Own your ow legal marijuana business
Your guide to making money in the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry
Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 4

A Changing Context

Our work is being conducted at a time in history, in a given historical period. That history is not simply a field external to us, something outside us, exercising no influence on what we do. It is closely bound up with our actions, influencing them in various subtle ways. At the same time, because we are living through and making that history, we do not have the necessary distance from it to reconstitute all its elements or to understand all its implications. However, to re-situate our work in its complexity and uncertainty, we have a responsibility to attempt to ascertain certain elements of this history-in-the-making. This brief chapter is an attempt to identify certain historical elements we think are relevant to our effort. We have identified six elements which we have divided into two spheres, international and national, recognizing that those two spheres necessarily interact with each other. The international elements are: the globalization of markets and the trend toward economic and even political integration; the spiralling increase in discourse on safety and the drug-crime equation; and the aspects of change becoming apparent in certain countries with regard to drug policies. The national elements are judicial activism, which is reflected in significant court decisions at least with regard to the therapeutic use of cannabis; the adoption of the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention; and the fight against organized crime.



Changes in the international sphere


The last two decades have witnessed significant changes in the international arena and in the structure of national states. The idea here is not to write the history of or to analyze this period. A few of those changes, however, have had a definite impact on drugs.


Globalization and integration

Since the early 1980s, with market deregulation, we have witnessed a globalization of trade and a more significant degree of continental integration. The end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Bloc, as well as the opening of China to capitalist markets, have merely increased the pace of these movements. As a result, we have seen, in particular, an increasing degree of integration of the European economy under the Maastricht accords and in the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

At the same time, rapid technological change, particularly through the Internet and satellite communications, has helped to further open borders, although in varying ways and to various degrees, depending on the level of development in the various countries, to the movement of goods and capital. Similarly, the increase in population flows and travel has led, at times by default or even against the will of certain states, to freer movement of people.

These changes have had a significant impact on the illegal drug markets. The opening of markets and borders has of course created new money laundering opportunities, while making it more difficult to monitor borders and transportation. However, we all too often forget certain effects of macro-economic policies governing global capital flows and expected structural adjustments, particularly in developing countries. One study produced for the United Nations International Drug Control Program clearly shows this.


Efforts to achieve (balance of payments) stability often aim to reduce the external deficit by reducing the level of domestic consumption. Macroeconomic stabilization often requires a reduction in expenditure by government and/or the private sector.

In situations of reduced money growth, an infusion of hard currency can bolster a country’s foreign reserves, ease the hardship associated with expenditure-related policies, and moderate foreign indebtedness. Drug money could in this light be perceived as a potentially stabilizing force, a source of capital without the strings of conditionality attached. Clearly, there are "benefits" which accrue to countries which serve as reservoirs of the revenues from the international drug trade. [1][1]


In addition, the trend toward the privatization of entire sectors of national economies, particularly in Eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also in a number of Latin American and Asian countries, in an environment in which internal regulation measures are weak and bank credit tight, fosters the inflow of money from organized crime particularly through the laundering of drug money. It has been observed moreover that the concentration of industrial production in those countries is not necessarily reduced following privatization, thus further favouring penetration by organized crime.[2][2]

Observers also too often forget the role of investors from the developed countries, where the push for deregulation and market liberalization originates. In those countries, as Campodònico has noted, "(r)are indeed are prosecutions against drug traffickers or financial institutions of the industrialized world, which is precisely where most of the proceeds of drug trafficking are kept."[3][3] The result is a kind of dual discourse in which the necessity of liberalization of capital for multinationals makes it impossible to distinguish between clean and dirty money. The example of Peru developed by Campodònico and that of Russia examined by Keh show striking structural similarities.

The end of the Cold War also meant that the countries allied to the Soviet Bloc, or internal guerrilla groups, had to turn to other sources of financing. This is the analysis of the Geopolitical Drug Watch and its founder Alain Labrousse, who appeared before the Committee on May 28, 2001, citing the example of Kosovo:


What happened in Kosovo is a good example in this regard. The creation of the KLA was financed by intense heroin traffic from Istanbul. The heroin was sold in Switzerland to buy Kalashnikovs and handguns. They were more or less freely available and were stored in the Albanian part of Macedonia. [4][4]


And as though to make the connection with the perverse effects of liberalization and the involvement of macroeconomics, Mr. Labrousse wrote in an earlier book:

[Translation] According to estimates, drug trafficking in the world generates between 420 and 577 billion francs in business annually. The growing role that these funds play in the democratization and economic restructuring process is leading to an explosion in drug production and trafficking in Asia, Africa and the East. It is this windfall, drawn on by local powers of all kinds, that fuels nationalist, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Third World and countries of the former Communist Bloc. Drugs, an economic issue and a tool of power, are now a given in international relations. Apart from a few major traffickers, the banking systems of the rich countries, the IMF and the major international organizations are involved. [5][5]


Like other analysts, Mr. Labrousse observes that the developed countries are not immune to criticism since they "close their eyes" when their interests, particularly strategic and economic, are at stake.


[Translation] An incident occurred and was reported by the press when the international financial action group prepared a list of countries suspected of engaging in money laundering; it did not include either the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey or the Principality of Monaco, which surprised everyone. It was subsequently discovered that France and England had negotiated with each other to ensure neither appeared on the relatively infamous list. [6][6]


This is also the case of European interests in Morocco and Africa more generally, as well as American interests elsewhere, in tax havens.

Chapter 1 of the 2001 report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a UN agency responsible for monitoring implementation of international drug control treaties, concerns the effects of globalization and new technologies. The agency writes that, apart from their "innumerable benefits" globalization and new technologies have had perverse effects: undermined cultural identities, political and social itemization, marginalization and growing poverty in certain sectors. According to the Board, "these disparities are exploited by drug dealers and traffickers in their attempts to develop new markets. Moreover, in the course of the last decade, the growth in trade and financial activity has provided criminals with greater possibilities for concealing the illicit transfer of goods such as internationally controlled drugs and precursor chemicals and for disguising the proceedings therefrom."[7][7] According to the report, drug traffickers use new technologies to enhance the effectiveness of product delivery and distribution, to protect themselves and their illegal activities and to commit conventional offences using new methods or to commit new types of offences.[8][8] Among other things, the Board also notes:

··               The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission noted for 1999‑2000 that the Internet had become the most widely used medium for expanding the production of synthetic drugs in some countries of that region;

··               According to the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), in 2000, over 1,000 Web sites world-wide offered to sell illicit drugs, mostly cannabis;

··               Increasing recourse to electronic means of financial transfer, together with a massive growth in the volume and speed of monetary flows, lead to reduced capability for detecting illicit capital movements; and

··               The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) has warned that there are three characteristics of Internet use that could aggravate certain conventional money-laundering risks: ease of access, depersonalization of contact and rapidity of electronic transactions.[9][9]


In short, while the search for greater coherence, and indeed for better predictability of international markets, is highly promising, particularly as regards the developing countries, it also has untoward effects, regardless of all other geopolitical considerations. Moreover, these characteristics also afford “unexpected” benefits… for organized criminal groups.


Difficulties of the security debate

Over the same period, in various Western countries, a preoccupation for domestic security has gradually arisen in response to the perceived or actual increase in crime and to the public's feelings of insecurity. The effects of this have been observed in election campaigns based on law and order and in a shift toward measures considered repressive by some, such as zero-tolerance policies.[10][10]

With regard to drugs, this social discourse has had two main components. The first, starting in the early 1980s under Ronald Reagan's presidency, was the "war on drugs", which went far beyond U.S. borders. The second, starting in the late 1980s, an attitude increasingly emerged that equated drugs with crime.

The war on drugs made it possible to allocate unprecedented resources to the effort. It was at this time, it will be remembered, that Canada launched the first phase of its anti-drug strategy with a budget of $210 million over five years. In its "war on drugs" the United States allocated 17 times that amount, increasing federal spending alone from $100 million in the early 1970s to more than $17 billion in 2002. The combined spending of the federal government and the states on the war against drugs was estimated at more than $40 billion in 2002.[11][11] As a result, that war led to a quadrupling of the American prison population, from 500,000 inmates in the early 1980s to more than two million in the late 1990s.


During the 1990s, corrections constituted one of the fastest growing line items in state budgets. On average, corrections consumed 7 percent of state budgets in 2000. Today, it is costing states, counties and the federal government nearly $40 billion to imprison approximately two million state and local inmates, up from $5 billion in combined prison and jail expenditures in 1978. Twenty-four billion of that was spent on the incarceration of non-violent offenders. Despite the modest recent decline in state prison populations, the massive growth in state prisoners over the past two decades has meant that one out of every 14 general fund dollars spent in 2000 was spent on prisons. (…) The expansion of America’s prisons has been largely driven by the incarceration of non-violent offenders. The percentage of violent offenders held in state prisons declined from 57 percent in 1978 to 48 percent in 1999. From 1980 to 1997, the number of violent offenders committed to state prison nearly doubled (up 82 percent), the number of non-violent offenders tripled (up 207 percent) while the number of drug offenders increased 11-fold (up 1040 percent). [12][12]


In Canada, as will be seen in Chapter 14, while the overall crime rate has been declining regularly in the past 10 years, the percentage of drug-related incidents has constantly increased, and the overall prison population has remained stable. There are even grounds to suggest that the percentage of inmates with addiction-related problems has in fact risen.

This discourse has resulted in a host of national and international measures, in particular increased policing powers in the war against drugs in various countries, a reinforced international police infrastructure, use of the war against drugs in international diplomacy and its reflection in UN proceedings, particularly at the United Nations' extraordinary session on drugs in 1998.

The other aspect of the debate is the drug-crime equation. For a significant proportion of citizens, drug use is associated with crime, when it is not simply reduced to one of its major causes. Witness the following comments:


We cannot continue to apply policies and programs that do not deal with the root causes of substance abuse and attendant crime. [13][13]


In countries that have adopted permissive policies toward drug use, violent crime and organized criminal activity have increased proportionately to the drug trade. [14][14]


The social harm from other illicit drugs (such as cannabis - ed.) presents a different picture. In some communities or neighbourhoods across the country, the harm caused to innocent victims of violent crime and property crime is very great. (…) This results from drug-addicted users committing crimes to get money to feed their habit. [15][15]


Deeply rooted in perceptions and attitudes, this belief, which is discussed later in Chapter 6, and which research data support only in part, has resulted in a series of measures including the creation of special drug treatment courts and the introduction of treatment orders for offenders with known dependence problems, the spread of urine testing programs in the work place and in prisons, as well as the remodelling of socio-community intake systems.

This association of drugs and crime sprang from fertile ground, for a number of reasons: changes caused by globalization and the realignment of the role of the state, which explain at least in part the increased social and economic inequalities between North and South, but also within countries, in the North and in the South; the increased insecurity of general living conditions following the 30 years, from 1945 to 1975, of unprecedented prosperity and employment security; divisions within communities caused by uncertainty and inability to manage mixed populations. For all these reasons the increase in "ordinary" crime (break and enter, car theft, vandalism and so on) has become the perfect metaphor for the insecurity of living conditions. Being an easy target that has considerable, very real impact on everyday life in neighbourhoods already subject to other social and economic problems, minor crime now elicited a stern, repressive response. Hence, in all Western countries, the number of prison terms and length of sentences increased starting in the mid‑1980s. In addition to this collective security "crisis", there was a division between generations, as a result of which youths as a group came to be viewed as a source of concern, if not simply potential criminals. For example, during that period, Canada experienced an unprecedented increase in its reliance on detention for minors, placing it at the top of the list of industrialized countries in that regard.[16][16] Since young people are the principal drug users, the rest of equation was quickly established.


From anti-drug policies to drug policies

However, the advent of AIDS in the 1980s helped to cast doubt on prohibitionist policies on illegal drugs. Toward the end of the decade, it was discovered that intravenous drug users had a high rate of HIV and other pathologies such as hepatitis. In fact, intravenous drug use was the second leading cause of infection among men, after homosexual and bisexual practices, and the second leading cause as well among heterosexual women.[17][17] Repressive policies, based on prohibition of use, do not make it possible to adequately inform users or to adopt risk reduction and preventive measures, such as needle exchanges or supervised injection sites. The increase in harm reduction practices in a number of countries would be based on this new reality.

The creation of agencies monitoring illegal drug use trends was another factor in the questioning of drug policies. Until the mid‑1980s, the U.S.A., England and Australia were virtually the only countries with systems for regular and repeated epidemiological surveying of drug use trends in the population. Starting in 1993, the European Union developed its tools to monitor trends in use and policy responses with the establishment of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and its focal points in individual EU countries. This regular monitoring system showed, among other things, that drug use trends may not vary so much with public policies as with social, cultural and symbolic factors.

Lastly, some states began to question their public policies on the basis of impact assessment studies. That was the case in particular of Australia and Switzerland as well as certain American states. Apart from the often emotional rhetoric, it was discovered in those studies that, in addition to having little impact on drug use, policies had significant untoward effects and high economic costs. It was moreover the results of certain cost benefit studies that led California and other U.S. states to review their highly repressive approaches (involving, for example, automatic incarceration on the third offence, whatever it might be).[18][18]

While national legislation on illegal drugs, particularly cannabis, did not in fact change, there was nevertheless a distinct trend toward questioning practices, particularly legal practices, and seeking alternatives while still complying with the international conventions. That was the case of Spain, Italy, certain Australian states, Belgium and, more recently, Portugal and Switzerland.



[1][1]  Keh, D.I. (1996) Drug Money in a Changing World. Economic Reform and Criminal Finance. Vienna: UNDCP, technical paper no. 4.

[2][2]  Ibid., pages 11-13.

[3][3]  Campodònico, H. (1996) "Drug trafficking, laundering and neo-liberal economics: Perverse effects for a developing country." in Dorn, N. et al. (eds) European Drug Policies and Enforcement. London: Macmillan Press, page 231.

[4][4]  Senate of Canada (2001) Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Ottawa: Senate of Canada, Issue No. 3, page 27. The reports of the OGD may also be consulted at: www.ogd.fr.

[5][5]  Labrousse A. and A. Wallon (1993) La Planète des drogues: organisations criminelles, guerres et blanchiment. Paris: Seuil.

[6][6]  Labrousse, op. cit., pages 28-29.

[7][7]  Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2001. Vienna: author, page 1.

[8][8]  Ibid., page 2.

[9][9]  Ibid., pages 2-4.

[10][10]  On this point, see, for example, the work of Wacquant, L. (2000) Les prisons de la misère. Paris.

[11][11]  McNamara, J.D. (2000) "Commentary: Criminalization of Drug Use." Psychiatric Times, Vol. XVII, No. 9.

[12][12]  Greene, J. and V. Schiraldi (2002) Cutting Correctly: New Prison Policies for Times of Fiscal Crisis. Washington, D.C.: The Justice Policy Institute. See also Schiraldi, V., Holman, B. and P. Beatty (2000) Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute. Available on line at: www.cjcj.org.

[13][13]  McCaffrey, B.R., Remarks before the First Annual Criminal Justice and Substance Abuse Conference, Albany, New York, June 29, 1999.

[14][14]  Testimony of Mr. Dale Orban, for the Canadian Police Association, before the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, in Senate of Canada, Issue No. 3, May 28, 2001, page 49.

[15][15]  Testimony of Mr. Michael J. Boyd, for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, before the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, Issue No. 14, March 11, 2002, page 76.

[16][16]  On this point, see, inter alia, the work of Bala, N. (2002) Juvenile Justice Systems. An International Comparison of Problems and Solutions. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

[17][17]  Riley, D., op. cit., page 14.

[18][18]  See, for example, the study by Rydell, C.P. and S.S. Everingham (1994) Controlling Cocaine: Supply vs. Demand Programs. Rand: Santa Monica.

Library Highlights

Drug Information Articles

Drug Rehab