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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government

Chapter 4.



Total legislative and administrative prohibition: Drug law and policy in the United States

This examination of drug policy will focus on the US Federal Government's strategy of total prohibition.5

The Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) groups drugs into five categories. These categories are said to be based on the drugs' perceived potential for abuse, accepted medical use and propensity to create physiological and psychological dependency, for users (Inciardi 1990). The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is responsible for classifying drugs and for periodically updating classifications. Cannabis is listed in Schedule 1 of the classification scheme. Schedule 1 drugs are seen to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States and no acceptable safe level of use under medical supervision.

Violations of the CSA are separated into two offence categories: first, the possession of controlled substances; and, secondly, the manufacture, delivery or sale of controlled substances. All first possession offences carry a penalty of up to one year's incarceration and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000. Second offences are punishable by more severe sanctions. The basic penalty for the manufacture, delivery or sale of less than 50kg of marijuana, 100 or more marijuana plants, less than 10kg of cannabis resin (hashish) or less than one kilogram of cannabis oil is punishment by up to five years incarceration and/or a $250,000 fine. Second or subsequent offences are punishable by up to 10 years incarceration and/or a $500,000 fine. The penalty for the manufacture, sale or delivery of between 50kg and 100kg of marijuana is a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1 million. Second or subsequent violations of manufacture/delivery/sale provisions are punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment and/or up to $2 million in fines for individuals and $30 million for others.

The CSA also provides for other sanctions against people who profit from drug dealing. An offender can be required to forfeit to the state all controlled substances, raw materials or equipment used to manufacture, import or export controlled substances, all conveyances used to transport controlled substances, all money and property gained through contravening the CSA, and all property used to facilitate violations of the CSA. The proceeds of forfeiture are used to fund drug law enforcement.

Drug policy in the US has, in part, been conceptualised in the economic terms of supply and demand. Primarily the focus has been on reducing the supply of illegal drugs, including cannabis, through such measures as destroying crops at the source or interdicting supplies as they enter the US. Cannabis crops, for example, may be spotted from the air by helicopter, sprayed with herbicide or eradicated by ground teams. Destroying cannabis crops in other countries, particularly South American, and encouraging other governments to participate in law enforcement efforts, have formed an important part of the American drug strategy of reducing the supply of drugs.

Central to the US Government's policy on reducing demand is the idea of creating a climate of intolerance towards all drug use through concepts such as 'user accountability' and 'zero tolerance'. 'User accountability' is the idea that individual users should be made to recognise that their drug use, no matter how minor it may appear to be, is part of a drug problem that eventually results in the death of some users ([3]Wardlaw 1992). The notion of 'zero tolerance' holds that no drug offence should be allowed any degree of tolerance and makes little distinction in terms of culpability between the different scales of drug offences ([4]US Bureau of Justice Statistics 1992).

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