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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

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.

Appendix A

Some Basic Problems in Drug Addiction and Suggestions for Research*


4. Research in the Administration of Present Laws

A careful, authoritative analysis should be made of the administration of recently enacted narcotics legislation.

These laws have provided increasingly severe penalties in narcotics cases. They have eliminated judicial discretion with respect to sentences. They have provided fixed minimum sentences which the judges were required to impose on convicted offenders. They have eliminated the use of probation and parole in narcotics cases, thus eliminating the possibility of controlling narcotics offenders outside prison walls.

Many believe that these changes in our laws have done more harm than good and that they have not advanced the goal of effective control over narcotic drugs. Some also feel that the new legislation has created many more problems than it solved. Accordingly, we should like to find out what has happened in the enforcement of the new state and federal narcotics statutes.

Are they providing a greater degree of control over the violation of the narcotics law? Have they contributed to any decline in narcotics addiction? Are judges and prosecutors enforcing the laws as they are written? Are mandatory minimum sentences being imposed by judges or are they ignoring the provisions of the new laws in cases where they feel that statutory penalties are too severe? Has severity of sentence had any effect on convictions under the new statutes, or are the new statutes self-defeating because juries will not convict and expose offenders to severe punishments in relatively minor cases? Are the sentencing? provisions of the new statutes being evaded by permitting pleas of guilty to other types of offenses which provide for lesser penalties and the possibility of probation and parole? Has the new legislation made it possible to reach the upper echelons in the illicit drug traffic or are our prisons and penitentiaries being filled by run-of-the-mill drug addicts? Have the new laws changed the relationship between state and federal law enforcement in connection with narcotics by having more cases brought into the federal courts because of the severity of federal legislation? Are state prosecutors refusing to press narcotics prosecutions because of the severity of the sentences involved? These are a few of the many questions which should be answered by an analysis of the administration of existing narcotics laws. Such an analysis will throw considerable light on the success or failure of present narcotics legislation and the utility of our present narcotics policy. It will also serve as a fundamental guide in the formulation of the new narcotics legislation, projected by the legal research that the author recommends in the next section.

5. Legal Research

Many defects in our present narcotic laws will be disclosed by the analysis of their administration. This will require the formulation of amendments to the narcotics laws. However, the author feels that more basic legal research must be done.

At the present time the addict is treated by our statutes like a criminal. If he is found in possession of even the minutest portion of narcotics for his own use, or a hypodermic needle, he may be jailed. He may even be jailed under some state statutes because of the mere fact that he is an addict. If the addict is, as the author believes him to be, a sick, maladjusted individual driven by a compulsion, then these statutes are wrong. They must be replaced by statutes which in the first instance require the treatment of addicts and not their incarceration in jails or prisons.

If such treatment is ineffective and the addict cannot be rehabilitated, the law should not prevent the addict from obtaining a legal supply of narcotics.

In the author's opinion, a new Uniform or Model Narcotics Act must be formulated, which can be recommended to the various states, and which must be based on the enlightened premises of a new social policy towards addiction.

Before such a statue is formulated, a careful survey and study must be made of existing state statutes and state court decisions concerning the control of narcotic drugs and methods provided for dealing with addicts.

If a new statute concerning addiction is to be drafted, then a new look should also be taken at the problem of the non-addict peddler. Even if chronic addicts are to be given a legal supply of narcotics, the illicit peddler of narcotics must still be jailed. We should like to strengthen law enforcement in dealing with the non-addict peddler. There are many devices which can be used in this connection, some of which have already been included in particular state statutes. New devices for strengthening law enforcement can also be devised in the course of legal research.

Thus, the legal research recommended herein would have two major functions:

(1) Provide the legal framework for a new orientation in dealing with narcotic addicts.

(2) Provide the most effective controls and sanctions for dealing with drug peddlers and the illicit drug traffic.

6. The Preparation of a Volume of Readings on Narcotic Addiction

In the 1920s, Dr. Charles E. Terry and Mildred Pellens undertook a critical review of the literature on what was then called chronic opium intoxication. This work was done for a Committee on Drug Addiction, which sought answers to fundamental questions concerning the extent, etiology, nature and treatment of drug addiction. Unfortunately, as Terry and Pellens pointed out (The Opium Problem, xiii-xiv), such answers were generally unavailable because of the lack of unanimity of opinion on almost every phase of the drug problem.

Thirty years have elapsed since the publication of the Terry-Pellens volume. During these thirty years, a great deal of research has been done and considerable literature has appeared on problems of drug addiction. Drug addiction has been the subject of at least two nationwide Congressional investigations and innumerable state and local investigations. The material concerning drug addiction is spread through hundreds of pages of official reports, legal opinions, articles in all kinds of technical journals, publications of medical societies, the U. S. Public Health Service, Narcotics Bureau and other agencies. Particular phases of what we may know about drug addiction are found in various textbooks. Some aspects of the drug addiction problem have become clearer since the Terry-Pellens volume. Others have changed considerably since the 1920's.

There still is considerable divergence of opinion and controversy over many phases of the problem of narcotic addiction.

The author believes that there would be considerable advantage in the preparation and publication of a critical selection of the materials on drug addiction which have appeared since the Terry-Pellens volume. This would help to determine the state of our knowledge of drug addiction.

It would serve to illustrate and point up the various phases of the drug addiction problem in this country. The analysis of the literature would also demonstrate whether there are still any answers of fundamental questions concerning the extent, nature and effects of narcotic addiction, the social, psychological and familial factors involved, the relationship between narcotic addiction and crime, and the best methods of treating narcotic addicts. In addition the preparation of a critical volume of readings on drug addiction would help define areas where further research would be useful in helping to control the scourge of narcotic addiction.

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