Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?
Interim and Final Reports of the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs.
Some Basic Problems in Drug Addiction and Suggestions for Research*
by MORRIS PLOSCOWE
*The author wishes to express his deep appreciation to Miss Marge Moraitis for her intelligent and painstaking assistance in the preparation of this report. The author also wishes to express his gratitude to the staff of the Russell Sage Foundation for their unfailing cooperation.
I. INTRODUCTION-SEVERITY OF PUNISHMENT AS DETERRENCE TO DRUG ADDICTION
In 1914 Congress, with the passage of the Harrison Act, embarked upon a policy of prohibiting legal access to narcotic drugs on the part of those addicted to such drugs. This prohibitory policy has been strengthened by subsequent legislation. It has been implemented with considerable vigor by the Narcotics Bureau of the Treasury Department and by other state and local enforcement agencies throughout the country, acting under the authority of state and local statutes. Despite this effort, a Senate Committee recently came to the conclusion that, "The United States has more narcotic addicts, both in total numbers and population-wise, than any other country of the Western World." Such a finding, that we have more drug addicts than any other Western country, despite forty years of enforcement of prohibitory laws, raises doubts concerning the wisdom of the prohibitory approach to problems of drug addiction. It would seem to require a re-examination of our narcotics policy. Nevertheless, the two Congressional Committees which recently conducted nationwide inquiries into problems of drug addiction and the drug traffic appeared to be oblivious to doubts concerning the wisdom of the current policy toward narcotic drugs. Both Committees took the basic position that even stronger prohibitions were required if our narcotic addiction problems were to be satisfactorily controlled.
(The first inquiry was conducted by a House Committee under the Chairmanship of Hale Boggs; the second by a Senate Committee under the Chairmanship of Price Daniel. Both Committees made determined efforts to get at the facts surrounding drug addiction and the drug traffic in this country. The printed records of the testimony taken run into several thousand pages.) Three basic concepts run through the recommendations of both Congressional Committees: (1) more stringent narcotic law enforcement; (2) severer penalties for offenders against the narcotic laws; (3) the permanent isolation of incurable drug addicts. The thinking of the Committees is contained in the following extracts from their reports: "Effective control of the vicious narcotic traffic requires not only vigorous enforcement, but also certainty of punishment. Conclusive evidence was presented during your sub-committee's investigation that the imposition of heavier penalties was the strongest deterrent to narcotic addiction and narcotic traffic." ...
"Unless immediate action is taken to prohibit probation or suspension of sentence, it is the sub-committee's considered opinion that the first offender peddler problem will become eventually worse and eventually lead to the large scale recruiting of our youth by the upper echelon of traffickers." ... "Some testimony received by the sub-committee that ... a distinction should be made between the non-addict trafficker and the addict trafficker, with the latter group being dealt with less severely. It is the view of your sub-committee that the addict trafficker is just as vicious a person as the non-addict trafficker." ...
"It is urged ... that the minimum and maximum penalties applicable to conviction for violations of the narcotic laws be increased on both the federal and state levels."3 "Criminal laws and procedures are insufficient to insure the apprehension and punishment of narcotics offenders." ...
"Penalties for narcotic violations are neither commensurate with the seriousness of the crime nor sufficient to remove the profits." ...
"The minimum and maximum penalties be increased for all violations of the narcotics law, with greatly increased penalties for sales to juveniles." ...4 "The Committee has found that whenever and wherever penalties are severe and strictly enforced drug addiction and narcotic trafficking have decreased proportionately." ...5 "That habitual narcotic addicts be committed to 'an indeterminable quarantine type of confinement on a suitable narcotics farm'." ...6