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Articles - Crime, police & trafficking
Written by Jon Gettman   
Monday, 28 November 1994 00:00

Goldstein Et Al on Drug Use & Crime

by Jon Gettman

Originally Published in NORML's Ongoing Briefing, 1994.

Is marijuana use a contributing factor to violent crime? Further reform of marijuana law may hinge on the answer.

The basis for decriminalizing marijuana during the 1970s was the widespread recognition that marijuana was not harmful enough to justify the enforcement costs of arrest and incarceration.

Opponents of marijuana law reform have since responded with two arguments: 1) that marijuana is more potent and therefore more dangerous and 2) that marijuana use incurs social costs which would outweigh the benefits of further reform. Central to this latter point is the implication that marijuana use contributes to other criminal behavior.

A July 1990 report of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Searching for Answers-Research and Evaluation on Drugs and Crime holds that while there is no drug which itself causes someone to commit a crime, drug use is held to be one of several major causes of criminal behavior.

NIJ presents a tripartite conceptual framework to explain the the three linking mechanisms between drugs and crimes. First, drug use has an effect on crime due to the psychopharmacological effects, the "disinhibiting or disorienting effects of the drug on the mind or body." Second, drug use creates an economic compulsive contribution to crime-when crime becomes a way to pay for drugs. Finally, they point to the systemic contribution to crime when criminal acts become a routine way of doing business related to drugs. NIJ implies that these linking mechanisms hold for all illegal drugs (which would explain why they are illegal). Opponents of marijuana reform frequently cite this argument referring, like NIJ, to the incidence of marijuana use among convicted criminals and the high prevalence of marijuana use among arrestees as additional proof of the connection between marijuana and criminal behavior.

The tripartite conceptual framework was developed by Paul Goldstein, currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health, and various associates, including Henry Brownstein and Pat Ryan. A review of several papers published by Goldstein and associates during the last four years presents findings which contradict the general impressions presented by the NIJ over these same years. Their findings include:

The tripartite conceptual framework is a useful tool for studying the relationship between drugs, homicides, and other violent crime.

Relatively high proportions of violence involving street drug users and distributors were unrelated to drug use or trafficking. (Goldstein, 1989a; Goldstein, 1992a)

A majority of drug-related murders are systemic in origin, and nearly two-thirds of them involve crack or cocaine. The ease of manufacturing crack attracts many small-time dealers, leading to territorial disputes and systemic violence. (Goldstein, 1989a)

Almost all alcohol-related homicides are psychopharmacological in nature. (Goldstein, 1989a)

Very few murders are committed by people trying to obtain money to buy drugs. The notion of "crazed killers due to illegal substance" abuse is a fallacy. (Goldstein, 1992a)

"Particular types of drugs are related to particular types of homicides." The heroin trade is not much of a factor in violent crime. Cocaine contributes to systemic violence, and alcohol to psychopharmacological violence. (Goldstein, 1990a)

Reports attributing psycho-pharmacological violence to heroin and/or marijuana users have been discredited. In fact, heroin, marijuana, and tranquilizers all ameliorate violent tendencies. The drugs which contribute to psychopharma-cological violence are alcohol, stimulants, barbiturates and PCP. (Goldstein, 1989)

Most crime associated with economic compulsive facts is a result of heroin and cocaine use and consists primarily of robberies and burglaries, rather than crimes involving assault and violence. (Goldstein, 1989) Male subjects reported that only 5% of their violent participation was economic compulsive, females reported only 2% economic compulsive motivation. (Goldstein, 1993)

The only example of violence connected with marijuana is in the systemic area. In one paper, 414 homicides in New York were studied during an eight-month period. The illegal marijuana business was responsible for 6 of those 414 homicides (and a single homicide was coded as related to the effects of marijuana on the perpetrator). (Goldstein, 1990a) In another example, booby traps used by some marijuana growers and other anti-poacher violence is used as an example of the illegal marijuana business contributing to violence. (Goldstein, 1989) Otherwise, marijuana is hardly mentioned in any of these papers.

Goldstein notes that the end of alcohol prohibition ended the systemic violence related to alcohol. (Goldstein, 1989)

In a paper which describes the role of research in policy making, the authors note that "decriminalization might be a rational, logical policy direction for dealing with at least some of the criminal justice problems associated with drugs." The purpose of this paper was not to make policy recommendations, but includes a discussion of the option of selective decriminalization for drugs not linked to violent crime, including the legalization of marijuana and heroin. "Decriminalization is an alternative that should be seriously considered by policy makers who are primarily concerned with the reduction of drug-related violence." (Brownstein, 1990)

An in-depth study of cocaine use contains no mention of marijuana, but does include notice of alcohol and heroin use as confounding variables in understanding the relationship between cocaine use and crime. (Goldstein, 1991a)

A similar study of cocaine use concludes that alcohol is the major contributor to psychopharmacological violence. Cocaine is the major contributor to economic compulsive violence. Heroin is the major contributor to systemic violence involving males, and cocaine is the major contributor to systemic violence involving females. (Goldstein, 1991b)

Prohibition forces society to make the false choice between corruption and systemic violence. "Corruption and violence may be inversely related; where corruption flourishes, violence may be diminished." Goldstein asks: "Are societies that outlaw drugs doomed to vacillate between corruption and high levels of violence? If so, which extreme is a majority of citizenry likely to prefer?" (Goldstein, 1992b)

Politicians and the press are lazy about applying a sound knowledge base to policy development and public relations strategies. "Drug users typically try to avoid violent predatory offenses. This fact is also reflected in the small proportions of economic compulsive violence that we found in our two street studies. Use of drugs is often financed by working in a variety of roles in the illicit drug business. Violence is most likely to arise in the context of the illicit drug marketplace, and to involve others who are similarly engaged=8A. I have estimated that more than 350,000 years of life are lost each year to drug-related homicides. More than 250,000 days of hospital care are required annually for the victims of drug-related assault. At least 100 million dollars are spent each year to hospitalize the victims of drug-related assaults=8A. Drug-related violence i= s clearly both a crime problem and a public health problem. Criminal justice and public health practitioners must work together to develop harm reduction strategies." (Goldstein, 1993)

Ironically, the tripartite conceptual framework presented by NIJ as a defense of the current drug laws can be used as a critical tool to expose the inadequacies of those very laws. Furthermore, there is no appreciable connection between marijuana use and the commission of crime-violent or otherwise.

Goldstein, Brownstein, Ryan & Bellucci 1989a "Crack and homicide in New York City, 1988: a conceptually based event analysis." Contemporary Drug Problems Winter, 1989, pgs 651-687.

Goldstein 1989b "Drugs and Violent Crime" in N.A. Weiner and M.E. Wolfgang (eds.) Pathways to Criminal Violence, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1989, pgs 16-48.

Brownstein & Goldstein 1990 "Research and the Development of Public Policy: The Case of Drugs and Violent Crime" Journal of Applied Sociology, Vol 7, 1990, pgs 77-92.

Goldstein, Bellucci, Spunt & Miller 1991a "Frequency of Cocaine Use and Violence: A Comparison Between Men and Women" The Epidemiology of Cocaine Use and Abuse, Research Monograph 110, S. Schober & C. Schade eds., U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Goldstein, Bellucci, Spunt, & Miller 1991b "Volume of Cocaine Use and Violence: A Comparison Between Men and Women" Journal of Drug Issues, Vol 21, No 2, pgs 345-367.

Goldstein, Brownstein, & Ryan 1992a "Drug Related Homicide in New York:

1984 and 1988" Crime & Delinquency, Vol 38, No 4, October, 1992, pgs 459-476.

Goldstein 1992b "Drugs and Homicide: Questions for the Future," CESAR Reports, Center for Substance Abuse Research, Vol. 2, No 1, pg 3.

Goldstein 1993 "The Relationship Between Drugs and Violence" Paper

presented at the United States Sentencing Commission Inaugural Symposium on

Crime and Punishment in the United States, "Drugs & Violence in America,"

June 16-18, 1993. 18 pgs


Our valuable member Jon Gettman has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.