________________________________

[8 pts]

  1. What is the writer’s purpose in this article?

    1. to support legalization of drugs

    2. to support law enforcement prohibiting drug use

    3. to inform the reader of different positions within one society on the drug use issue

    4. to criticize the government’s handling of the drug problem in society

[7 pts]

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