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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 6 - Users and uses: form, practice, context

Cannabis, violence and crime


It is clear that there is some association between psychoactive substances and crime. It is just as clear that this link is much more complex than is sometimes thought, as Professor Brochu pointed out during his testimony before the Committee.


Just in my office at the Université de Montréal, I have 2,973 studies that attempt to show a link between psycho-active substances and crime. Most of these studies come from the United States or from English-speaking countries, which tends to colour their perspective somewhat, since we know that our neighbours to the south have very clearly opted for a punitive approach to illegal drugs. What comes out of all these studies is that the link between drugs and crime is very complex. [1][55]


Since his testimony, Professor Brochu has released the study he mentioned to the Committee.[2][56]  

We can examine the drug-crime relationship from at least three angles: the effects of the substance itself, the effects of the cost of the substance, and the drug’s position in the criminal world.

A significant proportion of offenders have psychoactive substance abuse problems, predominantly with alcohol. In fact, the study concludes that alcohol is the substance most frequently associated with violent crime; in the case of crimes against property, illegal drugs predominate. Cannabis ranked third (3% to 6% according to the study), far behind alcohol (24%) and cocaine (8% to 11%).

With respect to the second approach, the authors establish that between 17% and 24% of inmates committed a crime to obtain the money needed to buy their substance of choice, most often cocaine.

Lastly, regarding the third approach, because illegal drugs are marginalized, users are exposed to a deviant environment. In the previous section we noted that, with regard to cannabis, the fact that dealers can offer heroin or crack as well as cannabis could promote a gateway trajectory towards these other drugs. Similarly, the fact that these substances are illegal could contribute to leading people to a trajectory of delinquency. Furthermore, the drug trafficking environment is a relatively violent environment where a whole series of crimes are committed. Lastly, the simple fact of selling cannabis is itself a criminal offence, and we know that a certain number of people are imprisoned for doing so.

All in all, cannabis itself does not lead to a trajectory of delinquency and it is more likely to be the other way around: someone who embarks on a trajectory of delinquency when young is exposed to illegal drugs more quickly and can experiment at a younger age and begin a career as a user when younger.

Furthermore, simply because of its relaxing and euphoristic psychoactive effects and its effect of relaxing muscle tone, cannabis is hardly likely to lead to acts of violence.

Data from studies on long-term users confirm this global picture of the relationship between cannabis and crime. Thus, Cohen and Kaal noted that less than 5% of their respondents had committed offences to obtain cannabis (pilfering, shoplifting, theft). The offence committed most frequently in order to obtain cannabis was selling it.

In short, the Committee has learned that cannabis is not a cause of violence or crime except in rare cases, and of course excluding driving while under the influence, which will be dealt with in Chapter 8.


[1][55]  Professor Serge Brochu, Université de Montréal, testimony before the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canadian Senate, First Session of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament, December 10, 2001, Issue 12, page 18.

[2][56]  Pernanen, K. et al., (2002) Proportions of crimes associated with alcohol and other drugs in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

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