Jennifer Tooley


BA Carleton University, 1994






Master of Arts


In the Department of Anthropology



Supervisor:                P. Lovell, Ph.D., Anthropology


Examining Board:     D. Black, Ph.D., Anthropology, Chair

                                    M. Wiber, Ph.D., Anthropology

                                    L. Neilson, Ph.D. Sociology



This thesis is accepted.





Dean of Graduate Studies





July, 1999


© Jennifer Tooley, 1999






The issue of illicit drug use is a popular topic for both media coverage and government policy.  In the summer of 1998, the Canadian federal government revamped their drug policy, Canada’s Drug Strategy.  In the new Strategy, the federal government attempts to divorce itself from an enforcement related past by changing the focus of drug policy to one which encompasses the principles of harm reduction.  Yet analysis of federal government documents shows that Canada is still pursuing a policy of criminalization.  Using contrived language which is both threatening and reassuring to the public, the government categorizes all illicit drug use as bad, and all illicit drug users as sick.  Through their language, the government emerges as the primary authority on drug use in Canadian society.  Not only does this language shape political action, it also shapes the meanings that we hold about illicit drugs and their users.  The government’s language on drug use helps to sustain the “symbolic allure” of prohibition. It also legitimates the control of the “Therapeutic State” over the individual.



Table of Contents








Theoretical Relevance




Chapter Summaries




Chapter 1: Canada’s Drug Policy 1908- 1998




Chapter 2: Prohibition’s Symbolic Allure




Chapter 3: The Language of Prohibition


Political Language


Language of the Helping Professions




Chapter 4: The Canadian Government on Drugs


Health Canada Publications


RCMP Publications


Library of Parliament Publications


Center for National Security Studies






Chapter 5: The Therapeutic State & The Control of


Personal Conduct








Works Cited








For nearly a century, Canada has been fighting a war.  Heavily armed troops are sent to fight, prisoners of war are taken, and casualties abound.  Like all wars, this one has its slogans, its enemies and its heroes.  It is the War on Drugs.

            In June of 1998, the United Nations General Assembly held a Special Session (UNGASS) which recommended that all countries pursuing a War on Drugs escalate their efforts.  With a proposal to increase spending on the Drug War by an additional 4 billion dollars, the UN believes that illicit drugs can be eradicated world wide by 2008.  This goal will be pursued through illicit crop eradication and coordinated international efforts for drug enforcement.

            But like many wars, the War on Drugs also has its protesters. These protestors, including high ranking political dignitaries such as former Secretary General of the United Nations Javier Perez de Cuellar, and Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz , argue that the UN’s War on Drugs is a failure.  As an example, they cite the pledge that UNGASS made in 1990 to eradicate illicit drugs by 1995 (Trickey, 1998: A1). In 1998, reported drug production and profits are at their highest level to date (ibid). In a petition to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the protestors claim that the global War on Drugs in now causing more harm than drug abuse itself:

In many parts of the world, drug war politics impede public health efforts to stem the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.  Human rights are violated, environmental assaults perpetrated and prisons inundated with hundreds of thousands of drug law violators.  Scarce resources better expended on health, education and economic development are squandered on ever more expensive interdiction efforts.  Realistic proposals to reduce drug-related crime, disease and death are abandoned in favor of rhetorical proposals to create drug-free societies (Lindesmith 1998).


Signatories of the petition call for an “open debate” and a “rigorous analysis of current policies” (ibid).

            Yet, in this highly charged atmosphere, is open debate and rigorous analysis possible?  In Canada, the federal government claims that it is pursuing a “balanced approach” to drug use, with an emphasis on “prevention”, “treatment”, and “rehabilitation” (Trickey 1998: A2).  The new catch phrase in government drug policy is “harm reduction” – reducing the physical, psychological, societal and economic harm associated with drug use (Health Canada 1998b: 4).  Yet policy critics argue that prevention, and education are “misnomers, as funds earmarked for these activities [are] spent on exhortation not to take drugs…and “information” (outright propaganda) on the dangers of these drugs” (Gordon 1994, 39).  In fact in Canada, prevention and education are primarily carried out by the police.  It appears as if treatment and rehabilitation will also soon be an enforcement activity.  For example, Canada’s Drug Strategy 1998, announces the creation of the Health and Enforcement Partnership (HEP).  This partnership supports the collaboration of the medical and enforcement sectors at the national, provincial and local levels (Health Canada 1998b: 13).  The basis of HEP is that the “health and social agencies and the police do the work together” (Health Canada, 1995a: 1) .  As demand and supply reduction are the objectives, “drug abusers with health and social problems are treated in the community context”, while “criminals who import and sell drugs are subject to the strict interpretation of the law” (ibid).  The expansion of enforcement and the continued criminalization of drug users seems to negate the federal government’s claim that it is pursuing a balanced approach to illicit drug use.  It also seems to limit the possibilities for an open debate.

            The contentious issue of drug use and our legislative response to it gives rise to a series of questions.  How do we as Canadians perceive illicit drugs and drug users?  How and by whom have our perceptions and meanings of drug use and drug users been shaped?  Why has a policy of enforcement and criminalization been pursued with respect to illicit drug use for over a century? These are the questions which this report has set out to address.

            I will argue that our perceptions about drugs and drug users cannot be separated from our history.  From its onset in the early twentieth century, drug policy has had a “shadow agenda” (Gordon 1994: x).  This agenda is often more reflective of racial and political conflicts than any real desire to curtail the use of dangerous substances.  Also, our tendency to deal with drug use as an enforcement issue arises from the collaboration between law enforcement and the Department of Health in the 1920’s.  Criminalization became the preferred means of dealing with drug use early in the century because drug use was believed to be a condition of moral failure (Blackwell 1988 b: 159).

            The way we conceptualize drugs and drug use is also shaped by the imagery and symbolism that these terms evoke.  As Geertz writes, human behavior must be seen as symbolic action (1988: 536).  “Analysis, then is sorting out the structures of signification…and determining their social ground and import” (ibid). I will argue that drugs, drug users and prohibition have become fetishes.  Magical and powerful, illicit drugs are attributed with a malevolence all their own.  Their pharmacological properties, (their “roots”) are erased in their fetishization (Taussig 1992:138).  In this symbolic atmosphere, the use of illicit drugs has become an “unholy” ceremonial (Szasz 1985: 49) .  Likewise, the users of these unholy substances lose their human nature.  They become devils, madmen, and ultimately “scapegoats” upon whom we burden with all of society’s evils and then “justifiably” cast out (ibid: 25). It is only by understanding the “sensory reaction” provoked by images of drugs and users that we can understand the symbolic response of prohibition (Manderson 1995: 800).  Prohibition emerges as a sort of counter magic - a ceremonial that symbolically restores order to a world gone awry.

            The “symbolic allure” of prohibition is sustained by a particular use of language (Gordon 1994: 28).  In Canada, as with many countries that pursue a War on Drugs, the language of drugs (Gordon 1994 refers to this as “Drugspeak”) is largely promulgated by the government.  Governments tend to posses “social power[1] (van Dijk 1996: 85).  Having “preferential access [to] public discourse and communication” the government is thus able to manipulate “mental models of social events through the use of...rhetoric, semantic strategies and so on” (van Dijk 1996: 85).

            If governments have many means “at their disposal to build cognitive structures”, as Edelman (1977) argues, then we must look to the government to understand the meanings that we attach to drugs and drug use.  The research for this thesis thus involved the sorting through of many federal government publications on drug use.  While the exact methodology will be discussed later in this chapter, and the findings discussed throughout the thesis, several aspects concerning the government’s use of language are important to note at this point.  First of all, we must recognize that government publications, government policies and government actions concerning drugs and drug use form a discourse: they “can be seen as a controlled system for the production of knowledge” (Ward 1997: 129).  Within this discourse, the institution (government), and the language enable each other (ibid).  While controlled or regulated, the government’s discourse on drugs allows for some limited dissent (ibid).  However, there does exist “a limit on what is sayable at any one time: [discourses] define what counts as ‘legitimate’ or ‘illegitimate’ statements” (ibid).

            Secondly, it should be acknowledged that political language is at least as powerful as the language of religion.  This is because people turn to either religion or government “to cope with anxieties they cannot handle” (Edelman 1998: 131). Our “eagerness to believe that government will ward off evils and threats renders us susceptible to political language that both intensifies and eases anxiety” (Edelman 1977: 4).  The public rarely challenges the perspective of the government because we need to believe that the government can handle a variety of social problems “which are potentially threatening to us but not part of our everyday lives” (ibid: 67).   As Edelman argues, “this public reaction is the politically crucial one, for it confers power upon professionals and spreads their norms to others” (ibid).  Political language is thus not merely “an instrument for describing events but itself a part of events, shaping their meaning and helping to shape the political roles officials and the general public play” (Edelman 1977: 4).

            Thus, it is the “verbal shaping of [drug] problem itself [which] constitutes much or even all of the ensuing problem” (Szasz 1985: 11).  Szasz argues that government officials and policy makers “tactically abuse” language “to manufacture and maintain the drug problem they ostensibly try to solve” (ibid: 12).  Indeed, many tactical abuses of language were found throughout the federal government publications on drug use.  These usually took the form of “slippery definitions”, for example: drugs, drug abuse, addiction, and harm reduction (Edelman 1988: 109). The manipulation of language often results in the formation of knowledge, attitudes and ideologies that coincide with that of the government since the public usually does not have access to alternative sources of information (van Dijk 1996: 85).

            Thus, political language is “a major mechanism in the social construction of reality” (Fowler 1985: 61).  The imposition of ideology by government institutions is “the most massive and pervasive linguistic practice working to maintain power differentials” (ibid).  This brings us to our third point: namely why has a policy of enforcement and criminalization been pursued with regard to drugs?  It will be argued that the government’s current policy of prohibition is sustained precisely because it maintains power differentials so well.  The political language used in federal government publications on drugs reflects and legitimates the increasing amount of control that the state (or more precisely the “Therapeutic State”) possesses over the individual and hence over the body.

This part of the analysis will proceed on several fronts.  First of all,  Reich’s ideas on the growth of “government largess” and the effects that this has on “the underpinnings of individualism and independence” will be examined to set the context of this debate (1964: 733).  For example, Reich argues that the “government is a gigantic syphon”, dispensing benefits, services, contracts, licenses and so forth.  These are replacing traditional forms of wealth (ibid).  The government’s power has therefore been increasing substantially as “it gains such power as is necessary to supervise its largess” (ibid: 746).  Individuals thus increasingly turn towards government to achieve their personal goals.  This extends beyond the acquisition of wealth to the maintenance of health as well.  This has given rise to what Szasz calls the “Therapeutic State”.  The Therapeutic State involves the collaboration of government and medicine for the establishment of social order (1985: 21).

Second,  Foucault’s idea that the “body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body” will be examined (1975: 25).  The government legitimates its power to subject the body to its rules and regulations concerning drugs, precisely because it argues that a body subjected to drug use is no longer economically productive.  Almost all of the government publications consulted emphasized that a significant cost of drug abuse was  reduced labor productivity.

Finally, it will be argued that federal publications on drugs both reflect and legitimate the control of the state over the individual precisely because the state (including medical authorities) has a vested interest in maintaining this control.  As Szasz argues, the government and medical establishment’s persecution of drug abusers creates “a powerful group of addiction mongers whose vested interest is to produce ever more drug abusers in order to make themselves ever more indispensable and wealthy” (1985: 66).

            Thus, this thesis will set out to challenge some of the very basic premises that we have about illicit drugs and their users.  While “any study that focuses on the problematic character of strongly held beliefs is…bound to offend many people”, I believe that an essential goal of anthropology should be to “call attention to the warrant for a wider range of observations than those conventionally defined as adequate” (Edelman 1977: 13).




A particular difficulty of a study which examines language use that has been “tactically abused”, is defining key concepts such as: drugs, illicit drugs, drug abuse, and harm reduction. While I will now clarify my usage of these terms, remember that when I do provide definitions, they are by no means static. I believe that the meaning of these concepts is constructed depending upon the circumstances.  This is what makes the government’s use of this type of language so powerful – they can impart nearly any meaning to the words, depending on their purpose.  As will be shown later in the thesis, the government often does employ drastically different and even contradictory definitions of “drug”, “illicit drug”, “drug abuse” and “harm reduction”, depending on the publication and the point that it is trying to make.  Following the definition of these contested terms, I will also discuss and define the concept of ideology, as it relates to this thesis. 

As Dr. Andrew Weil points out, “the decision to call some substances drugs and others not is often arbitrary” (1993: 9).  For example, “a common definition of the word drug is any substance that in small amounts  produces significant changes in the body, mind, or both” (ibid). The problem with this definition, Weil argues, is that it does not adequately distinguish between drugs and food.  We have all heard people comment that they are on a “sugar high”.  Does this make sugar a drug?  What about coffee or chocolate?  Weil argues that drugs, food, and even poisons are not clear cut categories (ibid).  Therefore, what drugs are “depends on who is looking at them” (ibid).

Another problem with the concept of a drug is the “social meaning” of the word (Zimring and Hawkins 1992:25).  As Zimring and Hawkins point out, the word “drug” has a value-component which is pejorative and derogatory.  For example, consider the way that the word is often combined: drug pusher, drug trafficker, drug habit – all of these phrases have pejorative connotations (ibid).  Because of this derogatory social meaning, scientists attempt to avoid using the word in discussing drug policy issues.  Most, including the American Psychiatric Association, use the term “psychoactive substance to cover a wide range of substances, including opiates, alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, sedatives, and marijuana” (ibid).

For the purpose of this thesis, I will use the term drug because federal government publications tend to stick to using this loaded term for reasons to be discussed later.  I hope to provide a broad definition of this term, by including aspects of definitions from Weil (1993) and Zimring and Hawkins (1992).  While I believe that food can be a drug, it will not be included in this definition.  Also, I will exclude the part of Weil’s definition about the amount of usage required to affect change in the mind, body or both (the phrase is “any substance used in small amounts”). As Zimring and Hawkins point out, some drugs such as tobacco “have a relatively modest impact on the moods of non-addicted users”. (1992: 29).  However, larger doses of tobacco, particularly over a long time frame, may have effects on both the mind and body of the tobacco user.  Thus, for this paper, I will define a drug as any substance excluding food that can (in varying amounts) affect the mind, body, or both, and is capable of being taken recreationally.  I have borrowed this last part of the definition from Zimring and Hawkins (1992: 25), to restrict drugs such as antibiotics etc. from the discussion.  While drugs such as antibiotics obviously affect the body, they are generally not taken recreationally and therefore will not be included in this definition.  On the other hand, prescription drugs such as Valium and Codeine are often taken recreationally and are therefore included.

This paper is primarily concerned with what the government would categorize as “illicit drugs” or, perhaps more appropriately “controlled substances”.  On May 14, 1997, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was enacted into law, replacing the Narcotic Control Act.  The first major change effected by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was the replacement of the word “drug” by “controlled substance” (Brucker 1997: 5).  While the word “drug” now only has the legal meaning imparted to it in the definition section of the Food and Drug Act, government publications continue to use the term “illicit drug” in their reports.  Thus I will use the term “illicit drug” in this paper to refer to those substances scheduled in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  Since this paper focuses on illicit drug use, I will often interchange the words “drug” and “illicit drug”.  In either case I am referring to socially disapproved drug use.

The Controlled Drug and Substances Act is comprised of a series of schedules which in essence, rate a variety of drugs in terms of their “unholiness”.  “Health Canada is responsible for determining which drugs are scheduled in the Act and into which Schedule they are placed” (ibid: 145).  Their decisions are based on several factors including: “1) the degree to which the substance is abused in Canada; 2) the degree of danger the substance represents to the health and safety of the Canadian public; 3) commercial considerations such as the efficacy of the substance in the legitimate market; and 4) Canada’s international commitments with respect to the United Nations Drug Conventions” (ibid).  Those drugs listed under Schedule I of the Act are considered the most “unholy” (Szasz 1985: 31). Szasz uses the metaphor of holiness to describe the differences in drugs.  Those drugs which are prescribed by physicians (which he likens to rabbis) are holy and thus considered healthy (ibid).  Those which are prohibited by the state (God) are deemed to be unhealthy and therefore unholy (ibid).  In terms of the most unholy Schedule I substances, possession and trafficking are subjected to harsher penalties than any other drugs in the Act.  Some of the drugs listed under Schedule I are “the opium poppy, and its preparations, derivatives, alkaloids and salts” (Brucker 1997: 147).  Thus heroin, and even codeine are Schedule I drugs although products containing less than 8 mg of codeine are exempted from the Act.  Cocaine is also a Schedule I drug.  Schedule II drugs are limited to the cannabis products.  Schedule III substances include amphetamines, magic mushrooms and so on, while Schedule IV substances include barbiturates.  While all of these scheduled substances are controlled, only drugs in Schedules I through III are illegal to possess.  Schedule IV substances are not illegal to possess, but are illegal to traffic.

While it is not my intent at this time to analyze the logic involved in this process of ranking controlled substances, I want to raise the point that even the term “illicit drug” or “controlled substance” is not a clear cut category.  Certainly, as the Schedules of the Act show, some drugs are inherently more “illicit” or unholy than others.  Schedule I drugs are subject to longer maximum sentences for possession and trafficking than either Schedule II or III substances. This problem of definition is further exacerbated when one considers the government’s use of the term “illicit drugs”.  In many of their reports and surveys, illicit drugs are defined as “cannabis, cocaine or crack, LSD, amphetamines and heroin, as well as steroids and solvents” (Health Canada, 1997: 63). 

Drug abuse is another loaded term.  While it is true that all drugs “have the potential to cause trouble unless people take care not to let their use of them get out of control”, what constitutes abuse is a contentious issue (Weil 1993: 26).  I agree with Alexander’s (1990) definition of drug abuse: “for the most part, people use this term to describe drug use they do not approve of, and it therefore refers to different drugs and patterns of drug use in different contexts” (126).  The fact that the definition of drug abuse varies depending on context is evident from the government’s ever changing use of this term.  This will be explored later in the paper.

            Harm reduction has become the catch phrase in current drug policy.  It is “a recent elaboration of general public health principles that have been prompted, in part by the AIDS epidemic among injection drug users in several countries” (Erickson 1992: 259). For those involved in drug use research, “harm reduction” involves five key concepts:

One feature is that abstinence is not always the only appropriate objective of policy.  Second, harm reduction strategies recognise that prohibition in and of itself can generate certain types of harms….Third, the drug user is viewed as a member of society, and may need treatment and assistance to reintegrate into the community.  Fourth, harm reduction is most often a community-based strategy…..Fifth, some forms of legal controls and their enforcement may be essential for harm reduction but need to be integrated into an overall strategy (ibid).


As will be seen, the concept of harm reduction has also been “tactically abused” by the federal government.

            Ideology, a term used throughout this thesis, is “one of the less settled categories of philosophical and sociological discussions” (Kress 1985: 29).  Geertz (1973: 196) writes that the conception of ideology in recent social sciences has been “pejorative”, with meanings ranging from “false consciousness” to the “ideas of the dominant class” (Kress 1985: 29).  Geertz (1973: 207) argues that ideologies should be viewed “as systems of interacting symbols, as patterns of interworking meanings”.  “Symbols”, he continues, “draw their power from their capacity to grasp, formulate, and communicate social realities that elude the tempered language of science” (ibid: 210).

            Ideology, and hence ideological language, become most pervasive when “a loss of orientation occurs”, that is, when there exists “a lack of usable models to comprehend the universe of civic rights and responsibilities in which one finds oneself located” (ibid: 219).  When this loss of orientation occurs, Geertz argues that ideologies become “programs; they provide a template or blueprint for the organization of social and psychological processes” (ibid: 216).

            While ideologies may be templates for human behaviour, Abu-Lughod (1986: 258) warns that this “suggests an overly rigid cultural conditioning that risks reducing human beings to automatons”.   She suggests that ideologies should be conceptualized as “languages that people can use to express themselves” (ibid). While these “languages” may enable people to feel the experiences they are expressing, it must be remembered that “it is people who make the statements” (ibid).

             I think that this description accurately reflects the government’s ideology concerning drugs.  The government provides a language which the public uses to describe drugs and drug use.  While it is true that individuals “make the statements”, they do so only within the context of the language they have been provided with.   

            I suggest merging Geertz’s and Abu-Lughod’s definitions of ideology.  Ideologies are thus systems of interacting symbols that provide a “language” with which people can express themselves.  As ideologies “find their clearest articulation in language”, studying texts is an important means of uncovering ideological meaning (Kress 1985: 29).  As Seigel explains, “to study ideology in text is to study the ways in which meaning serves to sustain relations of domination” (1985: 44).




            This research contributes to the fields of critical medical anthropology (CMA) and the anthropology of policy.  CMA is concerned with the “emotional, social, and political sources of illness and healing” (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1998: 208).  CMA is anthropological in that “it is holistic, historical, and immediately concerned with on-the-ground features of social life, social relationships, and social knowledge, as well as with culturally constituted systems of meaning” (Singer 1998:226).  It is critical in that it “recognizes that health itself is a profoundly political issue” and defines “power as a fundamental variable in health-related research, policy, and programming” (ibid).

            Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1998: 208) argue that the goal of CMA should be to “problematize the body”, that is, “to call into question various concepts…which have determined the ways in which the body has been perceived in scientific biomedicine and in anthropology”.  They suggest categorizing the body into three states: the individual body, the social body, and the body politic (ibid: 209).  It is the latter two “bodies” which are the primary concern of this thesis.  For example, “symbolic equations between conceptions of the healthy body and the healthy society, as well as the diseased body and the malfunctioning society” are explicit in the government’s discourse on drugs (ibid: 215).  The relations of power and control that occur between individual and social bodies (the “body politic”), are also an important part of this discourse.  As will be demonstrated, when the body politic “experiences itself as threatened, it will respond by expanding the number of social controls regulating the groups’ boundaries” (ibid: 217).  Threats to social order, whether they are real or imagined, lead to both “purges of traitors and social deviants” and to “concerns with matters of ritual…and purity often expressed in vigilance over social and bodily boundaries” (ibid).  This is often reflected by a heightened anxiety “over what goes in and what comes out of the two bodies” (ibid).  In this thesis, it is argued that the act of drug taking is threatening precisely because it blurs these boundaries.

            The anthropology of policy addresses a variety of questions which also tie in directly with my research.  Some of these questions are:

What are the…metaphors and linguistic devices that cloak policy with the symbols and trappings of political legitimacy?  How do policies construct their subjects as objects of power, and what new kinds of subjectivity or identity are being created in the modern world? (Shore and Wright 1997: 3).


A relatively new branch of political anthropology, the anthropology of policy is a relevant contribution to the discipline because “policy has become an increasingly central concept and instrument in the organization of contemporary society” (ibid).  More importantly, policy “increasingly shapes the way individuals construct themselves as subjects” (ibid: 4).  Shore and Wright (1997: 4) conclude that the study of policy “leads straight into issues at the heart of anthropology: norms and institutions; ideology and consciousness; knowledge and power; rhetoric and discourse; meaning and interpretation…to name but a few”.

            The government’s discourse on drugs, reflected in their written documents, speech acts, decision making, and interaction with the public constitutes a policy (ibid: 5).  The way in which this discourse or policy “influences the way people construct themselves, their conduct, and their social relations” is a central question in this thesis.

            Shore and Wright (1997: 8) believe that in addition to influencing the way people construct themselves and others, policies can also become “core symbols” of a society.  Core symbols are “analytical keys to understanding an entire cultural system and its underlying elements” (ibid).  I believe that prohibition is one of the core symbols within the drug discourse.  Wrapped up in this symbol is the conflict between our desire for both individual autonomy and social cohesion (which requires submission to authority) as well as the related themes of chaos versus social order.  These themes will be examined throughout the thesis.




            Government language and actions evoke many of our beliefs about what our social problems are, how they are caused, and how they can be solved (Edelman 1998: 131).  Thus, much of the research for this paper involved examining government publications on drug use in order to analyze how language both shapes the meanings we give to drugs and drug use and how these meanings legitimate the control of the Therapeutic State over the body.  The approaches used were critical discourse analysis (CDA) and the methods found in the anthropology of policy (Shore and Wright 1997: 3). 

  “CDA sees discourse – language used in speech and writing – as a form of social practice” (Wodak 1997: 173).  Discourse is “socially consequential” meaning that it can both sustain and reproduce the status quo or it can transform it (ibid).  Because discourse is a form of social practice, “it gives rise to important issues of power” (ibid):

Discursive practices may have major ideological effects; they can help produce and reproduce unequal power relations (between, for instance, social classes, women and men, and ethnic/cultural majorities and minorities) through the ways in which they represent things and position people.  As a result, discourse may be racist or sexist and attempt to pass off assumptions (often falsifying ones) about any aspect of social life as common sense” (ibid). 


Indeed, it is this focus on the relation of language to power that gives discourse analysis its critical dimension (Riggins 1997: 2). van Dijk (1996) concurs that the most crucial task of CDA “is to account for the relationships between discourse and social power” (84).  “More specifically”, he argues, “such an analysis should describe and explain how power abuse is  enacted, reproduced or legitimized by the text and talk of dominant groups or institutions” (ibid).  In other words, CDA provides a  “description, explanation, and critique of the textual strategies that writers use to naturalize discourses, that is to make  discourses appear to be  commonsense, apolitical statements” (Riggins 1997: 2).  This aspect of CDA is important because the ideological import of speech and text and “the relations of power which underlie them are often unclear to people” (Wodak 1997: 174).    CDA thus “aims to make more visible these opaque aspects of discourse” (ibid).

            How are these hidden aspects of discourse uncovered?  Wodak (1989: xv) suggests an interdisciplinary approach that takes into account the historical context of the discourse. This is in fact the approach I used during the research stage.  My first step was to examine and explain the history of the discourse on drugs.  This was accomplished with the aid of a variety of secondary sources which traced both the changes in drug legislation as well as social attitudes from the early twentieth century onwards.  History is an important aspect of CDA because as Wodak (1989:  xvi) writes, “social processes are dynamic, not static”.  Wodak argues that interdisciplinary research is necessary “because social phenomena are too complex to be dealt with adequately in only one field” (ibid).  While this thesis belongs to the fields of CMA and the anthropology of policy, I applied research from sociology, psychiatry and political science when necessary.

            The next step in CDA is “diagnosis”.  Diagnosis involves making “mechanisms of manipulation, discrimination, demagogy and propaganda explicit and transparent” (ibid: xiv). However, here CDA becomes methodologically weak.  While diagnosis is defined, any method on how diagnosis should proceed is not provided.  The methods used in the anthropology of policy offer some insight. Shore and Wright (1997: 14) suggest using the process of  studying through: tracing the ways in which power creates webs and relations between actors, institutions and discourses across time and space” (my italics).  From this approach, the questions to be addressed are “‘Whose voices prevail?’ and ‘How are their discourses made authoritative?’“(ibid: 15).

            The process of “studying through” enables the researcher to uncover patterns in data.  As Potter and Wetherall (1987: 168) explain, patterns emerge in two forms: as differences in either content and form or as consistencies.  Identifying how accounts or texts either share similar features or are different from each other is the first phase in Potter and Wetherall’s method of discourse analysis[2].  The second phase involves analyzing the function and consequence of language use.  In this phase, the researcher forms hypotheses about the functions and effects of a particular discourse and searches for linguistic evidence (ibid).

            In addition to searching for patterns in data, researchers should also be aware of keyword usage and the style of a text.  For example, Shore and Wright (1997: 18) argue that in the process of policy formation, “certain keywords undergo shifts in use and meaning”.  Shore and Wright argue that “these semantic shifts provide fingerprints for tracing more profound transformations in rationalities of governance” (ibid: 19).  In our case, “addiction” is a key word that has undergone a semantic shift (see Chapter 3).  Originally meaning “a habit” with little pejorative connotation, the meaning of addiction has been transformed to a ravaging disease, beyond the control of the individual. This new meaning of  “addiction” is used to marshal support for the government’s policy concerning illicit drugs.  Also, as Shore and Wright argue, “some key words never have a permanent, fixed or definite meaning” (ibid).  Thus, the research for this thesis involved uncovering some of these “essentially contested concepts” such as “drug” and “drug abuse”.

            The style or genre of discourse is also significant (Apthorpe 1997: 44).  Style refers not to literary style, but is  “something akin to Foucault’s gaze according to which a focus is selected and pursued” (ibid).  As Shore and Wright (1997: 21) explain, “that policy documents are scrutinized [only] for the content of their words, rather than writing style, is to neglect an important aspect of how policy creates affect and effect”.  An example of style in policy writing is what Apthorpe calls “goal language”.  Goal language “inspires, uplifts, persuades, gains support, defines parameters, [and] gives a badge to wear” (1997: 44).  Finding instances of goal language, (Edelman refers to this as “reassuring language”) as well as its counterpart, threatening language, was an integral part of my research.

The final process in CDA (and this thesis) is interpretation (Wodak 1989: xvi). Interpretation  involves “understanding how and why reality is structured in such a way” (ibid: xiv).  At the interpretation stage, “most critical discourse analysts take an explicit political stance, identifying with those who lack the institutional levers to produce counterdiscourses” (Riggins 1997: 3; Singer 1998: 234).  The goal of the analysts is that “their work will contribute to social emancipation” (ibid).  Does taking a critical approach mean that research is one-sided and hence less valid?  As Pelto and Pelto (1978: 246) argue,  “every anthropologist  injects his or her own personal theory consciously or unconsciously into the work of application”.  The difference is that critical discourse analysts “state these values explicitly” (Wodak 1989: xv).   It must be remembered however, that CDA assumes that “all explanations are merely points of view”, including one’s own (Brown 1998: 207).  The goal is to be critical of “explanations that ignore alternative interpretations” (ibid).  As will be shown, the government’s discourse on drugs has ignored alternative interpretations of drug use as anything other than disease or moral failure.

The critical approach to (medical) anthropology raises some important questions about the role of the ethnographer.  As Hansen (1997:88) argues, when the ethnographer “invests herself” and becomes part of the field of research, research and fieldwork become an “intersubjective experience”. Thus, “the ethnographer is no longer considered an objective and neutral person distantiated from the field of research” (ibid).

However, this intersubjective experience leads to obvious methodological problems. Shore and Wright (1997:17) liken the process to studies of language where “native speakers are usually quite unconscious of the metaphors and rules that make up the…normative cognitive structures that shape their reality”. They suggest a very different approach to the critical stance that involves:

detaching and repositioning oneself sufficiently far enough from the norms and categories of thought that give security and meaning to the moral universe of one’s society in order to interrogate the supposed natural axiomatic order of things (ibid).


How are these approaches to be reconciled?  As Singer (1998: 234) argues, “although the detached observer may gain certain social scientific insights, only the engaged observer is privy to others”.  There is an obvious tension here that I also have felt in the process of this research.  On the one hand, I tried very diligently to detach myself from the research, and to weigh the evidence independently. On the other hand, I realize that a goal of this research is to “unmask the structural roots of suffering and ill health”, an obvious critical practice (ibid).  With such a politically charged topic where research needs to be both credible and emancipating, I believe that this dualistic approach was necessary and unavoidable.

            The research for this paper was carried out in Ottawa at Carleton University Library, the University of Ottawa Library, the Ottawa  Public Library,  the National Library of Canada, and on the Internet.  Primary sources were obtained through several means.  First, the library databases were searched using keywords in a government document search.  The keywords used were “drugs”, “narcotics”, “drugs and statistics”, “drug abuse”, “substance abuse”, and “narcotic control act”.  As many documents were found, I decided at this point to limit my primary sources to Canadian federal government documents on illicit drug use.  These publications include Canada’s drug policy, documents written for parental information, as well as government research reports on drug use.  The publications are authored by a variety of federal departments including Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Defense and the Library of Parliament Research Branch.  This will provide a wide range of viewpoints on drug issues, and a differing use of political language, depending on the author.  Thus, it will be noticed that documents published by the RCMP and National Defense use more militaristic language and focus on enforcement issues, while Health Canada employs medical terminology.  While organizations such as the Addictions Research Council and  the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse are primarily funded by the federal government, they are considered non-government organizations.  Their publications were not consulted for this research.

            The second means of obtaining primary resources involved using the Internet.  Many departments such as Health Canada and the RCMP have made documents available to the public for downloading.  The content of government web sites is quite stable, however, this means of acquiring primary resources was only used when the documents could not be retrieved in the library.  When government web sites are referenced, the date that the material was retrieved is also included in the list of works cited.

            Finally, I obtained some of the most recent primary sources, such as the 1998 version of Canada’s Drug Strategy (not available in libraries at the time of writing this paper), directly from Health Canada’s publication department.  No fee was charged for this document.

            The primary documents that I have consulted span from 1987 to 1998.  1987 was chosen as the cut off year because this was the year the government decided that substance abuse issues warranted a serious enough problem to develop “a concerted Canadian effort” to address the issue (Health Canada 1998: 17).  Hence the first phase of Canada’s Drug Strategy was implemented.  No doubt the federal government was feeling mounting pressure from the United States, who had by this time declared an all out “War on Drugs” (Zimring and Hawkins, 1992: xi).

Patricia Erickson offers evidence that Canada’s Drug Strategy was indeed influenced by events south of the border.  In 1986, within two days of American President Ronald Reagan’s declaration of a new war on drugs, “Prime Minister Brian Mulroney departed from his prepared text to announce that drug abuse has become an epidemic that undermines our economic as well as our social fabric” (Erickson 1992: 248).  An official with Health Canada remarked in a private correspondence with Erickson that “when he [the Prime Minister] made the statement then we had to make it a problem” (quoted in Erickson: ibid-italics in original).  According to Erickson, after Mulroney’s remarks, Canada’s own version of the War on Drugs began in full force.  The Canadian government created a federal drug secretariat “which provided a new national focus on a drug strategy” (ibid).  With projected funding of $210 million over a five year period, Canada’s Drug Strategy formally came into existence in May 1987.

            While I have included a fairly large sample of federal government publications for the time period covered, I have by no means attempted to find every document that the federal government has published on the drug issue.  Because I am focusing on political discourse and how government language shapes the public’s ideas about drugs and drug use, I have tended to use documents that would be easily accessible to the public.  Thus research documents that could only be purchased from the government are excluded.

            The secondary sources for this study include authorities on political discourse and drug prohibition from both the United States and Canada.  Erickson (1992: 239) argues that since the onset of drug legislation in the early 20th century, “Canada and the United States have shared an overlapping history in regard to narcotics”.  While recently the United States has focused increasingly on drug enforcement, and Canada (theoretically at least), on prevention and treatment, both countries employ prohibitionist tactics[3]. For example, “in response to mounting concerns in North America about increasing rates of drug-related problems”, Canada participates in Drug War campaigns led by the United States such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) (Health Canada 1998: 17).  Thus, the prohibitionist ideology is equally applicable to both countries. 


Chapter Summaries

            Chapter One will trace the history of drug policy in Canada from the first drug control legislation in 1908 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act enacted in 1997.  The “shadow agenda” of drug policy, as well as how the emergence of the moral failure and disease models of drug use influenced drug control will be examined.

            Chapter Two looks at drug use and prohibition as symbolic action.  Drugs, drug users, and prohibition as a legislative response are presented as fetishes.  The specific imagery and meaning of drug use is discussed, as well as the imagery of prohibition; particularly its metaphorical casting as a “holy war”.

            Chapter Three provides a background to understanding political language.  It is argued that political language shapes political action.  Language and politics cannot be separated.  The authority of political language, and the use of linguistic cues and semantic strategies (condensation symbols and metaphors) in constructing and sustaining our prohibitionist discourse will be examined. The problematic definitions found in the drug discourse as well as the powerful language of the “helping professions” will be discussed (Edelman 1977: 58).

            In chapter four, some of the premises set out in the earlier chapters will be examined in detail.  This chapter involves a critical discourse analysis of a variety of federal government publications on drug use from 1987 to 1998.  It will be argued that the language used in federal government publications on illicit drugs is both threatening and reassuring.  This type of language sustains the symbolic allure of prohibition and ensures public acquiescence to drug policies.

            Chapter Five will examine the government discourse as a means of reflecting and legitimating the control of the Therapeutic State over the body.  Issues to be discussed in this chapter include: the growth of the Therapeutic State and the corresponding medicalization of human problems; autonomy versus authority and the regulation of personal conduct; ideas about the body and its economic subjugation; and the role of power and pleasure in drug control.


 Canada’s Drug Policy: 1908-1998


In order to put current government attitudes towards drugs into perspective, it is necessary to understand something about the history of drugs and drug use in Canada.  This chapter will provide an introduction to the history of Canada’s drug legislation.  More importantly, it will examine the very reasons why society felt it was necessary to regulate the use of certain substances in the first place.  Even from its onset, Canada’s drug policy always had a “shadow agenda” (Gordon 1994: x).  As will be shown, the decision to regulate some drugs often had little to do with concern over the possible harmful pharmacological affects of these substances.  As Gordon argues, the shadow agenda of past and current drug policies “is dark and volatile, with racial and generational conflicts, as well as prospects of political and material gain, feeding prohibitionist policies” (1994: 8).

            This chapter will also trace the changing history of our attitudes towards drug users.  According to Blackwell, historically, two conceptions of the nature of habitual drug use have coexisted (1988b: 158).  The first is the idea that habitual drug use is a matter of “moral failure, weakness of will and self-indulgence”.  The second is the belief that habitual drug use or “dependence”[4] is a disease (ibid).  How these models of drug use have impacted attitudes towards drug users and how they have influenced the formation of drug policy will be examined in a historical context.

Until 1908, opiate use in Canada was unregulated.  Although opiate use was viewed as “an individual medical misfortune or personal vice, opiate dependence was free from serious moral stigma” (Solomon and Green 1988: 88). In fact at this time, the use of alcohol and tobacco “were considered graver threats to public health and morals” (ibid).

It has been said that a close relationship exists between the escalation of anti-drug measures and outbreaks of the public’s fear of “enemies” (Alexander 1990: 50).  History tells us for example, that the regulation of opiate use in Canada cannot be separated from the Euroamerican public’s fear of Chinese immigrants.

In the 1850’s Chinese immigrants began to filter into British Columbia.  Mostly single males, they did not have the economic burden of families to support, and were valued as a cheap source of labor for the railroads, mining and other industries (Solomon and Green 1988: 89).  While opiate use was common among Euroamericans, it was usually administered in the form of tinctures or medicines.  Opium smoking and opium dens were originally restricted to the Chinese communities which were isolated, both physically and psychologically, from Euroamerican society (Blackwell 1988a: 232).

At first, opium smoking among the Chinese was not considered harmful by Euroamericans.  What they disapproved of was opium smoking among themselves, not because they regarded it as a danger to health, but because it involved a “mixing of the races – a matter considered far more serious than the drug’s effect” (Solomon and Green 1988: 89).  Even the government’s concerns about opium at this time were limited to strictly financial considerations.  Opium was a potential cash cow, and when British Columbia joined confederation in 1871, they quickly placed a five hundred dollar licensing fee on Chinese opium factories (ibid: 89-90).

By the 1880’s a number of events transpired which “redefined the moral impact” of opiate use (ibid: 88).  The first was the association of certain elements of Euroamerican society with the opium den.  While “respectable white society” viewed the mixing of the races with hostility, actors, gamblers and  “denizens of the underworld” were “willing to mix with the Chinese and avail themselves of the pleasures of the opium den” (Blackwell 1988a: 232).  Blackwell writes that the opium den “became a kind of vagabond inn, a friendly and safe refuge for itinerant salesmen…as well as for underworld characters” (ibid).  Perhaps “the shady and disreputable character of the first white opium smokers helps to explain the seemingly illogical attribution of vice and immorality to smoking in an age when opium taking was widespread and socially accepted as a form of self-medication” (ibid).

An even greater force in the moral redefinition of opiate use (and users) was that by the 1880’s the Chinese became an economic threat to Euroamericans.  The decline in the railroads and the gold rush meant fewer employment opportunities, especially for Euroamerican workers who felt that they could not compete for wages with the unmarried Chinese laborers (Solomon and Green 1988: 90).   As Solomon and Green argue, Chinese employees soon “became the target of public resentment, for they accepted wages on which a white man’s family could not live” (ibid).  As economic conditions deteriorated, the Chinese increasingly became the object of Euroamerican resentment and fear.  While in the 1850’s the Chinese were regarded as “conscientious, thrifty, and law-abiding”, by the 1880’s they became “clannish, heathen, unsanitary, immoral, and disloyal to Canada” (ibid: 89-90).

Euroamerican hostility towards the Chinese was soon reflected in the legislature which “enacted a series of measures designed to end Chinese immigration and to drive the Chinese out of the economic mainstream” (ibid: 90).  Between 1885 and 1904, the government imposed a series of increasingly more harsh immigration taxes.  By 1904 the tax on Chinese immigrants entering British Columbia was five hundred dollars per person.  While the taxes seemed to slow Chinese immigration, between 1904 and 1907 Japanese immigration into British Columbia rose dramatically.  This immigration served to increase the anti-Asiatic sentiment and the hostility of Euroamericans.  In fact, a labor demonstration in 1907 against the Japanese directly  led to the passing of Canada’s first drug legislation: The Opium Act of 1908.

In response to the riots that arose from the September 7,1907, labour demonstration the government sent Deputy Minister of Labour, Mackenzie King, to British Columbia to investigate the event (ibid: 91).  In the course of his investigations, Mackenzie King interviewed two opium merchants.  King was shocked at the existence of the Chinese opium trade in British Columbia, and the elimination of this "menace” was to become a primary focus of his political career (ibid).

As Solomon and Green argue, King’s distaste for opium smoking rested on four themes that had nothing to do with the potential harm of the drug.  The first was that opium smoking was becoming increasingly popular among “respectable” white men and women.  His second concern involved the vast profits of the Chinese opium trade.  Third, King argued that the opium trade operated in violation of provincial pharmacy legislation.  Finally,  King emphasized that, as a Christian nation, Canada “had to set an example in the international campaign against opium” (ibid).  Within three weeks of King’s submission of his report on opium to the federal government, Parliament enacted the country’s first drug prohibition.  “The 1908 Opium Act made it an indictable offence to import, manufacture, offer to sell, sell, or possess to sell opium for non-medical purposes, but prohibited neither simple possession or use” (ibid: 92).

Blackwell (1988a: 231) writes that, “to create a substantial drug ‘problem’, one that captures the public imagination and stirs legislators to action, drug use needs to be associated with other social problems of concern”.  Thus, opium smoking became Canada’s “first drug menace and concern was to focus on the opium smokers’ moral character, or lack of it, rather than on the dangers of the drug to those who indulged in it” (ibid).  That the ban on opium smoking was instigated by moral, racial and political concerns rather than concerns about the dangers of the drug itself is further evidenced by the treatment of other opiates in the law.  In 1908, at the urging of both the Pharmaceutical Association and medical practitioners, the government enacted the Patent Medicine Act.  This act had the effect of “regulating rather than prohibiting the non-medical use of patent medicines”(Solomon and Green 1988: 92).  Manufacturers were now required to label any product which contained a scheduled drug such as heroin.  As Solomon and Green note, “the accommodating attitude to the industry is noteworthy considering that far more people were probably addicted to opiates through the use of patent medicines than through the smoking of opium” (ibid).  The effects of the 1908 Opium Act and Patent Medicine Act were twofold.  First of all, the laws benefited Euroamerican interests in the patent medicine industry, particularly pharmacists who could now “claim a monopoly on selling opium rather than leaving it universally and cheaply available” (Alexander 1990: 114).  Second, the legislation kept the Chinese out of the economic mainstream by “criminalizing Chinese opium distributors and sacrificing Chinese business interests” (Solomon and Green 1988: 93).

In 1911, the 1908 Opium Act was repealed in favor of even harsher legislation.  The 1911 Opium and Drug Act was to begin the “enforcement” phase of Canada’s drug policy – a phase that would go largely unchallenged until the 1950’s.  Again influenced by King and continuing anti-Asiatic sentiment, the 1911 Act prohibited use and possession of the drug (ibid: 93). The 1908 legislation created a lucrative black market for opium, and law enforcement felt that the only way to curb the demand for the drug was to create harsh user penalties (including imprisonment) and to expand their powers of enforcement.  The 1911 Opium and Drug Act did just that.  “Police powers of search and seizure were expanded and a special search warrant was created for drug cases” (ibid : 93).

An interesting facet of drug legislation in the early twentieth century is that it was influenced by two different ideologies: the idea that drug use was a moral weakness and the idea that drug use was a disease.  In the first case, it was believed that drug users were persons of free will “personally responsible for the  choice between behaving morally or immorally, within or outside the law” (Blackwell 1988b: 159).  The response to drug use in this context was “moral condemnation” (ibid).  Clearly, this ideology helped to establish the preference for enforcement in Canada’s early drug legislation.

The idea of drug use as a disease first gained popularity with the temperance movement of the nineteenth century (Alexander 1990: 113).  The disease model of drug use however, did not provide a challenge to the idea that drugs were best dealt with by law enforcement until the mid-twentieth century.  In fact, in its early stages, the idea that drug use was a disease served the aims of enforcement for a variety of reasons.  Before delving into this, we will first take a look at some of the characteristics of the disease model of drug use.

While the disease model of drug use may seem inherently different from the moral failure model, illness too has “moral meaning”.  Taussig writes that “behind every reified disease theory in our society lurks an organizing realm of moral concerns” (1992: 93).  The moral quality of actions is often viewed as the prime cause of disease (ibid).  Thus “through a series of exceedingly complex operations, reification serves to adhere guilt to disease” (ibid).

Thomas Szasz compares the disease model of drug use to the “disease” of masturbatory insanity in the nineteenth century.  With the conceptualization of masturbation as a serious mental illness, what had formerly been a temptation to masturbate (and hence a moral failure if one did masturbate) became an impulsive disease which one no longer had control over (1985: 160).  As Szasz argues, “yielding to the temptation thus became a “symptom” of a lack in the personality…this lack being constituted as a mental disease.  The result was the manufacture not only of masturbatory insanity but of all the so-called mental diseases characterized by what psychiatrists regarded as impulsive behavior” (ibid). Thus, in the disease model of drug use, the individual is no longer responsible for his or her own actions.  Temptation is replaced by impulse, and impulse can only be controlled by outside intervention.

The lack of any advocates for the treatment of habitual drug users (organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association did not become viable until a later date) made it easy for law enforcement to gain a forceful position in implementing drug legislation (Blackwell 1988b: 163).  Also, even though drug users were often thought to be sick, imprisonment was favored in place of treatment.  According to Giffen et al. (1991), this occurred for several reasons.  First of all, the public and legislators wanted to eliminate “hedonistic drug use” and any sanctions against users were deemed as necessary to achieve this task (155).  Second, as habitual drug users were usually depicted as Chinese immigrants, enforcement was associated with punishment of the Chinese (ibid).  Euroamericans felt that they would be immune from the effects of harsh drug legislation (Alexander 1990: 32). Also, while habitual drug use was often considered a disease, it was considered such a threatening disease that extraordinary measures were needed “not only to prevent it, but also to protect the persons who had become addicted.  Imprisoning addicts was a way of preventing further injury to body and mind” (Giffen et al 1991: 155).  Finally, it was widely held that drug use was contagious. The disease model promulgated the idea that it was necessary to quarantine drug users to prevent further spread of the disease even if this meant incarceration (Blackwell 1988b: 168). 

Thus in the early twentieth century, the moral failure model and the disease model of drug use existed alongside of each other.  Both of these models fuelled the fire of law enforcement, particularly in the 1920’s.

A series of events during the 1920’s inspired a full “War on Drugs” mentality and “permitted the virtually unchallenged passage of legislation that defined addiction as a law enforcement problem” (Solomon and Green, 1988: 100).  The first was the publication of a series of articles in Maclean’s Magazine in 1920 authored by Magistrate Emily Murphy.  The articles, which were later compiled to form Canada’s first “anti-drug” book The Black Candle , were written “for the express purpose of arousing public demands for stricter drug legislation” (ibid: 96).  Murphy’s articles and book put forth a series of ideas about drugs that were founded more on her strict Protestant beliefs than on fact.  She believed that all drugs “produced moral degeneration, crime, physical illness, mental disease, intellectual and spiritual ruin” (ibid).  Also, she created an image of the drug user as either “victim or villain” (ibid).  According to Solomon and Green, Murphy’s drug victim was “invariably white and usually young”.  The villain on the other hand, was either Chinese or Black and motivated by a desire to ruin the white race.  The racist underpinnings of Murphy’s villain are apparent in the following passage:


…[T]his man used to relate how the Chinese pedlars taunted him with their superiority at being able to sell the dope without using it, and by telling him how the yellow race would rule the world.  They were too wise, they urged, to attempt to win in battle but would win by wits; would strike at the white race through “dope” and when the time was ripe would command the world… (quoted in Alexander 1990: 32).


Both the villain and the victim shared “an overwhelming desire to infect others, particularly the young, and a need to commit crime” (Solomon and Green 1988: 96).  Murphy believed that the inherent criminality of the drug user could only be dealt with by punitive legislation.  As Solomon and Green note, “Murphy’s delineation of the scourge- like effects of drug use came to characterize Canadian narcotics policy, and most of her punitive recommendations were eventually incorporated into law” (ibid: 97).

            The second event which transpired to give law enforcement the edge in forming Canada’s drug policy was the formation of both the Narcotic Division of the Department of Health and the RCMP in 1920.  The Narcotic Division was given the mandate of “supervising Canada’s drug law and international treaty obligations” (ibid) and the RCMP soon emerged as the enforcement arm of the Narcotic Division (Giffen et al 1991: 126).  In order for drug enforcement to be successful,  co-operation between the Department of Health and the RCMP was essential.  For example, the Department of Health actively participated in criminal cases in the 1920’s especially those cases involving physicians who were suspected of  providing narcotics to dependants (Blackwell 1988b: 163).  According to Blackwell, “the Narcotic Division not only helped the RCMP to identify suspects, but also made strategic decisions during all the phases of investigation, arrest and prosecution” (ibid). 

            The co-operation between the Department of Health and the RCMP had even more important repercussions in terms of the development of legislation.  In the early 1920’s, the RCMP became concerned with difficulties encountered in the law enforcement of narcotic cases.  One such obstacle was “demoralization caused by ineffective prosecution of court cases” (Giffen et al 1991: 126).  This was overcome by the development of a “corps of standing counsel”- prosecutors who were hired on a fee basis by the government to prosecute strictly narcotics cases (ibid).  As a result, the lawyers (and the RCMP) developed an expertise in prosecuting drug cases and both “came to identify strongly with the goals of narcotic drug prohibition” (ibid). The RCMP “developed a focus interest in amendments to the law” and the best way to achieve this was through the help of the Narcotic Division (ibid).   The Narcotic Division acted as the RCMP’s “spokesman in proposing remedial legislation” (Solomon and Green 1988: 98). The consequence of this co-operation between the two bureaus was the creation of a “centralized pressure group which had the sole motivation and influence to play a major role in shaping the future course of drug legislation” (Giffen et al 1991: 127).

The influence of law enforcement is reflected in the increasingly punitive drug legislation in the 1920’s which culminated in the 1929 Opium and Narcotic Drug Act (Alexander 1990: 32).  The Act became one of the country’s most stringent pieces of criminal legislation, extending the range of criminal sanctions, increasing punitive consequences and encroaching on traditional civil liberties (Solomon and Green 1988: 89). 

            The Division of Narcotics of the Department of Health also helped to define the drug user of the 1920’s.  Seemingly reflective of Emily Murphy’s idea of drug users as victims or villains, the official reports published by the Narcotic Division divided addicts into three types.  The first type of addict fitted the victim prototype.  These were patients who became addicted to narcotics during the course of treatment for a disease (these came to be termed “medical addicts”).  The second group, medical professionals who became addicted to pharmaceutical supplies because of stress or overwork (“professional addicts”) were also portrayed as victims. The final group, those addicts living on the margins of society – known as “criminal addicts” were epitomized as the villainous drug user that their official name implies (Blackwell 1988b: 161 and Giffen et al. 1991: 158).  It was believed that only criminal addicts should be subject to criminal sanctions as they had “nothing to lose” (Giffen et al 1991: 159).  Medical addicts were to be kept under the control of the medical profession, as long as they were being treated for a disease other than addiction.  It was “socially undesirable” to impose criminal sanctions against professional addicts as they usually occupied “a decent position in the community” and thus “had something to lose” (ibid).

            Thus according to Erickson, “centralized bureaucratic control characterized the formative period of Canadian narcotic law” (1992: 244).  As a result “federal police and drug officials emerged as Canada’s only drug experts.  Neither their perception of non-medical drug use as a law enforcement problem, nor the legislation itself, was seriously questioned during the next twenty years” (Solomon and Green 1988: 89).

            It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the idea of treatment of habitual drug users, rather than incarceration, gained ground.  The disease model of drug use was gaining further support, and the medicalization of the concept of “addiction” (see Chapter 3) meant that physicians came to see habitual drug use as their territory.  As Alexander writes, if addiction was a disease, “then physicians could find employment treating it” (1990: 114).

            Indeed, addiction was seen as a growing problem in Canada in the early 1950’s.  While official statistics implied that habitual drug use was on the decline, the media publicized highly sensational accounts of addiction among American youth (Solomon and Green 1988: 102).  As Erickson explains, the conceptualization of differences in illicit drug use between the United States and Canada has often been based on an assumption of “cultural lag” (1992: 243).  Cultural lag assumes that differences in illicit drug use are “only a matter of degree; it is simply a matter of time before Canada reflects the same level of such problem activities as its larger neighbor” (ibid).  It was this assumption about the inevitability of addiction for Canada’s youth that gave the medical profession the opportunity to stake their claim in the War on Drugs.

            In 1952, with the support of the British Columbia Medical Association, a committee was formed comprised of psychiatrists, physicians and social welfare officials to address the medical profession’s role in drug policy formation.  As Solomon and Green write, the committee “was disenchanted with the enforcement community’s exclusive control over the addiction problem.  Not surprisingly, the committee’s basic premise was that addiction should be regarded as a social and medical  problem, not as a crime” (1988: 102).  Some of the recommendations of the committee included “the establishment of comprehensive drug education programs, private experimental treatment centers, and narcotics clinics to dispense maintenance doses to registered addicts” (ibid: 103).

            In response to increased calls by the medical community for treatment of drug use, the federal government  established the Senate Special Committee on the Traffic of Narcotic Drugs in Canada in 1955.  The Senate Special Committee held hearings in cities all over Canada which involved testimonies from both the enforcement and medical communities as well as private citizens (ibid).  Officials from the enforcement community urged “that a concerted effort be made to eliminate demand [of illicit drugs] by aggressively enforcing the possession offence” (ibid: 104).  The Committee favored the testimony of the law enforcement community and this was reflected in the 1961 Narcotic Control Act (NCA) which prioritized enforcement (ibid).  However, for the first time, the legislation also recognized the legitimacy of medical community’s role in treating drug users. The NCA and Regulations encouraged medical professions “to take responsibility for articulating proper medical practice with regard to treatment of drug dependants” (Blackwell 1988b: 163-164).  Thus, “as the disease model of drug dependence has gained ascendancy, so has the role of the medical profession gained influence in drug policy debates” (ibid: 164).

            According to Erickson, “the initial criminalization of illicit drugs was made possible by the development of strongly held fact beliefs concerning the pernicious effects of certain drugs, their ability to enslave users, and the evil and immoral qualities of those who distributed them” (1992: 247).  By the 1960’s and 1970’s these beliefs were being challenged and the criminalization of drugs came into question.  One of the reasons for this challenge rested on the belief that the characterization of the dope fiend articulated by Emily Murphy was no longer valid (ibid). Erickson argues that the dope fiend mythology became discredited because there was a “narrowing of the social distance between drug users and the mainstream of society” (ibid). During these two decades, recreational drug use including the use of marijuana and LSD increased among the middle class – particularly among middle class youth.  As Erickson argues, “it is difficult to maintain the seriousness of criminal behavior when the activity is engaged in by a substantial portion of the population, by those in one’s own family and social network” (ibid).  Also, those arrested did not fit the stereotype of the degraded heroin user – they were of a higher social status (ibid).  The result was that the law was widely attacked “for making criminals out of middle class youth” (ibid).

            Another challenge to drug prohibition was brought forth from academic circles.  Many studies conducted in the mid-1970’s indicated that the law had a relatively insignificant deterrent effect in terms of whether or not people chose to use drugs (Solomon, Single and Erickson 1988: 374).  In fact, studies indicated that “perceived attitudes of one’s family and friends, patterns of use among one’s peers and fear of health consequences were more important factors in shaping consumption decision than legal sanctions” (ibid).

            By 1969, pressure increased on the federal government to reconsider its drug policy (Erickson and Smart: 1988: 336).  The government responded by forming the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs – more commonly known as the Le Dain Commission.  The Commission was comprised of five  professionals from a variety of academic backgrounds.  Noteworthy was the lack of any representatives from law enforcement (ibid: 337).  Between 1969 and 1973 the Le Dain Commission produced four reports.  These reports were groundbreaking for several reasons.  First of all, the Le Dain Commission set out to define “non-medical use of drugs”. By defining non-medical use very broadly, the Commission was able to include a “wide range of psychotropic substances, including alcohol and tobacco” (ibid).   Thus, officially, the term “drug” was no longer limited to illicit substances.  The reports were also significant because of the legal recommendations they proposed.  For the first time, it was recommended that a policy of criminalization should gradually be withdrawn (ibid: 338).  The Commission recommended greater leniency for the crime of possession including the abolishment of imprisonment.  The Commission also recommended that the possession of cannabis should not be considered an offence (ibid: 339).

            Despite the Le Dain Commission’s recommendations, Canada’s drug policy remained unchanged.  While in 1974 the federal government attempted to introduce new cannabis legislation (Bill S-19) which would in essence reduce the penalty for possession to a maximum fine of $500, the legislation’s fate “was to die on the order paper of parliament in 1976” (ibid: 342). By the 1980’s the spirit of liberalism reflected by the Le Dain Commission began to decline.  “A renewed spirit of prohibitionism” emerged in its place (Erickson 1992: 249).

            As mentioned in the introduction, events south of the border (particularly Reagan’s declaration of a new Drug War in 1986) inspired a new era of prohibitionism in Canada.   But what were the social factors behind the resurgence of anti-drug policies?  Erickson (1992: 254) argues that a “key social influence…was the image of the drug problem presented to Canadians by the American media”.  By the 1980’s crack cocaine began to make its appearance in American cities.  Crack “was portrayed as the drug that finally fulfilled all the expectations of the “demon drug” mythology” (ibid).  According to Erickson, highly sensationalized and negative accounts about cocaine and crack use created a “drug scare” which justified increasingly repressive measures against drug users:

Fed by extreme views of “instant addiction,” and fatal results followed by exposure to these all-powerful substances, such messages helped to build and maintain the consensus required to support the punitive and exclusionary responses to drug users (ibid).


The new drug scare required “coordinated action” and hence Canada’s Drug Strategy was implemented in 1987 (Health Canada, 1988: 2).  As part of Canada’s Drug Strategy,  a committee was formed to draft new legislation.  The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (which replaced the Narcotic Control Act of 1961) was enacted into law in May of 1997, almost ten years after the formation of the committee. 

The new Act is written in the true spirit of prohibitionism.  It legislates new powers for enforcement, including the forfeiture of assets of drug offenders (Brucker 1997: 51).  The new legislation also has more ominous provisions.  For example, it prohibits the possession of things containing “controlled substances” by making their possession equivalent to possessing the controlled substance itself (ibid: 19).  In other words, if one is caught possessing a needle used for the injection of heroin, technically the same charge could be applied as if one possessed the equivalent weight of actual heroin.  As there is no separate provision in the legislation to date that exempts needle exchange programs, the legislation is potentially a threat to the existence of these programs.  As  Brucker writes:

The new legislation makes it clear that a syringe and needle, which is obviously intended to introduce a scheduled substance into the human body, is itself a schedule I or II substance where it is contaminated with that substance.  Accordingly, there is support for the position that both the drug user and the exchange program worker who are in possession of such objects will now have to rely solely on police or prosecutorial discretion in order to avoid possession convictions (1997: 19-20).


The prohibitionist trend of the federal government during the 1980’s and 1990’s is not limited to legislation.  Various government documents concerning drug use have been published for the public in the wake of Canada’s Drug Strategy.  While superficially supporting a position of harm reduction, these documents propagate the government’s prohibitionist mandate on drug use and drug users.  This will be the subject of later chapters.

            Thus, from 1908 onwards the Canadian government has pursued a policy of prohibition.  While there was a brief trend towards liberalism in the 1970’s (as reflected by the recommendations of the Le Dain Commission), this liberalism never had an impact on drug policy or legislation.  It seems as if drug policy has changed little in the last 90 years, for in the current decade, the prohibitionist model still holds sway.  The next chapter will offer insight into why prohibition has been a lasting model in drug policy.


Prohibition’s Symbolic Allure

            Since the early twentieth century, Canada’s drug policy has followed the path of prohibitionism.  “Despite an awareness of its failures and some articulate dissenters” prohibiting drug use continues to be a primary concern of social policy (Gordon 1994: 4).  As Gordon writes, “the allure of prohibition is irresistible” (ibid: 17).  Why has prohibition been sustained without any serious challenge during the last century?  One answer is that prohibition is a discourse of social power (van Dijk 1996: 85).  Those who have an interest in prohibition, including politicians, physicians and the cultural right, generally have greater “access to and control over the means of public discourse and communication” (ibid).  Thus, they are able to influence the “knowledge, attitudes and ideologies of others” (ibid).  This issue of power and control, particularly of the “Therapeutic State” over the individual, will be examined in later chapters.

This chapter will focus on another reason why prohibition has been sustained.  Prohibition is said to possess a “symbolic allure” (Gordon 1994: 28).  Indeed all human behavior must be understood as symbolic action (Geertz 1988: 536).  As Leak (1994: 11) argues, “there is no such thing as… an innocent object”, or action (11).  It is not until we understand human behavior as action which signifies, that we can begin to ask the important question of what is being said, what is being imported by certain behavior (Geertz 1988: 536).

Thus, to understand the endurance of prohibitionist drug legislation “we have to move away from the discourse of reason and toward the discourse of aesthetics – that is, toward a consideration of the sensory reaction provoked by drug images, and of the symbolic meaning of that imagery” (Manderson 1995: 800).  Looked at in this way, drugs and drug users have become objects, emotional images, and symbols (ibid).  We “fixate upon them – whether this fixation takes the form of obsessive drug use or obsessive legislative response” (ibid).

Within the discourse of prohibition, drugs, drug users, and even prohibition have become fetishes.  White (1976: 122) gives three meanings to the idea of a fetish.  The traditional or ethnographic definition explains a fetish as any object “believed to possess magical or spiritual power”.  The figurative meaning of fetish “is any object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence” (ibid).  The psychological definition describes a fetish as “any object (or part of the body) that is seized upon as an exclusive source of libidinal gratification” (ibid).  While these definitions provide us with a basic premise to the idea of fetish, they do not explain how fetishes are embodied with power.   Taussig explains that is the peculiar way that objects “embody and erase that embodiment of society, that their sacred power derives [from]” (1992: 122).  A fetish thus involves “a critical dismantling of the sign in which the image lifts off from what it is meant to represent.  In this peeling off of the signifier from its signified, the representation acquires not just the power of the represented, but power over it as well” (ibid: 128).

            As fetishes, drugs and drug users are objectified and burdened with a magical[5] nature so powerful that they must be forcefully controlled.  This control, in the form of prohibition, is the counter magic to the “Otherness” brought forth by drug use.  Thus, when drug users are fetishized as enemies or devils, prohibition is cast as a “holy war” – the forces of good fighting the forces of evil.  While drugs such as heroin and cocaine are embodied with the supernatural powers of social and physical decay, alcohol and tobacco (the drugs of choice in our prohibitionist discourse) are worshipped for their sociability (Szasz 1985: 179).  As drug use increasingly comes to represent the breakdown of order in society, prohibition’s counter magic is to restore this order, through the symbolic coming together of the community.  Thus,  the metaphorical “war on drugs” becomes “a civil war, fought out on the level of the symbol” (Manderson 1995: 800).

            A persistent theme in the history of Western society is the creation of enemies who can be blamed for a variety of social problems.  Whether it is witches, communists or drug users, we create enemies and then hold them responsible for the disorder in our society.  This is what Szasz calls “scapegoating”, and it dates as far back as Ancient Greece.  In order to protect the Greeks from the social ills of the time (famine and plague), religious ceremonies were performed that involved either human sacrifice or the ritual expulsion of a “scapegoat” from society (1985: 19).   The scapegoat or pharmakos was burdened with society’s evil and thus served as a symbol in a purification ceremony (ibid: 26).

In today’s drug fixated society, drugs, drug users and especially drug “pushers” serve as our scapegoats (ibid: 20).  They are blamed for everything from poverty, to family breakdown, to the listlessness of today’s youth.  As Szasz writes, the drug user is “an expendable person” (1985: 26).  He or she “is both object and subject, thing and agent” (ibid).  While the modern scapegoat is still an effigy or symbol in a purification ceremony, he or she is “also a participant – the addict or pusher – in a counter-ceremony celebrating a substance tabooed by society’s dominant ethic” (ibid). 

            While drug users are objectified as symbols for all that is wrong in society, they are not benign symbols.  In fact, they are considered downright dangerous.  As Gordon (1994:11) argues, we most often project drug use onto what she calls the “dangerous classes”, or more specifically, “racial minorities, immigrants, youth and liberals”.  According to Gordon, “divisions of race, class, gender, alienage, and social ideology not only persist but seem to be deepening in our society” (ibid: 125).  Thus, the dangerous classes “resurrect the blending images of poverty, idleness, and moral degeneracy that characterized earlier dangerous classes” (ibid).  They also “feed an ideology that personifies these threats in drug users”:

What is needed to construct these groups as enemies is a bridge between group identity and an experience of social threat….This is where illicit drugs comes in.  Mediating the relationship between the designated groups and the larger dangers they signify is the symbol and the reality of illicit drug use and drug dealing….In saddling us with the “drug problem” today’s dangerous classes serve as surrogates for the claimants to rights, benefits, and freedoms who have, over the past generation, fundamentally altered our cultural landscape.  [The dangerous classes] are threatening for their demands on society, not solely their status within it (ibid).


By creating the image of the dangerous drug user, we can figuratively expel our scapegoats from society in our own purification ceremony.  Thus, while we don’t  literally offer our scapegoats up for human sacrifice, we abandon them politically, economically and socially and thus “insure their virtual political neutralization” (Johns 1992:79) .  As Johns (1992) writes, “there is scant sympathy for the marginalized since their problems and alienation are now largely perceived to be drug related, and, therefore self-induced” (ibid).

            But while drug users are considered dangerous, drug dealers are deified - they are attributed with all of the characteristics of the devil.  In fact, the depiction of drug “pushers” today is even darker than Emily Murphy’s drug villain of the 1920’s.  Now, drug dealers “are linked to vampires, murderers and terrorists” (Gordon 1994: 193).  As Gordon explains, this demonization is linked to the idea that drugs are a threat to national security.  “Dealers are portrayed as subversives in a campaign against the health and safety of all Americans” (ibid: 194).

            As scapegoats and devils, drug users are reified and deified.  They are fetishes in that they are embodied with (an evil) magical nature. The power of the fetish derives from the idea that as scapegoats and devils, the human nature of the drug user is erased.

            It is through the reciprocation of thought into an object, and of an object into thought “that much of the puzzle (and all of the power of fetishism lies)” (Taussig 1992: 126).  Quoting Durkheim, Taussig explains that “in general a collective sentiment can become conscious of itself only by being fixed upon some material object; but by virtue of this very fact [and this is what is so remarkable, crucial], it participates in the nature of this object, and reciprocally, the object participates in its nature” (ibid: italics in original).  This idea is essential to understanding the symbolism of prohibitionism. By fixating upon drug users, prohibitionist discourse erases the human nature of drug users and they become fetishes.  Reciprocally, it is the drug user fetishized as a scapegoat or devil that participates in the nature of prohibitionism.  In other words, it is only as a response to the fetish of the drug user that prohibition can emerge as a “holy war”(Gordon 1994: 126).

Vallance (1993: 18) explains that as a holy war, prohibition essentially becomes “a battle between good and evil…drug use and drug users that represent the forces of evil, versus non users and their government representing the forces of good”. The importance of the war metaphor is that it gives "license to take any measure desired” to deal with drug users (a concept which will be discussed in later chapters) (Johns 1992: 178).   Suffice it to say now that the symbol of war is extremely powerful in sustaining prohibition.  As Vallance argues, “What political leader wants to lose a war?  Having declared the drug problem a national menace worthy of having a war declared on it traps us all into supporting the endless battles and all those brave things that warriors are suppose to do” (1993: 25).  Also, the metaphor of war is powerful because both “failure and progress can be claimed as an excuse to continue and expand the war” (Johns 1992: 11).  While an increase in drug use can justify increased expenditures in the war, “evidence of limited successes can be used to support the notion that progress is being made, victory is in sight, if only the fight continues” (ibid).

Thus the war metaphor traps us into supporting prohibition.  All holy wars are based on strong moralistic beliefs- what greater fight is there than the fight of good against evil?  It is this very aspect of the war on drugs that makes it so difficult to challenge.  Anyone who proposes alternatives to this rhetoric is accused of consorting with the enemy.  It is almost reminiscent of the anticommunist crusades of the 1950’s. By casting prohibition as a war, drugs can “only be dealt with in a very limited framework…[it] allows for very little room for adapting to new considerations and problems" (Gordon 1994: 115).

The most powerful imagery in the prohibition discourse involves drugs themselves.  A dirty needle, a crack pipe, a line of coke – all invoke feelings of horror and revulsion not to mention the possibility of “instant addiction”.  On the other end of the spectrum are images associated with the licit drugs.  Cigars bespeak wealth, taste and social status.  Magazines such as Cigar Aficionado display the super-rich  indulging in the finest Cuban Monte Cristos.  We associate champagne with caviar and New Years and all the great occasions in life where we can afford to splurge a little.  Beer invokes images of being with friends – watching sports, camping, and so on. 

Thus, drugs have become a fetish, embodied with a magical and spiritual power (White 1978: 122).  The psychological definition of fetish (any object that is seized upon for libidinal gratification) also applies to drugs (ibid).  Take heroin for example – “the phallic needle, the act of penetration, the orgasmic experience of the rush – this much is obvious” (Manderson 1995: 805).  Similarly, the after-sex cigarette becomes a gratifying part of the sex act itself.  Manderson (1995: 800) explains that “we treat the symbols as if they were a literal truth – as if they were in fact the things they only symbolize”.  In this way, the fetish “absorbs into itself that which it represents, erasing all traces of the represented” (Taussig 1992: 138).  In other words, drug fetishism erases the “roots” of drugs – their actual chemical nature.  It no longer becomes important if certain drugs are physically more harmful than others- this is erased in the process of creating the fetish.  What becomes important is the ceremonious nature of the drug use.  As Szasz (1985) writes, “we oppose illicit drugs not because they are wrong chemicals but because they are wrong ceremonials” (46).

Szasz argues that the ceremonies of drug use differ little from religious ceremonies:

The adherents to our majority religions thus congregate at cocktail parties and “smokers”; and have elaborate ceremonies symbolizing the virtues of mixed drinks and wines, cigars and cigarettes, pipes and tobaccos, and so forth.  These are the holy communions of our age.  Those who reject the doctrines of our principal religions and who cultivate instead various heretical faiths, congregate at pot and acid parties and at gatherings where heroin and other even more esoteric and forbidden drugs are used; and they too have elaborate ceremonies symbolizing the counter-virtues of marijuana and LSD, incense and Oriental mysticism, and so forth.  These are the unholy communions of our age (1985: 41).


Thus we regard some drug ceremonies as holy and others as unholy, but how do we arrive at this distinction?  If we look back to the first chapter, it is evident that in the case of opium, taking opium in the form of medicinal tinctures (a “holy” ceremony) was associated mainly with Euroamerican society.  Smoking opium, on the other hand, was associated with immigrant Chinese laborers and was regarded as “unholy”.  Manderson explains that “the strangeness of others’ rituals alienates us, and we focus on particular ritualistic objects as symbols of that alienation” (1995: 803).  Thus, opium smoking, an alien ritual for Euroamericans at that time, became the focus of prohibition.

            Nowadays, however, it seems as if a world wide persecution of all opiates and their users is in order (Szasz 1985: 49). As tobacco and alcohol use have become more ingrained in Canadian and American society, the use of other drugs has become more alien.  Szasz argues that alcohol is replacing the use of opiates world wide because it “symbolizes the transformation of a people from a shameful past of “backwardness” to a shining present and future of “modernity” “ (ibid).  Others argue that alcohol and tobacco are the drugs of choice in North America because they are backed by huge financial interests.  Consider for example, the invasive media campaign put forth by Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA).  Producers of some of “the most gruesome anti-illegal drug advertising[6]” as well as the creators of the slogan “Just Say No!”, one of the PDFA’s major corporate sponsors is tobacco giant Phillip Morris (which also owns Miller Beer) (Johns 1992: 59)!  Thus, the drug-free culture that we so vehemently promote is “one in which citizens are free to consume their own culturally and economically integrated drugs and the drugs of other cultures are excluded” (ibid: 57).  As Szasz argues “concealed behind the war against marijuana and heroin is the war for tobacco and alcohol; and more generally, concealed behind the war against politically and medically disapproved drugs, is the war for the use of politically and medically approved drugs” (1985: 179).

            Perhaps one of the most prevailing images of drugs is that illicit drug use represents the breakdown of what Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1998: 209) call the individual and social bodies.  In terms of the individual body, illicit drugs are associated with disorder and a loss of self-control.  Manderson explains that this association results because of the “primacy of reason in the modern Western construction of the human being” (1995: 807).  Related to this rational construction of the human being are the ideas that a distinction exists “between the mind and body; that the former is a more important aspect of who we are than the latter; that the mind is to be understood as an individual abstract faculty; and that it should at all times remain clear and undistracted” (ibid).

            Drug use, especially the use of hallucinogens which is often portrayed as “a means of escaping the constrictions of the rational self”, blurs the boundaries between mind and body, the rational and the irrational (ibid).  Manderson  explains that “our aesthetic horror of drug use arises because of the importance we attach to maintaining these boundaries inviolate, thus preserving the integrity of the self and of the mind.  Into this structure, the very fibre of our self-understanding, the idea of drug use intrudes, potentiating disorder and inviting a loss of control"”(ibid).

            Within this discourse of rationality a loss of self-control is perceived as a direct result of the drug.  Drugs are believed to contain highs, to become actual transmitters of irrationality.  The user, who then consumes this pill of irrationality, becomes akin to a madman.  As a madman, the user’s discourse is invalidated.  As Foucault argues, “the madman has been the one whose discourse cannot have the same currency as others” (1984: 110).  Whether in the courtroom or in the treatment clinic, the drug user’s story becomes “null and void, having neither truth nor importance” (ibid), for it stems from an irrational part of the brain that “would go to any means necessary” to obtain the drug (World Health Organization cited in Szasz 1994: 373).  Once again, the drug user is discredited and their political neutralization is ensured.

            The body as a “natural symbol providing some of the richest sources of metaphor” defines the social body (Douglas 1970 cited in Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1998: 215).  A metaphor of particular importance to the drug discourse is “the symbolic equations between conceptions of the healthy body and healthy society, as well as the diseased body and the malfunctioning society” (ibid).  This is particularly evident in American government literature on drugs where addiction is continually depicted as “contagious” (Zimring and Hawkins 1992: 16).  While this “infectious” nature of addiction is not emphasized in the Canadian government’s discourse, the disease of addiction is portrayed as extending beyond the individual to encompass the social body.  Thus drug use is said to lead to much “social misery” (see chapter 4).  Szasz sums up the metaphor of

health and the social body:

The new principle is: whatever promotes health – good food, good drugs, good heredity, good habits – must be incorporated or cultivated; whatever promotes illness – poisons, microbes, tainted heredity, bad habits – must be eliminated or discouraged….The entire mental health movement [is] a gigantic pseudomedical ritual; that which is considered good is defined as mentally [and hence, socially] healthy and is embraced….(1985: 29).


Thus drugs are threatening on two levels.  On a superficial level they threaten individual rationality and self-control.  On a deeper level they threaten the “fundamental hierarchies of authority – parents over children, the affluent over the poor, lighter races over darker ones, accumulators over dependants – and the mediating mechanisms, like law enforcement and media socialization, for reinforcing their legitimacy” (Gordon 1994: 19).  The idea that a perception of social disorder legitimates the government’s coercive actions (Scheper-Hughes and Lock refer to the regulation, surveillance and control over bodies as the “body politic”) will be fully discussed later.  For now, I am only interested in presenting the idea that drug use symbolizes disorder and that there exists a fundamental yearning for order in our society.  As Gordon (1994: 28) writes, “people will need to find alternative routes to the ends they yearn for to weaken prohibition’s symbolic allure”.

As a response to the threat that drug use poses to individual and social bodies, prohibition emerges as a “core symbol”.  As stated in the introduction, a core symbol is an “analytical key to understanding an entire cultural system and its underlying elements” (Shore and Wright 1998: 8).  As a core symbol, prohibition says some very interesting things about individual versus group rights.  Left on their own, individuals are susceptible to engaging in irrational acts such as drug use which inevitably (it is argued) leads to the erosion of the social fabric. Prohibition thus emerges as the only means to restore order to both the individual and social body.   In this dialogue, social cohesion supercedes individual rights, and prohibition thus encourages the coming together of communities.  Prohibition invokes the theme of solidarity, and by doing so it “has the appeal of a distant beacon, abstract and idealized” (Gordon 1994: 203). On the community level, prohibition “promises an irresistible and immediate opportunity for people to be involved in something bigger than themselves” (ibid: 204). 

Thus, both drug use and prohibition must be understood in terms of the symbols that they invoke.  Illicit drugs and their users embody the symbols of evil, representing everything from devils to the breakdown of society.  Within this discourse, prohibition thus emerges as a magical remedy to this evil.  Regarded with extravagant trust or reverence, prohibition is also a fetish.  Although prohibitionism has an “active social history” which includes the repression of the Other (the dangerous classes) “these trace meanings are nevertheless lost to present consciousness” (Taussig 1992:118).  What is left is prohibition as the embodiment of order in society.

If illicit drug use and the corresponding legislative response is understood in these symbolic terms, then our answer to the drug “problem” lies in “demythologizing and de-ceremonializing our use and avoidance of drugs – something we are unlikely to accomplish without finding another hopefully more humanely appropriate vehicle for our symbolic coming together as a community of people” (Szasz 1985: 37).

But demythologizing and de-ceremonializing our use and avoidance of certain drugs is a complicated task.   This is because prohibition supports itself by a use of language which “reinforces and reproduces” its existing ideology (Gordon 1994: 183).  The next chapter will examine some of the language usage in a prohibitionist discourse. For, as Szasz argues, “where the symbolic function of human conduct plays an important role,…the role of language in that type of conduct, and in its interpretation will be equally important” (1985: 52).


 The Language of Prohibition


In this War on Drugs fought on the level of the symbol, “verbal weapons” are “a powerful means of exerting influence” (Brekle 1989: 88 and 83).   The importance of language in prohibitionist politics should not be underestimated.  As Edelman (1977: 58) argues, language “is never an independent instrument or simply a tool for description”.  Linguistic theory recognizes that “language is always an intrinsic part of some particular social situation”, and as such, “language, thought, and action shape one another” (ibid).  In particular, Edelman argues, language shapes political action and thus language cannot be separated from politics:

It is language about political events, not the events in any other sense, that people experience; even developments that are close by take their meaning from the language that depicts them.  So political language is political reality; there is no other so far as the meaning of events to actors and spectators is concerned (1988: 104).


If political language is political reality, than we must look towards language to understand our reality of prohibition.  This chapter will focus on the interplay between politics and language in constructing prohibitionist discourse.  Using Edelman’s excellent analysis on the construction of the political spectacle,  I will discuss how our perceptions of and responses to both drug use and prohibition are constructed and sustained through linguistic cues (Edelman 1998:132).   This chapter will also address some of the specific language usage in prohibitionist discourse, such as the importance of “condensation symbols” and metaphors (Elwood 1994: 4).  As well, the problematic definitions of terms such as drugs, and the powerful language of what Edelman (1977) calls the “helping professions”, will be examined in detail.


Political Language


To deal with the uncertainty that life holds, people often turn to religion and government “to cope with anxieties they cannot otherwise manage” (Edelman 1998: 131).  It is easily recognized that religious language has the power to both “excite and mollify fears”, but it is “seldom recognized that politics can do so as well” (ibid).  But the language of politics is as potent as the language of religion.  In a setting where people turn to the government to deal with concerns about crime, terrorism and the economy, “linguistic cues evoke prestructured beliefs regarding the nature and causes of public problems” (ibid).  People are susceptible to political language because it generally comes from “sources people want to believe are authoritative and competent enough to cope with threats” (ibid: 132).  Thus, while the beliefs we hold about controversial issues such as drug use may be problematic, “they are likely to be accepted uncritically because they serve important functions for peoples’ self-conceptions and justify their political roles” (ibid).

In order for policies to be accepted uncritically, social problems like our “drug problem” must be constructed to entail a certain amount of contradictions.  As Chapter One demonstrates, one contradiction in our perception of the drug problem is the reliance on either a moral failure or disease model of drug use.  While both models attach guilt to drug use, the moral failure model focuses on drug use as a dangerous, immoral and criminal act.  The disease model depicts drug use as a sickness (albeit a sickness caused from immoral actions) requiring medical intervention.  These two explanations for drug use are likely to cause us confusion because while we may prefer one explanation over the other, we often see them both as valid.  Edelman argues that conflicting social cues “create ambiguity about the social world that readily transforms itself into ambivalence and acquiescence respecting public policy” (1988: 15).

Thus, while ambivalence certainly exists towards drug policy, there are also those who challenge the government’s stance on drug use.  Perhaps not surprisingly (as is evidenced by the events surrounding the Le Dain Commission Inquiry), this challenge has little effect on existing policy.  Edelman (1988: 18) explains that this is because the explanations and remedies proposed as a solution to social problems (i.e. prohibition) are never meant to be fully supported.  The solution or explanation “is offered to be rejected as much as to be accepted.  Its function is to intensify polarization and so maintain the support for advocates on both sides” (ibid).  By having advocates that both support and oppose prohibitionist policies, the government is able to both maintain stability and limit the discourse.  Elaborating on Foucault’s idea of discourse, Ward (1997: 129) explains that discourses “have to allow for limited change and dissent”:

For example, literary critics will disagree over the quality of a particular poem or the meaning of a particular play, but this will not threaten the discourse of literary criticism itself.  Indeed, such internal disagreements are crucial in keeping the discourse up and running.  Nevertheless, discourses put a limit on what is sayable at any one time….


Stability in discourses result because the rhetoric of both sides becomes institutionalized “minimizing the chance of major shifts [in opinion] and leaving the regime wide discretion, for there will be anticipated support and opposition no matter what forms of action or inaction occur” (ibid:18-19).  This “linguistically generated process” of polarizing concerned groups “gives the political process an appearance of dynamism and tension that rarely has any bearing upon its outcomes” (ibid: 20).

Thus, Edelman argues that our social problems, and the subsequent response of the public to these problems, are constructed or at least manipulated.  But this construction isn’t always deliberate.  In the case of public opinion, it usually “echoes the beliefs authorities deliberately or unconsciously engender by appealing to fears or hopes that are always prevalent” (Edelman 1977: 50).  What are the fears that continuously plague the public?  According to Edelman, suspicions of the poor and unconventional are unconsciously close to the surface for many (ibid).  This is evident when one considers “which kinds of observations of social problems readily come to attention and remain vivid and which kinds are seldom noticed” (ibid: 14).  Political language becomes  “especially vivid and memorable when the terms that denote [social problems] depict a personified threat: an enemy, deviant, criminal or wastrel” (ibid).  Thus, because drug users can easily be categorized as deviants or enemies, prohibitionist language exerts a powerful reminder that drug use is a problem that must be kept on the front burner of the political agenda.

            Edelman (1977) provides an interesting analysis of the political construction of enemies.  He regards the construction of enemies as “a frequent and recurring form of political categorization” that has some “striking characteristics” (1977: 32 and 34).  For example, the categorization of enemies is often controversial as not everyone holds that the targeted group are actually enemies.  “The very fact that their categorization is controversial seems to intensify the fears of those who do perceive them  as threats, for their own rationality is at stake.  Belief in the reality of this enemy becomes the test of their credibility and the touchstone of their self-esteem” (ibid).  In addition, those defined as enemies are usually a marginalized, “relatively powerless segment of the population” (ibid).  Another characteristic of political enemies is that they “are thought to operate through covert activities” (ibid).  Thus, while they may act and dress as normal citizens, “they are really engaging in secret subversion, dangerous to others and themselves” (ibid). In this way, enemies are separated from “legitimate antagonists” who are depicted as openly hostile yet humanly equal opponents (Edelman1988: 67).  

            Language is an important part in the construction of enemies.  First of all, while “language ostensibly depicts its referent  as the enemy, it is directed as well against people who fail to share its point of view” (ibid: 73).  In the construction of drug users as enemies, terms such as junkie or pusher “challenge the ideology of humanists and liberals and associate them with the named enemy” (ibid: 74).  This type of language creates polarization.  “By intensifying the debate it makes the issue more salient and attracts support and resources for both sides” (ibid).

            Second,  “the language of enmity erases reasonable calculation and perspective and overwhelms consciousness” (ibid: 75).  The result is a “loss of perspective” particularly concerning what measures should be taken against the enemy (ibid).  An example of this loss of perspective is the harsh  penalties imposed on drug users.  As Edelman argues, “for a time it was common in some American states to sentence people convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana to prison for forty years, an action manifestly related to an assumption about the inherent evil in the person rather than to the harm that comes from smoking pot” (ibid).

            Thus, the political construction of enemies provides linguistic cues which “engender intense emotion and punitiveness” (Edelman 1977: 33).  Enemies are regarded as such “a serious threat that their physical existence, their most characteristic ways of thought and feeling, or both must be exterminated or ruthlessly repressed” (ibid).  Often, the creation of enemies goes hand in hand with another political linguistic device: the national crisis.

Edelman (1977: 45) argues that the word “crisis” is perhaps the most powerful political term as it “connotes a threat or emergency people must face together…it suggests a need for unity and common sacrifices”.  While crises are frequent occurrences, “it is politically necessary to accept each crisis as unique, unexpected [and] a blatant deviation from the usual state of affairs” (ibid: 46).  By perceiving each crisis as unique, we are less hesitant to make the sacrifices necessary to overcome it:

The belief in a crisis relaxes resistance to governmental interferences with civil liberties and bolsters support for executive actions, including discouragement or suppression of criticism and governmental failure to respond to it.  The recurrence of crises is bound to encourage less critical acceptance of governmental actions that would otherwise be resisted (ibid: 48-49).


Thus, the concept of crisis, particularly if it concerns the threat of enemies, is a powerful linguistic device.

            In the parlance of prohibition, drug use is in a national crisis.  The idea that drug use is increasing at an alarming rate implies a threat of takeover of the enemy – in this case drug users and the marginalized groups we associate with drug use.  The “crisis” of drug use is especially powerful because it is a “condensation symbol” (Elwood 1994: 4).  As Elwood explains, condensation symbols are “names, words, phrases, or maxims that evoke discrete, vivid impressions in each listeners mind and also involve that listeners most basic values” (ibid).  Thus, the word “crisis” gives the listener an impression of a serious threat and invokes heroic values such as self-sacrifice to triumph at all costs.

            Another powerful linguistic device is metaphor.  Metaphor, according to Elwood, is important for two reasons.  “First metaphors can evoke strong emotional responses in listeners.  Second metaphors provide both information and perspectives through which listeners can understand issues” (ibid: 22).  Thus, metaphors are more than just figurative language (ibid).  “They constitute the ways to think about issues, they are the issues as people experience, feel, and believe them” (ibid).  By casting the drug issue as a metaphorical war, policy makers are playing a powerful linguistic game which affects the very way in which we conceptualize drug use.  As Elwood explains, “the pattern for  war includes soldiers and enemies, attacks and defenses, progressive victories and ultimate victory that vanquishes the enemy” (ibid).  Ultimately, it provides us with the perspective that illicit drug use must be fought and not understood.

            The previous chapter discussed the symbolic aspects of the drug war metaphor in some detail.  I will now focus on the linguistic importance of the drug war metaphor.  For example, by using the metaphor of war to conceptualize the drug issue, politicians and policy makers can use the tools of war to advance their cause.  One such tool is wartime propaganda – the manipulation of language to advance the goals of one side (Brekle 1989: 83).  The purpose of  wartime propaganda is to rouse feelings “be they feelings of fear or timidity, the will to win or the impulse to destroy” (ibid).   These feelings are “evoked by particular groups in positions of power who are interested in the emergence or the continuance of a particular state of war” (ibid).  Thus, wartime propaganda is “designed to control, not to inform” (Alexander 1990: 61).

            Brekle (1989) provides seven basic features of British propaganda during the First World War (85-86).  The overlap between these features and the propaganda employed in our current War on Drugs is surprising.  The following is a list of Brekle’s features of World War I propaganda and the corresponding features of Drug War propaganda:

1.      Propaganda during World War I involved stereotypes. For example, Germany was stereotyped as an aggressive, militaristic society “in order to bring home the terrifying consequences of defeat” (Sanders and Taylor 1982: 136).  In the War on Drugs, we stereotype drug users.  We usually associate drug users with the “dangerous classes” – the poor, the unconventional and racial minorities.


2.      World War I propaganda often used names with negative connotations.  Terms such as “Hun” or “Boche” “came to personify a particular perception of  the quintessential immorality of Prussian militarism for causing the war and for its more inhumane excesses (ibid: 137). This can be compared to Drug War propaganda that commonly refers to users as “junkies”, “druggies” or “pushers”.


3.      Propaganda in the First World War also suppressed or selectively presented “the facts”.  The British government placed a ban on reports of Zeppelin raids for fear that if the Germans learned that they were having an effect, the raids would be increased (Haste 1977: 31).  Suppression or selective representation of the facts is also occurring in the War on Drugs.  As will be shown in the next chapter, the government suppresses research that shows that the use of illicit drugs does not always lead to addiction or depravity.


4.      World War I propaganda involved reports of cruelty. “Stories of rape, murder and mutilation accompanied the fall of all the towns in Belgium and France as the Germans advanced” (ibid: 82).  Current Drug War propaganda also employs sensationalized accounts of the cruelty of drug dealers.  Violent Columbian drug cartels who would go to any means to distribute their product, as well as unscrupulous drug dealers who prey upon innocent youth in school yards are all popular media images.


5.      War propaganda often employed slogans, for example “Take up the sword of justice” (ibid: 57).  Slogans are also used in our Drug War propaganda such as “Just say no!”


6.      Propaganda of the First World War employed one-sided reporting where “small victories were exaggerated and defeats were glossed over” (ibid).  For example, the British government’s official response to the Zeppelin raids was that “damage has been slight” (ibid: 31).  Propaganda in the War on Drugs is similar.  An example of the exaggeration of Drug War victories involves reports of RCMP drug seizures.  Staged media events often show the RCMP posing in front of a table where sums of confiscated money and drugs are displayed.  In reality, these small victories rarely make a dent in slowing the drug trade.


7.      Propaganda in the First World War used the so-called “bandwagon effect”: the idea that everyone must join-up and support the war. One popular war poster depicted the boy scouts “doing their share for the war effort” (Sanders and Taylor 1982: 138).  The message was clear: everyone should become involved in the war effort.   The “bandwagon effect” (the theme of social solidarity and community involvement) is also an important aspect of Drug War propaganda.  In one publication, Health Canada calls us to become a part of the Drug War effort: “We all have a role to play” (1991: 5). 


Thus, propaganda is an integral part of the War on Drugs.  As Alexander (1990: 61) argues, Drug War propaganda is “extraordinarily simple, repetitive and violent”.  Like all wartime propaganda, “the biggest cost of Drug War propaganda may be the systematic reduction of peoples’ ability to think intelligently about drugs” (ibid: 71).

            While the Drug War metaphor may hinder our ability to discuss drugs in an intelligent manner, other linguistic factors are equally important in determining how we conceptualize drugs.  One such factor that the debate on drugs is particularly susceptible to is problematic definitions.  The fact that words such as “drugs” can be defined contextually by different interest groups means that these words lend themselves easily to manipulation.

            Zimring and Hawkins (1992) explain that in terms of defining drugs, three schools of thought exist.  The first are the legalists who define drugs as substances which are prohibited.  According to legalism, “all illegal drugs are similar to one another and quite different from drugs that are not prohibited” (ibid: 8).  Illegal drugs “represent a threat to the established order and political authority structure” (ibid).  For legalists then, the concern about illicit drugs lies not in their chemical nature, but in the idea that illegal drug use represents an “act of rebellion [and] a defiance of lawful authority” (ibid).  For this reason, the legalists “regard as irrelevant any claim that a particular prohibited substance is non-toxic” (ibid).  Similarly, concerns over the possible harms caused by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are often dismissed by the legalists as the consumption of these drugs does not represent a defiance of political authority.

            Public health generalism is the second school of thought identified by Zimring and Hawkins.  Public health generalists define drugs as any psychoactive substance that has the potential to be abused, whether it is legal or illegal.  This school of thought is concerned with “harm reduction” –reducing the harmful consequences of drug use such as “health costs, time off from work, family problems and a shortened life span” (ibid).  According to public health generalism, “many different drugs produce the same type and extent of dependency costs and that in this respect most drugs have been created equal” (ibid).  Also, most abusable drugs can potentially cause equal harm (ibid).  Public health generalists hold to the disease model of drug use and thus feel that drug users are in need of medical treatment.

            Unlike public health generalists, cost-benefit specifists do not believe that all drugs have the potential to cause equal harm.  According to this school of thought, some drugs are more dangerous than others.  What drugs are prohibited should thus be based on a balance between the costs of abuse and the costs of enforcing prohibitive laws (ibid: 9).  Thus, cost-benefit specifists might argue that heroin should be left as a prohibited substance while marijuana should be legalized.

            Drugs, then are defined in very different ways depending on who has a vested interest in their particular definition. As will be shown in the next chapter, the federal government often see-saws between a legalist and a public health generalist definition of drugs, depending on what part of their drug policy they are trying to emphasize.


The Language of the “Helping Professions”


            The role that public health generalism plays in defining drugs, demonstrates that the language used by groups that we would normally consider  non-political (i.e. the “helping professions”- doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and so on) also “functions as a form of political action” (Edelman 1988: 107).  Thus the language of the helping professions plays an important role in shaping our drug policy.

            The emergence of the disease model of drug use has redefined the key players in the formation of drug policy.  Where once law enforcement dictated the development of policy, now doctors, psychiatrists and social workers are called upon to define such important policy determinants as “drugs of abuse”, “addiction”, “treatment” and so forth.  In their casting of drug use as a health issue, the helping professions have defined and justified their role as “helpers” while also defining the status of those who are deemed in need of help (Edelman 1977: 58).  As Edelman explains, to portray a social problem as a medical issue “is to establish superior and subordinate roles, to make it clear who gives orders and who takes them, and to justify in advance the inhibitions placed upon the subordinate class” (ibid: 59).

            While the political evocation  of social problems and their proposed solutions often results in resistance and hence the polarization of interest groups, the medicalization of social problems rarely arouses “resentment or resistance” (ibid: 60).  As Edelman explains, with the medicalization of a social issue, a political relationship is superimposed “on a medical one, while still depicting it as medical” (ibid).  The reference to the political system is so subtle that it:

frees the participants to act out their political roles blatantly, for they see themselves as helping, not as repressing.  In consequence, assaults on peoples’ freedom and dignity can be as polar and degrading as those typically occurring in authoritarian regimes, without qualms or protest by authorities, clients, or the public that hears about them (ibid).


Another reason why the medicalization of social problems rarely meets with resistance is because the language of the helping professions is authoritative.  For example, even though many ambiguities exist in defining such terms as mental illness, “speculation and verified fact readily merge with each other” (ibid: 61).  This can further be explained using the concept of addiction.  As will be demonstrated, the disease of addiction is an ethical rather than a medical diagnosis.  However (for reasons which will be discussed in Chapter 5), the medical profession continues to present addiction as a verifiable, neurologically based, disease.  The language of the helping professions “dispels the uncertainty in speculation and… reinforces ideology” (ibid).  In our case, the naming of addiction as an actual disease, dispels the uncertainty of what actions constitute addiction (a matter that is much debated).  It also reinforces the ideology that certain drugs are thus addictive in and of themselves.

            The authority of medical language, and its tendency to merge mere speculation with scientific fact, has been extremely important in shaping drug policy.  Prohibition persists because certain substances have been defined as addictive and addiction itself has been defined as a disease that requires medical intervention.  However, as mentioned above, the concept of addiction is not verifiable fact.  As recent scholarship shows, defining addiction and addictive substances has always been problematic.

            Shore and Wright (1997: 18) argue that a key to understanding government discourse involves understanding how certain keywords change in use and meaning.  “These semantic shifts,” it is argued, “provide fingerprints for tracing more profound transformations in rationalities of governance” (ibid: 19).  “Addiction” is a keyword that has experienced a shift in meaning and use.  Stemming from the Latin addicere which means “to give over”, addiction, in its traditional usage, had both positive and negative connotations (Alexander 1990: 112).  An addictus in Roman law was “a person legally given over as a bond slave to his creditor” (ibid).  However, the word also meant “admirable devotion” (ibid).  In the English language, the word addiction traditionally meant “a strong inclination toward certain kinds of conduct, with little or no pejorative meaning attached to it” (Szasz 1985: 6). Szasz (1985) gives some pre-twentieth century examples of addiction found in the Oxford English Dictionary: one could be addicted to civil affairs, to useful reading, and also to bad habits (ibid).  However, despite the fact that alcohol and other drugs were used and probably “misused” for centuries, addiction was not associated with drug use until the nineteenth century.

With the emergence of the temperance movement, the word addiction came to be associated with habitual drunkenness and opium use (Alexander 1990: 113).  Alexander argues that this narrowed definition of addiction was used “to arouse distaste and pity towards habitual drunkards and public support for prohibition” (ibid).  While other words such as “intemperance” were also used by the movement, addiction survived “perhaps because it sounded more like a medical term, and was used by the movement’s most famous medical man, Benjamen Rush” (ibid). With the temperance movement, the definition of addiction was thus transformed.  No longer simply a good or bad habit, addiction came to refer “to almost any kind of illegal, immoral, or undesirable association with certain kinds of drugs” (Szasz 1985: 6).

In 1934, the American Psychiatric Association classified drug addiction as a disease for the first time (ibid: 7).  While “alcoholism”, “morphinism” and “cocainism” were recognized as diseases by 1887, the recent inclusion of  “addiction” as a disease is evidence of the “conceptual, cultural and semantic transformation in the use and meaning of the term” (ibid).  Thus addiction was not “an independent medical or scientific discovery, but…part of a transformation in social thought grounded in fundamental changes in social life” (Berridge and Edwards cited in Alexander 1990: 114).

That the “disease” of addiction resulted from a transformation in social thought rather than from an actual medical discovery is evidenced by the fact that “experts have never been able to agree on a scientifically meaningful definition of the disease of dependence, nor have they attained consensus on the criteria by which a diagnosis should be made” (Blackwell, 1988b: 162).  For example, the World Health Organization (WHO), includes the “tendency to increase dosage” and a “psychological, sometimes physical dependence on the effects of the drug” as characteristics of drug addiction (cited in Szasz 1994: 373).  But, as Alexander (1990: 123) tells us, tolerance and withdrawal are not necessarily correlates of addiction, nor are they a major part of its cause.  Research indicates that repeated use of cocaine, for example, increases sensitivity to the effects of the drug rather than tolerance (ibid).  Likewise, it is a matter of debate whether cocaine produces withdrawal symptoms at all (ibid).  On the other hand, drugs which are not considered addictive such as imipramine (an anti-depressant), have been known to produce withdrawal symptoms (ibid). “As well, tolerance develops to the sedative effects of the phenothiazenes and to other drugs that are not addicting” (ibid).  If tolerance and withdrawal are not necessarily determinants of addiction, then even the WHO’s definition of addiction rests on shaky ground. 

Szasz (1985), Alexander (1990) ,and Blackwell (1988b) concede that addiction is an ethical, rather than medical diagnosis.  For example, the WHO’s definition of addiction states that “drug addiction is a state of periodic or chronic intoxication detrimental to the individual and to society” (cited in Szasz 1994: 373).  Szasz argues that the WHO’s focus on drugs as a danger to the individual and society clearly places the definition of addiction in the realm of morals rather than medicine.  Thus, according to Szasz, addiction is not really a disease, but rather a “despised kind of deviance” (1985: xiii).  An addict then is not “a bonafide patient, but a stigmatized identity usually stamped on a person against his or her will” (ibid).  Szasz argues that addiction is “created and discovered” by classifying certain substances as “dangerous narcotics”.  These substances, he argues, are “neither dangerous nor narcotic, but are particularly popular with groups who’s members readily lend themselves to social and psychiatric stigmatization” (ibid). 

While Szasz’s assertion that illicit substances are neither dangerous nor narcotic may be problematic, it is supported by other research.  For example, Miller (1994: 11) writes that heroin, usually perceived as a “devil drug” is “far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco”.  His research, based on a number of cross-cultural studies, concludes that “heroin users never have an organic need for the substance” (ibid: 7).  This is why, he argues, “people can withdraw from heroin in the privacy of their homes on a weekend.  They decide heroin is troublesome, go home on Friday and emerge on Monday, cured and feeling fine.  This actually happens.  Few alcoholics or two-pack-a-day cigarette smokers could duplicate the feat” (ibid: 9).

Erickson (1992: 259) concedes that the supposed danger of narcotic substances is over emphasized.  She compares the danger of cocaine use to the danger of snowmobile use:

Deaths related to each of these activities are of similar magnitude in the province of Ontario; both have been a matter of public concern, but the means sought to reduce the harm of snowmobiles include licensing, age restrictions, instruction on safe use, specific areas for use, and warnings about combining alcohol and snowmobile driving.  There have been no efforts to ban snowmobiles or imprison their users or sellers.


The dangers of cocaine have been exaggerated, at least its physical toxicity (Weil and Rosen 1993: 47). As Weil and Rosen explain, “both powder and crack cocaine can increase the workload on the heart and cause irregular heart beats, but deaths from cocaine are rare, and the body has a great capacity to metabolize and eliminate the drug from the system” (ibid).  While Weil and Rosen recognize that the “possibility of using this drug to excess is very real”, they offer that the “occasional snorting of powder cocaine in social situations is probably not harmful for most people” (ibid).

            Thus, the danger of illicit substances is clearly a contentious issue.  It is argued that because addiction and the danger of illicit drugs are arbitrary ideas, they cannot be used to justify a War on Drugs (Alexander 1990: 125).

Alexander (1990) believes that addiction is a Drug War definition that defines deviant, rather than actual medical behavior.  While Alexander argues that any drug can certainly be misused, and that any behavior such as gambling can lead to a “negative addiction”, the current concept of addiction is only linked to  illicit drugs (ibid: 116).  In its present context, addiction classifies all illicit drugs as addictive, and thus all users of these drugs are addicts. Because this ethical definition of addiction implies that certain drugs are addictive and others are not “genuine negative addiction to legal drugs, particularly caffeine, seems improbable in the era of the War on Drugs” (ibid).  Alexander points out that the limited use of the term addiction “has denied the other aspects of addiction that modern research and everyday experience confirm: negative addictions that do not involve drugs, centrifugal addiction as a phase in healthy development, and addiction as a temporary refuge when conditions become unbearable[7]” (1990: 125).

Blackwell agrees that one of the main problems with the current usage of the term addiction is that it does not recognize that various levels and styles of drug use, from experimentation to dependence, exist.  She argues that the current addiction model depicts drug dependence “as an inevitable slide down a slippery slope toward heavier consumption and more drug-related problems until finally the addict hits rock bottom and appears for treatment” (1988b: 171).  Because of the focus on illicit drugs that seems inherent in the definition of addiction, there is little appreciation that, “like the situation with alcohol, a large proportion of users remain at non-addictive levels of use or exit from use before becoming chronically dependent” (ibid).

While addiction is a problematic concept, the continuous usage of the term by the helping professions has given it the status of a medical certainty.  This has given doctors, psychiatrists and social workers an inordinate amount of power over those whom they define as addicts.  As Edelman writes, “the language employed implies that the professional has ways to ascertain who are dangerous, sick, or inadequate; that he or she knows how to render them harmless, rehabilitate them, or both; and the procedures for diagnosis and for treatment are too specialized for the lay public to understand or judge them (1977: 60).  Thus, the language of addiction allows the helping professions to “reinforce popular beliefs about which kinds of people are worthy or unworthy” (ibid: 59).

When addiction is labeled as a disease, the idea of “treatment” becomes important in establishing superior and subordinate roles. Edelman (1977: 58) writes that in the language of the helping professions, the concepts of rehabilitation and treatment “evoke a world in which the weak and the wayward need to be controlled for their own good”.  Thus, like addiction, treatment cannot be separated from moral concerns.  Consider, for example, the current use of methadone to treat heroin “addiction”.  Blackwell argues that the purpose of methadone maintenance programs “is to control criminal or other antisocial behavior in heroin dependants” (1988b: 165). “Treatment” by substituting methadone (a medically approved drug) for heroin shows that it is the ceremonial of drug use that must be controlled (Szasz 1985).  As Miller (1994: 11) argues, heroin and methadone are essentially the same substance:


Methadone patients are not cured of  opiate addiction, but are merely switched from heroin…to the prescription drug methadone. Opiates have “cross tolerance”,  meaning that methadone, heroin, morphine, and all the rest can be substituted for one another and will give a person the same effects.  A maintenance dose allows addicts to function normally in society.  What works with methadone will work with any opiate.


Treatment in this case thus rests on the moral preconceptions that heroin is an “unholy” substance, and thus “self-medication” cannot be allowed (Szasz 1985: 65).  Methadone, which can be dispensed by the powerful (physicians and so forth), becomes its “holy” replacement.  This is a concept that will be elaborated on in chapter five.

Successful treatment depends to a large extent on “willing submission to authority” (Edelman 1977: 64).  This is accomplished by a language that highlights the benefits of treatment “and not the physical, psychological, or economic costs of submission” (ibid).  Thus, when a person identified as an addict is forced to undergo “therapy” or to “rehabilitate”, this very language has the power of changing these acts from acts of suppression to acts of liberation and altruism (ibid: 62).  As Edelman explains, treatment and rehabilitation denote the ideas “of purification and nurturance; of ridding the inherently or ideologically contaminated of their blight or of ridding the world of the contamination they embody” (66).

Thus the language of the helping professions is a powerful determinant of our drug policy.  Edelman (1977: 20) argues that the helping professions become important influences in our perception of the social problems because “they present themselves, and are widely accepted, as legitimate authorities on the causes of these problems and on how to treat their victims”.  But as we saw with terms like “addiction” and “treatment”, speculation and medical fact are often merged to make an ambiguous concept appear definitive.  Addiction is a socially constructed term that has been used to generalize a wide range of drug use that is neither addictive nor dangerous.  Likewise, “treatment” has the moral connotation of enforcing “pharmacological conformity” (Alexander 1990: 86).  Essentially, the language of doctor’s, psychiatrists and so forth, disguise a power relationship as a helping one (Edelman 1977: 60).

The purpose of this chapter was to demonstrate how language shapes political action.  I argue that to understand our current prohibitionist policies, we must understand the interplay between language and politics.  With this accomplished, we can now turn to the issue at hand – the specific language used in federal government publications on Canada’s drug policy. 


The Canadian Government on Drugs

When it comes to policy making, the use of language is an important element in the creation of meaning.  As Edelman  (1988: 104) argues, “the key tactic must always be the evocation of interpretations that legitimize favored courses of action and threaten or reassure people so as to encourage them to be supportive or to remain quiescent”.  This type of language use is called “goal language” – it is persuasive and it gives the public “a badge to wear” (Apthorpe 1997: 44).  Goal language helps to define the style or “gaze” of policies.  As Shore and Wright (1997: 21) argue, “it is an important aspect of how policy creates affect and effect”. 

 Canada’s Drug Strategy and other federal publications on drug use interpret all illicit drug use as problematic.  These publications both threaten the inherent “social misery” of drug use, and reassure the public that government spending on “the drug problem” will alleviate both supply and demand for illicit drugs (Health Canada 1991: 2).  With these threats and reassurances, the government creates a discourse that is plagued with anxiety.  In this emotionally charged atmosphere, government action emerges as the only rational solution to the drug problem.

This chapter will focus on the language used in federal government publications on drug use.  As stated in Chapter 2, it is the “sensory reaction” provoked by the government’s language about drugs and drug use that is important as well as “the symbolic meaning of that imagery” (Mendleson 1995: 800).  By invoking very specific images of drug use and drug users within a medium of threatening and reassuring language, the government not only shapes our perceptions of illicit drug use, it also ensures our support or acquiescence for prohibition.

The documents that will be discussed in this chapter span from 1987 (when Canada’s Drug Strategy was first implemented), until 1998.  The publications are from a variety of federal departments including Health Canada, the Library of Parliament, the RCMP and the Center for National Security Studies.  While each department has its own style of language use (from medical to militaristic), all publications use language strategically “including slippery definitions of means, ends, costs, benefits, and rationality” to legitimize the governments course of action against illicit drug use (Edelman 1988: 109).


Health Canada Publications


Health Canada, and in particular the Office of Alcohol, Drugs and Dependency Issues located within the department, is responsible for the dissemination of information to Canadians about illicit drugs.  Health Canada occupies an ambiguous position in terms of its stance on drug use.  As the federal body responsible for governing the “helping professions”, Health Canada uses their language with flare. On the surface, Health Canada asserts that its mandate is to “help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health” (1998a).  In terms of drug use, this means the development of policies that involve harm reduction – lessening the physical, socio-economic and psychological harms that may arise with substance “abuse” (Health Canada 1998b: 4).

However, careful reading of Health Canada publications on illicit drug use demonstrates that Health Canada is truly concerned with the regulation of personal conduct and the “control of deviance” (Szasz 1985: 137). Under the guise of a public health generalist ideology that promotes harm reduction, Health Canada actually employs a legalist interpretation of illicit drug use that enforces non-use.  Through the use of contrived language,  ambiguous definitions, and manipulated statistics, Health Canada threatens the “crisis” of drug use.  In doing so, they justify their authority as leaders in terms of policy solutions to the drug problem.

National Drug Strategy: Action on Drug Abuse

            Launched in 1987, what came to be known as Canada’s Drug Strategy was originally titled the National Drug Strategy: Action on Drug Abuse (NDS).  While the formation of the NDS involved a multitude of federal departments, Health Canada was responsible for coordinating the Strategy and thus all Drug Strategy documents are considered to be authored by Health Canada.

As Edelman (1988: 16) argues, an important aspect of a policy is the policy name itself.  Usually reassuring, policy names “portray accomplishments” while at the same time “masking hesitations in action” (ibid).  Thus the words “strategy” and “action on drug abuse” suggest planning and direction.  A “strategy” typically looks forward in direction.  The word “strategy” also adds to the Drug War metaphor.  Strategies and strategic maneuvers are part of a war discourse and imply the “outsmarting” of the enemy.  Similarly, “action on drug abuse” suggests that a fight is about to occur.  That the government’s drug policy is called “action on drug abuse” implies that any other approach or policy on drug use would constitute “inaction”.

            What makes the NDS different from the later Drug Strategies is the blatant use of warlike images and language.   At this early stage,  Health Canada was definitely more concerned with pursuing a Drug War than with “harm reduction”.  For example, some of the section titles are: “Striking Back at Alcohol and Drug Abuse”; “Grass-Roots Defences”; “Mobilizing against Impaired Drivers”; and “First Line of Defence” (referring to “enforcement and control’) (Health Canada 1988: 6+).  These references to war were most likely influenced by American politics[8].  As stated in the introduction, the NDS was Canada’s response to President Ronald Reagan’s declaration of a War on Drugs (Erickson 1992: 248).

            The emphasis on enforcement concerns over health aspects of drug use is reflected in the ranking of priorities for the NDS.  The first priority for NDS is education and prevention, followed by enforcement and control, and then treatment and rehabilitation.  While education and prevention may seem to balance enforcement efforts, they are conducted in an enforcement context.  As will be discussed later in this chapter, the police play the primary role in drug education and prevention in Canada.

Canada’s Drug Strategy – 1991

            By 1991, NDS came to be officially known as Canada’s Drug Strategy (CDS).  The first in a series of CDS documents, the 1991 document is basically a short progress report on the Strategy.  By 1991, subtle changes have occurred with the language used in CDS.  Drugs are no longer discussed within a metaphor of war (although a War on Drugs is still pursued).  However, despite the abandonment of this militaristic language, threatening language is used blatantly.  For example, illicit drug use is said to be a matter of importance to all Canadians because “we may become victims of crime committed by drug users” (Health Canada 1991: 1).  In addition to the threat posed to the body, drugs are also said to pose an economic threat: “A large number of tax dollars go each year to combat the drug problem.  One way or another, we all pay a price” (ibid).

            Statistics are also a particularly useful way for implying that drug use is a scientifically verified threat.  However, in CDS, statistics are used manipulatively.  Statistics are included when they aim to “prove” that drug use is a problem in Canada.  For example, it is written that “14% of school youth aged 15-19 used cannabis in 1989” (ibid).  What the statistics do not say in this case is how many of these youth used cannabis on only one occasion and how many were regular users? 

            It is also interesting to note that statistics are omitted when they might suggest that drug use is declining.  For example, while the document recognizes that “there is a slight gradual decline in the use of most drugs”, it provides no statistical data.  What is a “slight gradual decline”?  With no numeric figures to back this up, what the government implies is a “slight decline” might actually be a significant decline in drug use.  In addition, the line immediately after this negates any decline in the use of drugs by asserting that “the drugs used today are stronger” (ibid).  Again, statistics about the increase in drug potency over the last several years are conveniently omitted.  Thus, in CDS, statistics are only included when they can support the idea that drug use is a threat.

            What do these statistics on the threats of drug use mean?  According to CDS, “they mean damage to health, problems in the workplace and classroom, family upheaval and much social misery” (ibid: 2). As stated in chapter two, the idea that drug use causes societal disorder is an important image in prohibitionist discourse.  It is an image that is seized upon by the government.  However,  it is difficult to imagine how 14% of youth ages 15-19 using cannabis (some perhaps for the first and last time) translates into “social misery”.

            In addition to the use of threatening language, CDS also employs what Edelman  (1988: 109) calls “slippery definitions”.  In its definition of drugs, CDS classifies drugs using very interesting terminology.  Alcohol is classified as a “social drug”, sleeping pills and tranquilizers are “medicinal drugs”, inhalants and glue are classified as “products” rather than drugs, and cocaine, marijuana and heroin are called “street drugs” (1991: 1).  This ranking system is in line with Szasz’s observation that some drugs are considered holy and others unholy.  The classification of alcohol as a social drug is especially noteworthy.  Thus even though CDS admits that “alcohol abuse is Canada’s leading drug problem”, the very classification of alcohol as a “social drug” seems to exclude it from the drugs that cause “social misery” (ibid: 1-2).  Social misery then, is a product of the “street drugs”.   Calling marijuana, cocaine and heroin street drugs as opposed to illicit or illegal drugs is also an interesting use of language.  By associating drugs with “the street”, certain images are evoked such as homelessness, prostitution, “skid row” and so forth.

            The use of language in CDS is problematic in other ways.  CDS argues that the government’s goal is to aim “for a better balance between reducing both the demand for drugs and their supply.  This is reflected in the current funding for alcohol and drug programs” (ibid).  The CDS aims to reduce drug demand and supply through prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, research and information collection, and enforcement and control. Notice that the ranking of these priorities have changed from the NDS.  Where enforcement was originally the second priority for the NDS it is now the last priority for CDS.    What CDS does not tell us is that even though less emphasis seems to be placed on enforcement related activities, the “majority of prevention resources went to police-controlled educational programming” (Erickson 1992: 253).  As Erickson argues, police-controlled “prevention” entails certain problems.  For example, “programs to encompass less risky practices for those already using, or intending to use drugs, or who are experiencing substance-related difficulties, are perhaps not readily delivered by those whose primary role in society is identified with enforcement and punishment” (ibid: 254). 

            While CDS creates anxiety through the use of threatening language, it also assuages this anxiety by reassuring the public that its policies will alleviate the drug problem.  In symbolic terms, CDS encourages social solidarity and the coming together of communities to fight the social disorder attributed to drugs.  CDS appeals to the individual through assertions that participation in community efforts against drug use means control of the drug problem (Gordon 1994: 205). 

Prohibition as a symbol of the restoration of order to society is invoked:

The problem of alcohol and other drug abuse will not go away simply because governments have decided to do something about it.  It is up to us.  We all have a role to play.  Each of us can help, perhaps as a member of the community, as a parent or through our work.  Find out what your community is doing and get involved! (Health Canada 1991: 5).


Thus, by first presenting drugs as a universal threat and then using reassurance to invoke social solidarity, policy makers can “convert essentially repressive campaigns into social movements in the public mind” (Gordon 1994: 204).

Canada’s Drug Strategy Phase II


            In 1992, CDS was renewed for another five year period with a budget of $270 million (Erickson 1992: 256).  The CDS Phase II report focuses on the policy’s accomplishments since 1987 and masks “any counterproductive strategies that minimize, cancel or reverse claims of success” (Edelman 1988: 17).   The policy uses claims of limited success to suggest that goals will eventually be reached if only the momentum of CDS is maintained.

            CDS Phase II illustrates its accomplishments in a very straightforward manner.  It provides a list of objectives from Phase I, and then proceeds to list a series of “facts” to establish how these objectives were met.  But again the language use is strategic in that it masks interpretations that imply that CDS may not be as effective as the policy suggests.  For example, one of the listed objectives is “to strengthen enforcement and interdiction” (Health Canada 1992: 5).  According to CDS this objective was met by the “fact” that “drug seizures rose dramatically” (ibid).  The CDS provides the following example: “the RCMP reported a 600% increase in the amount of cocaine seized since 1987” (ibid).

Statistics that show an increase in drug seizures are used to demonstrate that prohibition is working.  However, what the statistics do not reveal are some of the inevitable consequences that arise when the supply of a drug is decreased while the demand for that particular drug remains stable.  This is best demonstrated by  New Zealand’s experience with heroin seizures.  In the early 1970’s, high-grade heroin became available to New Zealand from South-East Asia (Reynolds et al 1997: 325). In the 1980’s, a large international police operation led to the collapse of the drug syndicate that supplied the heroin to the country (ibid).  The result was “an abrupt, almost total cessation of heroin imported into New Zealand” without any “corresponding reduction in the number of users wanting the drug” (ibid). A major consequence of this reduction in heroin supply was that users were diverted to using and manufacturing a more harmful substance known as “homebake” (ibid).  Homebake is heroin and morphine manufactured from codeine based pharmaceuticals.  It is argued to be more harmful than heroin for several reasons.  First of all, it is manufactured by users inexperienced in making the drug.  It is generally made in domestic kitchens with makeshift, non-sterile equipment, sometimes in the presence of children (ibid: 329).   Also, the chemicals used in the manufacture of homebake are considered more dangerous than those used in the manufacture of heroin.  Finally, homebake is believed to have a higher potential for transmitting blood-borne viral infections because its liquid form is sold in syringes and the buyer has no way of knowing if the syringe is sterile (ibid).

In the 1990’s high-grade white-powder heroin has again become available on the streets in New Zealand and this has corresponded with a decline in the manufacture and sale of homebake (ibid: 325).  Perhaps the final message is that “prohibition can only be expected to be successful in reducing harm when there is little demand for the proscribed drug,…and similar drugs are unavailable or less harmful” (ibid: 324). Thus, if an increase in cocaine seizures has potentially diverted cocaine users to using more harmful substances, can the policy be considered a success?.

            As stated above, the 600% increase in cocaine seizures statistic implies that the effectiveness of enforcement and interdiction efforts is also increasing.  However, without any further information such as the estimated amount of cocaine that is available in Canada, this statistic is limited.  For example, if 100,000 kilograms of cocaine were available in Canada, and the police seized 100 kilos before 1987 and 600 kilos between 1987 and 1991, this would indeed be a 600% increase in the amount of cocaine seized.  Yet a 600% increase in cocaine seizures would mean very little in this case in terms of the overall amount of cocaine that would still be available.  As Erickson (1992: 252) argues “it is a well-documented phenomena in the study of crime rates in general…that recorded offences will increase in direct proportion to police resources”.  With CDS, financial resources to the enforcement sector increased substantially.  Thus, an increase in the reporting of cocaine seizures is more of a reflection of this fact rather than a reflection of the effectiveness of interdiction or enforcement.

            Another example of CDS masking interpretations that may counter its claims of success is the reporting in the decline of drug use among youth.  CDS poses the “prevention or delay of the onset of alcohol and other drug use among youth 11-17” as one of its objectives (Health Canada 1992: 3).  According to the document, CDS was successful in this area because “first-time users of cannabis in this age group declined from 47% in 1987 to 29% in 1991”.  Again, this is misleading because cannabis use has been on a steady decline among the population as a whole since the early 1980’s (Erickson 1992: 247 and 252).  Also, CDS only provides two examples of a decline in drug use – alcohol and cannabis.  It does not provide any information on whether the use of other drugs such as cocaine or heroin have increased or decreased among youth during this time period.

            These reassuring claims of success are interspersed with threatening language used to justify the continuance of CDS.  Again, CDS negates any decline in drug use over the last decade by threatening that users “face greater than ever risks”.  According to CDS, users are “combining drugs and consuming them more frequently” (Health Canada: 1992: 9).  Also, youth face particular problems according to CDS because they “tend to be binge users on weekends” (ibid).  Unfortunately, CDS does not quantify “binge use”.  That these youth have restricted drug use to weekends implies to me that they may not have a drug problem at all.  Perhaps they have adapted their drug use to times that are appropriate for “letting go” such as weekends rather than during the school or work week.

            A particularly alarming part of CDS Phase II concerns the policy’s strategy for the future.  Indeed some ominous developments seem to be arising.  For example, CDS argues that “seizing the assets of crime [in drug cases] is not easy.  Special skills are required of prosecuting attorneys and investigators” (ibid: 10).  As a solution, CDS proposes that “special teams will be established to ensure effective implementation of Bill C-61, the Proceeds of Crime Legislation” (ibid: 11).  This proposal seems reminiscent of actions taken in the 1920’s when a “corps of standing counsel” was hired to become experts in prosecuting drug cases (see Chapter 1).  However, what is more ominous here is the suggestion that investigators (i.e. enforcement officials) require special skills to “ensure effective implementation of Bill C-61”.  Does this imply that investigators and prosecuting attorneys will be given special rights to investigate and prosecute these cases?  In other words, will others’ civil rights be eroded in the name of “effective implementation of Bill C-61”?  Unfortunately the language of CDS on this point is purposefully vague.

            Another ominous development of CDS phase II is that the Strategy plans to target “high risk” groups for “early detection” of drug problems.  The language is once again ambiguous.  What is considered early detection of a drug problem?  Considering that CDS never does define drug abuse, drug addiction, or a drug problem, it can be assumed that in the case of CDS all use of illicit drugs is considered abuse.  How will this early detection be accomplished? By increased surveillance of these “high risk” groups?  CDS gives no further insight.

            The labeling of a group as “high risk” is problematic in itself.  As Edelman argues, this labeling “serves the political function of extending authority over those not yet subject to it” (1988: 69). Edelman believes that those labeled as “high risk” such as poor youth are only high statistical risks “because their labeling as pre-delinquents and the extra surveillance are certain to yield a fair number of offenders…and because poverty does not encourage adherence to middle class norms” (ibid).  Thus the term “high risk” group and “early detection” focuses the audience on “the utility of preventative surveillance and control and diverts attention from the link between poverty and delinquency” (ibid: 70).  The language belongs to the “helping professions”.  Above all, the terms “early detection” and “high risk group” imply that the government can ascertain who is dangerous or sick and who should subsequently be controlled or subjected to discipline (Edelman 1977: 59-60).

            CDS Phase II ends on a particularly sentimental note.  After asserting that the “Strategy is working well” and that “the most important goal now is to maintain the momentum”, the CDS appeals to the emotions of its audience.  The final phrase in the document, in bold letters is: “There are kids alive today who would be dead if it were not for the Strategy”.  Again, reassurance and threat are combined in a very emotional way in an attempt to raise public support for CDS.

Canada’s Drug Strategy – 1998


            The most recent version of CDS was published in the early summer of 1998.  Perhaps due to national media coverage on the ineffectiveness of prohibition and increased pressure from lobby groups such as the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, this version of CDS attempts (on the surface at least) to divorce itself from its enforcement focused past.  Within the document, it is repeatedly asserted (often in large red text) that “Canada promotes a balanced approach to addressing drugs” and that “the fundamental objective of harm reduction remains constant” (Health Canada: 1998b: 14 and 15).  According to CDS, the harm associated with alcohol and other drugs can be physical, psychological, societal, and/or economic” (ibid: 4):

Physical harm includes death, illness, addiction, the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and injury caused by drug-related accidents or violence.  Psychological harm can include fear of crime and violence and effects of family breakdown.  Societal harm refers to the breakdown of social systems.  Economic harm includes the large-scale impact of the illegal drug trade and enforcement efforts as well as economic harm to individual users and society, including costs of decreased and lost productivity, workplace accidents, and health care (ibid).


The language in this passage is interesting for several reasons.  First of all, it demonstrates how the government often see-saws between a public health generalist and a legalist conception of drug use.  For example, while CDS loudly proclaims it is in favor of the public health generalist idea of “harm reduction”, the idea that drug use can cause the “breakdown of social systems” is clearly a legalist ideology.  In this case, harm is attributed to drug use because the act of drug taking represents a threat to the authority of social institutions such as law enforcement.

            Second, this passage cleverly disguises the fact that some of the harms that are attributed to drug use can actually be attributed to prohibition.  Crime, violence, and the large-scale economic impact of the illegal drug trade, arise because these substances are illegal and thus an enormous black market has been created for their sale and purchase.  Studies of drug related violence in Miami and New York have shown that violence is not a result of the psychopharmacological effects of drugs (Gordon 1994: 6).  Violence and crime which most often include economic crimes to finance costly drug use or violent crime arising from “territorial disputes between rival dealers” (Johns 1992: 7) are thus “an economic side effect of drug prohibition” (Gordon 1994: 6).

            According to the federal government, harm reduction involves several goals.  The first and most important goal in CDS is “to reduce the demand for drugs” (Health Canada 1998b: 4).  This, CDS argues, can most effectively be accomplished through prevention programs.  Unfortunately, CDS again provides no plans for teaching those already using or intending to use drugs how to do so safely.  Instead it aims to “prevent substance use problems in the first place” through the use of “posters, brochures, radio, television, direct mail, the internet, [and] contests and games” (ibid:7- 8). This suggests the use of “anti-drug propaganda messages” rather than “pure informational campaigns” (Zimring and Hawkins 1992: 12).

            Zimring and Hawkins (1992) argue that a prevention program that targets youth who have never taken drugs fits within a legalist ideology (ibid).  This type of prevention campaign seeks “to divide the population into good people (who never try drugs) and bad people (who do)” (ibid: 13). The target audience (who has by design never tried drugs) “are thus to be reinforced and congratulated” (ibid).  The problem with this type of prevention campaign is that “there is no room…for either discussion of the continuity between licit and illicit drugs or for distinctions among different illicit drugs” (ibid).

            Despite the government’s implication that it is separating itself from an enforcement strategy, CDS reaffirms that police and customs officials will continue to deliver drug awareness programs in schools and work places (Health Canada 1998b: 8). Canadian police forces now “lead the western world in the police-delivery of drug  abuse awareness, the drug prevention message to youth” (Doug Lewis cited in Erickson 1992: 257). The “lack of general demonstrated effectiveness in school-based programs in changing actual drug use behavior and the lack of systematic evaluation of the police programs” raises doubts as to whether this is the most appropriate prevention strategy (ibid: 254).

            Not only does enforcement play a significant role in prevention programs, but in treatment and rehabilitation as well.  As part of its goal of “harm reduction” through treatment and rehabilitation, CDS announces the creation of the Health and Enforcement in Partnership (HEP) in 1994.  HEP encourages the “cooperation between health and enforcement at the national, provincial/territorial, and local levels (Health Canada 1998b: 13).  The objectives of HEP will be discussed in the next section of this chapter.

            The 1998 version of CDS again raises questions about the encroachment upon civil liberties.  New legislation such as The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (implemented as a part of CDS), provides “the police with additional tools to combat illicit drug-related activity” such as “the forfeiture of any property used or intended to be used in the commission of such offenses and profits derived from such offenses” (ibid: 10).  In addition, CDS implies that surveillance will be increased by “improved intelligence gathering” and “the enhancement of existing equipment” (ibid: 11).  CDS also warns that “from a legal perspective, criminal prosecution activities related to drugs are closely monitored” (ibid).  The enormous expansion of  government procedural power, and the encroachment upon civil liberties that a War on Drugs legitimates, will be discussed in the next chapter.

            Thus, while CDS claims to be concerned with harm reduction and professes to follow a disease model of drug use, the balance seems to be “tipped disproportionately to the enforcement sector, focusing both demand and supply efforts in the police” (Erickson 1992: 257).  What CDS has tried to disguise since its implementation in 1987 is “that the dominant policy remains one of criminalization” (ibid).  Unfortunately, CDS makes no attempt to address “the various costs and limitations of the effectiveness of this approach” (ibid).

Health and Enforcement in Partnership


HEP involves partnerships between police and the health and social services community in an effort to provide community based solutions to substance abuse problems (Health Canada 1997: 7).  HEP is an interesting if not ominous development because it reflects the growth of what Szasz calls the “Therapeutic State” (1963: 221).  The Therapeutic State is one in which the health sector (physicians or social workers), and the government and its agents (the public police) are united in urging the public to submit to their authority in regulating the use of drugs in order to be “protected” from their supposed dangers (Szasz 1985: 164).  The Therapeutic State is thus concerned with “maintaining social order by regulating personal conduct” (ibid: 21).

The implementation of HEP raises many concerns.  First of all, its mandate is to treat drug abusers with health and social problems in the community context while subjecting those “criminals” who sell drugs to “the strict interpretation of the law” (Health Canada 1995a: 6).  This is interesting since the cost of drugs in a black market is so high that many who are dependent upon their use must sell drugs in order to afford them.  Will these sellers/users be treated or criminalized?  Whether one is treated or punished involves a large amount of discretion on the side of law enforcement.  Inconsistencies in procedures are thus sure to arise.

Another concern about HEP, one which is in fact recognized by the HEP report, is that the collaboration between the police and social services may compromise the clientele of addiction workers.  Many “health and social workers feel that “fraternizing” with the police could jeopardize their client relationships” (ibid: 7).  Obviously, clients who both use and sell drugs and are thus subject to strict punishment, will feel threatened by the presence of police in treatment facilities.  Unfortunately, the HEP report offers no  solutions to this important issue.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of HEP that is not adequately covered in the report is that it involves a transformation of traditional policing to “community based policing” (ibid: 10).  Community based policing rests on the assumption that “the police cannot successfully prevent or investigate crime without the willing participation of the public, therefore police should transform communities from being passive consumers of police protection to active co-producers of public safety” (Bayley and Shearing 1996: 588).  The HEP report stresses the importance of this public involvement: “the public must be an informed partner in any…drug abuse related strategy” (Health Canada 1995a: 6).

Presumably, it will be the police themselves who educate and inform the public about illicit drug use since enforcement plays the leading role in prevention.   The consequences of this are enormous.  As Bayley and Shearing (1996: 595) argue, “community policing is a license for police to intervene in the private life of individuals.  It harnesses the coercive power of the state to social amelioration”.  The risk of public support based on often biased information about illicit drugs provided by the police may be the “vigilantism of the majority” (ibid).

The implementation of HEP “transforms the police from being an emergency squad in the fight against crime to becoming primary diagnosticians and treatment coordinators” (ibid: 588).  With the role of the police expanding into the health sector, the safety of drug users seeking treatment has become compromised for two reasons.  First, these users face an increased risk of criminal prosecution.  Second, health practitioners who may instruct their clients in the safe use of illicit drugs may no longer be able to do so, especially if this form of treatment comes into conflict with the enforcement sector.  With HEP, the dynamics of treatment may be changed into something “political and penological and hence concerned with the control of personal conduct” (Szasz 1985: 125).

Straight Facts about Drugs and Drug Abuse


            The Health Canada publication Straight Facts about Drugs and Drug Abuse was written for an intended audience of youth and parents. Straight Facts… is one of Health Canada’s most ideological publications in that its language consistently evokes threatening images of drugs and drug users.  For example, the publication stresses a need for “accurate” information about drugs because of the “extent of the drug problem today” (Health Canada 1995b: 1). “Whether we like it or not,” Health Canada argues, “all Canadians will probably come into some contact with the drug problem in one way or another” (ibid). Gordon (1994: 188) calls this the “ubiquity theme” and argues that it is a common argument in the War on Drugs.  The ubiquity theme implies that “drugs are everywhere” (ibid).  It “recognizes no distinctions among drug types, dosages consumed or frequency of use.  It aggregates all kinds of drug experience into a near-universal threat” (ibid).

            The universal threat of drugs extends to drug users as well.  According to Health Canada, drug users are “typical” and “have similar characteristics”, although this is not elaborated upon any further (ibid: 4).  The reader is left imagining drug users as shady underworld characters who are waiting to contaminate the innocent (Blackwell 1988a: 230).  The threat is reinforced when Health Canada urges that in spite of the existence of a typical drug user,  “anyone can become one” (Health Canada 1995b: 4). The power of the ubiquity theme is that it implies that nobody is immune from succumbing to the irresistible temptation of illicit drug use.

            According to Gordon (1994: 190), the “gateway theory” is an important motif in the theme that drugs are everywhere and everyone is susceptible.  The gateway theory proposes that the use of a “soft drug” such as marijuana will eventually lead to the use of “hard drugs” such as heroin (ibid).  The gateway theory is employed in this publication.  Health Canada argues that experimenting with drugs “may remove some of the barriers against trying drugs again. It is also true that people who are regular users of one drug are more likely to use other drugs as well” (Health Canada 1995b: 5).  Gordon argues that the gateway theory is used to invalidate “the awkward possibility of much relatively harmless drug use” (1994: 190).

            In addition to presenting drug use as ubiquitous, the publication Straight Facts…  defines drugs in terms of a legalist ideology.  In its definition of drug abuse, use of “the wrong drug” is considered abuse.  For example, it is argued that with some of the illicit drugs “there are no legitimate human uses” (Health Canada 1995b: 4).  These drugs are said “to cause serious human problems no matter how or when they are taken.  With such drugs there is no difference between use and abuse.  To use them is to abuse them” (ibid).  Here, drugs are a fetish.  They are embodied with a magical nature that makes them so powerful that to use them just once will cause irreparable harm.   This fetishization of drugs erases their  chemical properties.  “Drugs instead take on a malevolent life and character of their own” (Manderson 1995: 812).

            The legalist interpretation of drug use is also evident in the discussion of the risks involved in using drugs.  While many physical risks of drug use are listed, only one social risk is mentioned and that is that “the use of many psychoactive drugs is illegal” (ibid: 8).  This separates illicit drug use from the use of alcohol and tobacco which is depicted as less harmful because these drugs are legal.  Health Canada threatens that the “conviction for illegal possession of a drug can result in a fine, imprisonment, or both, and a criminal record” (ibid: 8).

            Health Canada’s Straight Facts… is subject to other problematic definitions.  In the discussion of the physical risks of drug use, the pamphlet cites physical dependence and psychological dependence as major risks:

Physical dependence occurs when a drug user’s body becomes so accustomed to a particular drug that it can only function normally if the drug is present.  Without the drug, the user may experience a variety of symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to convulsions.  These symptoms, some of which can be fatal, are collectively referred to as “withdrawal” (ibid: 7).


Psychological dependence on the other hand, occurs “when a drug is so central to a person’s thoughts, emotions, and activities that it is extremely difficult to stop using it, or even to stop thinking about it” (ibid).  Alexander (1990: 126) argues that the problem with these terms is that they assume a “sharp distinction between mind and body”  as addiction is seen as “able to reside in either one or the other”.  Physical dependence “implies a kind of addiction that is especially severe and long-lasting because it is lodged in the body” (ibid).  According to this logic, policy makers supporting a War on Drugs can argue that “drugs that produce physical dependence must be banned by force because physical dependence is almost impossible to overcome” (ibid).

            Straight Facts about Drugs and Drug Use is anything but straight.  The language reinforces some of the symbolic imagery surrounding drugs and drug users.  One such image is the idea that drugs are a universal threat.  Drugs are so prevalent, dangerous and  powerful that they (along with their users) must be subjected to stringent controls.  The language of Straight Facts… thus legitimates a War on Drugs.

            Thus the documents authored by Health Canada are problematic in their language use.  Threatening language and the manipulation of statistics warns that illicit drug use should be a serious concern for Canadians.  Health Canada also reassures however that its Drug Strategy will win the battle against drugs, if only the momentum is maintained.  While Health Canada superficially supports a policy of harm reduction, the documents reveal that the enforcement community is primarily responsible for drug prevention and education.  With HEP, the enforcement community will also play a role in the treatment of drug users.  Thus, despite Health Canada’s claims to be concerned with the health and well-being of all Canadians including drug users, the documents reveal that they are more concerned with the regulation of personal conduct.


Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Publications


            As part of its Drug Awareness Program, the RCMP has produced a series of videos and publications “with the objective of delivering the “drug-free” message to the public” (RCMP 1998).  Unlike the Health Canada Publications which focus on ill-health as a deterrent to drug use, the RCMP publications are often more concerned with presenting the legal consequences of illicit drug use.   For the RCMP, “harm reduction” must be accomplished within the context of the law, and this means complete abstinence from the use of illicit drugs.

Drugs and the Workplace

            Drugs and the Workplace, targeted at employers, threatens the economic costs of drug use at work.  Injury (to self and others), absenteeism, theft, poor employee morale and low productivity are all cited as consequences of drug use (RCMP 1994: 4). In an attempt to entice employers to become active in coordinating a “comprehensive policy” on substance abuse, the RCMP stresses that economically, drug use in the workplace “can be disastrous for a firm” (ibid: 4).

            Like the other federal government publications on illicit drug use, this document is also subject to manipulative language and statistics.  In terms of the manipulation of statistics, it is interesting to note how the same statistics are used to prove opposite points.  For example, in Canada’s Drug Strategy Phase II, an increase in cocaine seizures was used to “prove” that interdiction and enforcement efforts were effective.  However in this document, the increase in cocaine seizures indicates that the “importation of cocaine into Canada has increased significantly in the last five years” (ibid)  This in turn provides “mounting evidence of the extent and consequences of substance abuse in our workplaces" (ibid). Johns (1992: 4) argues that this manipulation of data is endemic to the War on Drugs.  The success/failure cycle evident in prohibitionist discourse is used to expand prohibitionist goals (ibid: 10).

            Definitions of drugs and drug use are also problematic in this document.  Not surprisingly, the RCMP argues that “in the case of illicit “street” drugs, where the purity and dose are unknown factors, any use, even first time use, may well constitute abuse” (RCMP 1994: 7).  Also, the RCMP characterizes drug dependence in terms of three phases or steps: experimentation, the emergence of dependency, and dependence syndrome (ibid: 10-11).  It is implied that drug use is progressive until finally in the dependence syndrome phase, the drug user may be “engaging in prostitution and criminal activities” (ibid: 11). By this final phase, cessation of drug use is said to be more difficult, therefore intervention is deemed essential in the experimentation phase (ibid).

            The purpose of Drugs and the Workplace is both to make employers aware of substance use problems and to encourage them to address these problems through “comprehensive drug policy” (ibid: 21).  Part of this drug policy

involves employers reporting illicit substance use to the police:

A firm should also state clearly that in the case of illicit drugs, it must obey the law and in doing so is prepared to call on law enforcement agencies….While the policy should encourage employees with a substance abuse problem to seek help, it should also specify the disciplinary action and the process of applying discipline….(ibid).


Thus, despite the RCMP’s claim that “the main goal of the National Drug Awareness Program is to prevent drug abuse through education and awareness”, the criminalization and punishment of drug users remains a high priority for the organization (1998).

Two-Way Street: Parents, Kids and Drugs


            This report is intended to provide information on drugs to parents of children ages ten to fifteen.  Again, some of the themes discussed in the RCMP report Drugs and the Workplace are also found in this publication.  For example, the idea that drug “use can easily progress through various phases to abuse” is presented (RCMP 1992: 10).  Threatening language is again used blatantly in presenting the risks of drug use.   “Mental disorder”, “personality disturbances”, “learning problems” and “memory loss” as well as the possibility of involvement in crime to support drug habits are all cited as “risks of drug use and abuse” (ibid: 10).

            One risk which the RCMP emphasizes in this report is the legal risk of drug use.  For example, it is argued that “apart from the stigma of a criminal record, a conviction may lead to difficulties in finding jobs, and restrictions on travel outside of Canada” (ibid: 7).  Later, arguing against experimental drug use, the RCMP assert that “in some cases, curious experimentation and social use can put young people on a collision course with harmful involvement and the law (ibid: 8).  In terms of the risks of drug use, the RCMP emphasizes that “legal consequences can follow….A conviction will result in any combination of probation, a fine, a jail term, and a criminal record (ibid: 10).  The focus on the legal consequences of drug use establishes the RCMP within the legalist discourse.  Drug use is dangerous because it is an act of defiance against lawful authority (Zimring and Hawkins 1992: 9).

Youth and Drugs: What Parent Groups can do to Create Drug Resistant Communities


            Youth and Drugs is authored by the RCMP in conjunction with PRIDE CANADA (Parent Resources Institute for Drug Education).  The report appeals to the “social unity theme” as a solution to drug use (Gordon 1994: 204).  Parents must join together in the fight for “drug-free youth” (RCMP 1987: 7).

            The language in this  pamphlet is interesting because in calling for social unity, a revolutionary tone is invoked.  For example, it is stated that “a parental outcry and underswell will have to take place in Canadian society” (ibid: v).  An analogy of snowflakes is used to demonstrate the potential power of a united front:

Alone, both [snowflakes and parents] are beautiful and unique, but powerless.  Parents joined with other parents – or snowflakes with other snowflakes – can make a powerful force.  A snowstorm can stop 747’s on runways and breakdown the best telephone communication lines.  A parent group can challenge every institution in our society and put an end to the epidemic of drugs (ibid).


            This idea that social solidarity will win the War on Drugs is reiterated throughout the report.  The “answer” to the Drug War is laid out clearly: “when parents and other individuals in the community pull together, then drugs can be stopped” (ibid: 7).  As stated in the previous chapter, this “bandwagon effect” (the idea that people must join up and support the cause) is an important element of wartime propaganda (Brekle 1989: 83).

The report uses and encourages other types of wartime propaganda identified by Brekle including the suppression or selective presentation of “the facts” (ibid).  For example, in a section entitled “Goals and Actions”, the RCMP encourages parent groups to “educate themselves about the adverse health effects of drugs” (RCMP 1987: 7 – my italics).  In doing so, they will “become a credible source of information” (ibid).  The publication is in essence condoning the suppression of research that suggests some drug use is not harmful as it asks parents to concern themselves only with the adverse effects of drugs.  Also, this passage implies that if one becomes educated about any possible non-adverse effects of drugs, then one is no longer “credible”.

            As Alexander (1990: 71) argues, one impact of this type of propaganda “is that it becomes impossible to discuss illicit drugs as anything but fathomless evil”.  This is reflected in the report which orders all adults to “take a firm anti-drug stand” (RCMP 1987: 9).  Any use of illegal drugs “must not be tolerated” (ibid).   By casting the issue in such black and white terms, any plan “to treat [drugs] in a normal way, allowing a reasonable amount of use under reasonable conditions, and providing regulations to control dangerous use, would seem defeatist, or treasonist” (Alexander 1990: 71).

            Thus, the publication Youth and Drugs uses a variety of propagandistic devices to entice parents to join in the fight against drugs.  By appealing to the idea that social unity will end drug use, Youth and Drugs  provides an opportunity for parents to become involved in the War on Drugs at a local level.  As Gordon (1994: 171) argues, this strategy is often an effective way of getting people involved because “ordinary citizens who take up the drug control banner can find meaning in political life by participating in what many feel is a threatened moral consensus” (ibid). The problem, however is that “solution” themes to drug use such as the abstract ideal of social unity “hold drug policy in a vice that allows for very little revision” (ibid: 197).

            The RCMP documents present drug use from a legalist perspective.  The publications depict drug use as a black and white issue: all illicit drug use is wrong.  There are no gray areas; even first time experimental use is characterized as abuse (RCMP 1994: 7).  For the RCMP then, “there is no such thing as an unjust drug law” (Zimring and Hawkins 1992: 14).  To suggest that some illicit drug use may not be harmful “would literally be surrendering to the enemy” (ibid).  In this legalist version of the Drug War, “state authority is the central value to be upheld” (ibid).


Library of Parliament Publications


            The Library of Parliament Research Branch conducts research and produces reports for Committees and Members of the Senate and House of Commons.  While conducting the research for this thesis, I discovered an unofficial web site about the Library of Parliament that suggested that the Member of Parliament requesting the research could ask that a particular point of view or bias be placed in the report.  I subsequently contacted the Research Branch to find out the exact procedure that is conducted in the research and writing of reports by the Branch.  They informed me that this information could not be given out to the public as the Research Branch works directly for the Members of Parliament.  It is interesting that the Library of Parliament Research Branch would not divulge their research practices to the public, yet they make these reports widely available for public consumption (they are available in university libraries and can also be ordered from the government).  In fact, the government of Canada promotes the Library of Parliament Research Branch Publications as “ideal research  materials for high school, college and university teachers and students” (Canada “Social Issues” 1998). These reports play an important role in the formation of drug policy as they are the sources that parliamentarians consult prior to any debates or legislative action on the drug issue.

Drug Abuse in Canada

            The Library of Parliament report Drug Abuse in Canada focuses on cannabis and cocaine use in Canada. Unlike some of the other federal government publications which fail to define drug abuse, this report defines drug abuse as “any non-medical use of a drug that causes harm” (Library of Parliament Research Branch 1994: 1).  However, the report establishes that any use of cannabis or cocaine is harmful.  Cannabis is “a dangerous drug with great potential for serious harm to young users” (ibid: 4).  Cocaine is “a dangerously addictive drug” (ibid: 5).  Its use results in “physical and psychological damage” (ibid: 6). The report thus is another example of a legalist ideology towards drug use, where any use of an illicit drug is deemed harmful and therefore considered drug abuse.

            One of the most interesting aspects of Library of Parliament Research Documents is that while a short bibliography is provided at the end of the report, footnotes or endnotes or any type of references are not provided in the body of the paper.  This makes it very difficult to know the author’s sources of information.  This is a particular problem when questionable research is cited.

            In terms of the research used as the basis of this report, it appears very selective as it only demonstrates the harmful consequences of marijuana and cocaine use.  This limited use of research will be explored using marijuana as an example.  As will be shown, there is a large body of research that contradicts the information presented in the report.

According to the report, cannabis is a drug of “considerable hazards” that are “not well understood by the public” (ibid: 4).  The harmful effects of marijuana use include “chronic intoxication, anxiety, hallucinations, respiratory toxicity such as bronchitis, dependence, and impairment of thinking and learning abilities” (ibid).  Regular use of cannabis can lead to “fragmentation of thought, diminished communications skills and overall personality impoverishment” (ibid: 5).  In addition “cannabis  psychosis” (this term is not explained) occurs in a small percentage of users (ibid: 4).

However, other research not included in this report, contradicts these findings.  Controlled experiments have caused many to classify marijuana as “an active placebo, meaning that it produces trivial physical effects and that users’ psychological reactions are created entirely by set and setting rather than by pharmacological action” (Miller 1994: 19).  According to Miller, the safety of marijuana can be measured “by its therapeutic ratio, the difference between the size of dose needed for the desired effect and the size that produces poisoning.  Marijuana is so safe that the therapeutic ratio has yet to be found….Nor has the lethal dose been calculated” (ibid).  The safety of marijuana is supported by the Drug Abuse Warning Network data system which ranked aspirin higher than marijuana in the number of drug – related deaths for 1986 (ibid).

Andrew Weil, who conducted some of the first controlled marijuana experiments from the 1960’s onwards, also attests that “the medical safety of marijuana is great” (1993: 118)[9].  Marijuana “does not kill people in overdose or produce other symptoms of relative toxicity.  Occasional use is no more of a health problem than the occasional use of alcohol” (ibid).  Weil argues that while “warnings of the medical dangers of cannabis have been well publicized, with reports of everything from brain damage to injury of the immune and reproductive systems”, such reports are “based on poor research, often conducted by passionate foes of the drug” (ibid).  Cross-cultural studies of populations that have used cannabis for years “do not reveal obvious illnesses that can be linked to marijuana” (ibid).

For this report, the research cited may have indeed involved studies conducted by “passionate foes” of marijuana use.  As mentioned, no references are cited within the body of the text, however the bibliography does reference the World Health Organization, and the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse among its sources.  The World Health Organization is well known for its anti-illicit drugs stance.  In fact, in 1998, the organization was accused of suppressing the release of a study that concluded that marijuana use poses fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco use (Abraham 1998: A1).

The Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, while considered a non-governmental organization, was implemented as part of Canada’s Drug Strategy in 1987 and receives the majority of its funding from the federal government.  As Reich argues a ”think institute” which relies on government financing “may be more eager to “think” along accepted lines”  as what the institute reports “very likely will have an impact on the future flow of largess” (Reich 1964: 767).  Thus, it is possible that the research conducted by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse may be biased towards a government view point as the Center relies on government resources to finance its research.

Thus, through its limited research which depicts all illicit drug use as dangerous, the report Drug Abuse in Canada contributes to the prohibitionist rhetoric.  Drug use is once again portrayed as “a threat of incalculable proportions to the health, social well-being and economy of the nation” (Library of Parliament Research Branch 1994: 7).

Substance Abuse and Public Policy

            This Library of Parliament report offers a stark contrast to the report Drug Abuse in Canada.  In fact, out of all the federal government publications on illicit drug use that were consulted for this thesis, this is the only document that does not use threatening, rhetorical language.

Substance Abuse and Public Policy is markedly different from the other consulted publications in several ways.  First of all, the definitions used in the report do not seem as limited as in other publications on drug use.  For example harm reduction is defined as both helping people avoid the use of harmful substances and enhancing “their ability to control their use” (Library of Parliament Research Branch 1996: 12).  Thus, unlike other publications, complete abstinence is not promoted as a goal of harm reduction.

Second, while this report recognizes that social and economic costs are inherent with drug use, it does not attribute these costs solely to the use of illicit drugs.  For example, substance abuse is estimated to cost more than $18.4 billion.  However, 53% of this cost can be attributed to tobacco use, 40% to the use of alcohol and only 7% to the use of illicit drugs (ibid: 11).  As illicit drugs make up such a relatively small percentage of the estimated social and economic costs of drug use, the use of licit drugs (alcohol and tobacco) is presented as more harmful.

Also, this document is unique in that it recognizes that a “lack of consensus” exists about the nature of dependence (ibid: 4).  The report asserts that while “some individuals exhibit a compulsive pattern of drug use leading to addiction”, others are able to “use the same drugs occasionally without developing such dependence” (ibid).

            In terms of specific drugs, the report acknowledges that it has not been determined whether cannabis is addictive (ibid: 8).  Also, contrary to the report Drug Abuse in Canada which portrays cocaine as a “dangerously addictive drug”, this report attests that “clinical studies of heavy cocaine users indicate that few experience the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with physical addiction” (ibid: 9).

            Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this report is that it specifically addresses both the moral failure model of drug use and the disease model: “The first categorization places the full responsibility of drug consumption on the individual, who is assumed to have made a free choice between moral and immoral behavior.  The second presumes that the dependent person is suffering from a disease” (ibid: 4).  The report concludes that neither model is “adequate as a full explanation” (ibid).            

While this document does not present illicit drug use in the same manner as other federal government publications, it also does not challenge the government’s policy on drug use.  This supports Foucault’s argument that “discourses put a limit on what is sayable at any one time: they define what counts as “legitimate” or “illegitimate” statements” (Ward 1997:129).  Thus, while a critique of the inadequacies of dependency theories is a legitimate statement, a critique of the government’s drug control policy is not.  Again this apparent tension in the debate gives the discourse an appearance of dynamism. It also helps to create a sense of confusion among the public as to exactly where the government stands on illicit drugs.  As Edelman argues, this confusion contributes to our acquiescence concerning drug policy.


The Center for National Security Studies


            The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) has authored one document relating to Canada’s drug policy.  The report, Canada and the War on Drugs, justifies the Canadian Forces’ (CF) participation in Canada’s Drug Strategy since 1992.  As the name of the document suggests, this report reifies the drug problem.  It is transformed into a “thing to be attacked, warred upon, expunged, exterminated, or otherwise gotten rid of” (Vallance 1993: 25). Out of all the federal publications on illicit drug use, this report is the most ideological, and above all, employs the most threatening language.

            The language in Canada and the War on Drugs constructs drug use as such a threat (the word “epidemic” is used), that only a War on Drugs can provide any possible solutions to the contrived problem.  In this report, only illicit drugs are portrayed as threatening to Canadians.  Cannabis is said to be the “principal drug of abuse in Canada” and cocaine “the second most popular drug of abuse” (CNSS 1994: A3-A4).  The exclusion of alcohol, nicotine and prescription drugs which actually are the leading drugs of abuse in Canada implies that the CNSS does not consider the licit drugs as “drugs”.  This exclusionary definition of drugs places the CNSS within the legalist discourse.

            Other limited definitions abound in this report.  For example, while addiction and drug abuse are never explicitly defined, they are phrased to insinuate that all drug use is abuse.  The CNSS writes that “the number of addicts has grown incredibly, with the latest statistics indicating that more than 35000 Canadians are users of illegal heroin; another 284000 are users of cocaine; and, at least 1.3 million are users of hashish, liquid hashish and marijuana” (ibid: 3).  The interchanging of the word “addict” with “user” implies that all drug users are addicts.  The flaws of this argument have already been discussed.

            This document also attempts to limit the framework in which drug use can be discussed.  Any argument that does not support the pursuance of a War on Drugs is deemed invalid.  For example, in a rebuttal against the drug legalization argument, the CNSS writes:

The “legalizers”, made up of a number of libertarian groups, propose an “easy way out” of the problem through decriminalization and the introduction of legal reforms to bring about a cultural acceptance for the use of drugs.  Unfortunately, legalization proposals commonly rest upon emotional appeals and faulty assumptions, and ignore the true impact of drug abuse….(ibid: 10).


It is concluded that “any attempts at legalization also need to be curtailed” (ibid: 12-13).  The legalizers, made up of “libertarian groups”, are the dangerous classes that must be repressed.

            The military perspective of this document is evident in CNSS’s depiction of drug use as a threat to national security.  In a “threat analysis” provided in an annex to the document, the CNSS writes that a primary threat of the illicit drug trade involves the threat of “narco-terrorism”.  Narco-terrorism “results from the sinister alliances formed between drug traffickers and insurgent groups” (ibid: A6):

Narco-terrorism is largely motivated by greed and the mutual advantages that traffickers and insurgents expect to achieve through their illicit liaisons.  For the drug trafficker, the use of terrorist tactics ensures the protection of drug supplies and the maintenance of discipline amongst the associated criminal element.  For the terrorist, involvement in drug trafficking provides cash to purchase weapons and finance operations (ibid).


Narco-terrorism is portrayed as a “national security concern because of its ability to destabilize democratic allies through the corruption of policy and judicial institutions” (Gordon 1994: 191).  As Gordon argues, the idea that drugs subvert national security is an important and common theme in the drug prohibition semantic.  She argues that it is used to legitimate the involvement of the military in drug policy, particularly at borders (ibid).  This is evidenced by the CNSS report which claims that “the military has a strong potential for enhancing the effectiveness of the surveillance and the interdiction effort.  Greater emphasis should in fact be placed on the use of the CF air and maritime resources in the counter-drug arena” (CNSS 1994: 12).

            According to Gordon (1994: 192), “there exists a link between the drug war’s ferocious embrace of the subversion theme and the drumbeat of anti-Communism in the 1950’s”.  Alexander (1990) believes that this link between anti-Communist sentiments and prohibition goes even deeper.  He writes that in the late 1980’s, Carlton Turner (Reagan’s drug policy advisor), “alleged that a goal of the supposedly Communistic drug dealers in Latin America was to destroy American democracy” (Alexander 1990:12).  There is evidence to suggest that the CNSS also links drug use, or more specifically “narco-terrorism”, with the threat of Communism.  For example, it is argued that “even at the state level there is evidence to suggest that unscrupulous [Communist] leaders such as Castro have sponsored narco-terrorism to achieve their national objectives (CNSS 1994: A7).  Thus, as Gordon (1994: 192) argues, “evidence that drugspeak serves both our cultural wars and the organizational needs of the military certainly abound”.

The report Canada and the War on Drugs is an ideological document that constructs drugs as a threat to national security to justify military involvement in Canada’s drug policy.  By continually using the metaphor of “war”, the CNSS is able to “mobilize energy in ways that mere solving of problems cannot” (Vallance 1993: 25).  The result is that “the war and its rhetoric become institutionalized” (ibid).




Federal government publications on illicit drugs demonstrate that the government has overwhelming access to and control over the discourse on drugs and drug use.  This control extends beyond the text of these documents.  For example, CDS (1998b: 8) asserts that a main focus of its policy will be to spread the anti-drug message as widely as possible, through radio, television, the internet and so forth.  The RCMP also recognizes the potential of the media “in sensitizing the public to the harmful effects of drug abuse upon individuals, their families and Canadian communities” (1998).  The RCMP plans to use radio, television, public service announcements as well as the enlistment of “high-profile” personalities as role models to promote “the drug free message” (ibid).

Thus, the federal government has privileged access to a variety of communicative events, including the media.  Through this almost exclusive access to the discourse, the government has been able to “influence the text and talk in such a way that, as a result, the knowledge, attitudes, norms, values and ideologies of recipients are – more or less indirectly – affected in the interest of the [government]” (van Dijk 1996: 85).

The government’s use of language, including the use of thematic structures (drugs are ubiquitous/drugs subvert national security) creates a discourse of anxiety.  The government both arouses and assuages this anxiety through “rhetorical constructions that blur reality”(Miller 1994:18).  For example, the statistic that 14% of school youth have used cannabis may sound alarming.  However, as stated earlier, it is not known how many of these youth used cannabis on an experimental basis.  Also whether this use was indeed “harmful” is a matter of debate.  Similarly, the reassuring statistic of a 600% increase in cocaine seizures does indeed sound impressive. However, this rhetorical construction again blurs reality as it reflects very little about how much cocaine is actually available, or about how many users have been diverted to potentially more harmful drugs.  These types of rhetorical constructions “coat drug control policy with a scientific veneer, but lack sufficient information to reach any conclusions. In contrast, careful studies that produce reasonable conclusions are typically ignored by government officials.  This contrast suggests that drug control policy may have a purpose unrelated to public health” (ibid).

If drug control policy is not necessarily related to public health, what can explain the vigor with which it is pursued?  The previous chapters have touched the surface of this issue.  Fear of the “dangerous classes”, the symbolism that drugs and drug users evoke, as well as the idea that prohibition fulfills a yearning for social order all play a part in the persistence of prohibitionist policies.  However, these concepts explain more why the public does not challenge prohibition.  The essential question is why the government and those in a position of power to create and influence the discourse (such as the medical community), continue to promote drug control in the face of research that challenges both its effectiveness and the very premises upon which it is built? 


The Therapeutic State and the Control of Personal Conduct


The government’s perception of illicit drug use is clear: drug use causes social misery.  Illicit drugs are dangerous and addictive: they are “unholy”.  And what about those who indulge in the use of these unholy substances?  They are obviously sick, out of control, and in need of outside intervention to protect them from these dangerous drugs and from themselves.  What are we to make of this government stance on drug use?  Are policy makers merely caught up in a tide of public opinion and unable to act in a manner that deviates from the public’s conception of drugs and drug users?  Edelman (1977: 51) argues that public officials and policy makers are not “helpless boats at the mercy of currents and passing storms, for officials help stir up the currents that move them”.  As discussed in the last chapter, the government has all kinds of means at its disposal (media etc.) to “build cognitive structures” (ibid).  In this way, the government is able “to shape mass opinion and then only reflect it” (ibid).

Thus, as demonstrated by the federal government publications, the government is largely responsible for shaping public opinion concerning illicit drugs.  The reasons why the government has categorically promoted the idea that any use of an illicit drug is dangerous and abusive are many.  They include the inability of government to deal with complex social issues, the tendency of our society to medicalize human problems, as well as a need for the government (or Therapeutic State) to legitimate social control.

Some would argue that the government’s pursuance of drug prohibition is merely reflective of society’s quest for simple solutions to complex problems. “Solutions”, as John Ralston Saul argues, “are the cheapest commodity of our day” (1992: 17).  They are applied without thought to major social issues “and then slip away without our consciously registering their failure” (ibid). The government’s drug control policy as asserted through their publications, reflects our need for “simple, absolute answers where, in reality, there is great complexity” (ibid: 20).  Saul argues that it is “an obsession with the true versus the false [that] leads us to artificial solutions as reassuring as the old certainty that the world was flat” (ibid). Thus, by invoking concepts such as drug abuse and addiction, the government is able to “focus on the alleged weakness and pathology of the individual, while diverting attention away from their pathological social and economic environments” (Edelman 1977: 27).  While it is often argued that many social problems including the misuse of drugs flows “from the functioning of economic institutions”, the government’s focus on drug control “defines economic institutions as a fixed part of the scene, not an issue to be confronted” (ibid: 28). As Gordon (1994: 115) argues, “it is much easier to view drug abuse as a cause of poverty than the other way around”. Thus, “the politicization of crime and drugs has become the bedrock of what might be called distraction politics” (ibid: 171).  Categorizing drug abuse as a distinct social problem which prohibition will solve, allows us to think uncritically about the issue (Edelman 1977: 27).  It “blinds us to structural determinants of drug abuse and impedes attention that we might otherwise pay to remedying those conditions” (Gordon 1994: 115). Ultimately,  it diverts our attention “from those results of established policies that are counterproductive” (Edelman 1977: 27)).

            It is also argued that the government prohibits the use of certain drugs to maintain the status quo.  According to this argument, “drug prohibition is not so much a presumption in favor of authority or social control but more a presumption in favor of social continuity and adherence to established customs and institutions” (Zimring and Hawkins 1992: 106).  This may explain the government’s apparent inconsistency in its attitude towards the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.  While the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco is indeed recognized, it is not a sufficient argument for prohibiting these substances (ibid).  As Zimring and Hawkins (1992: 106) explain, “those who accuse prohibitionists of being inconsistent in their attitudes toward alcohol and other psychoactive drugs fail to recognize the underlying consistency implicit in a preference for the status quo that is the fundamental basis of the prohibitionist position”.

            While the use of distraction politics and the desire to maintain the status quo certainly help explain the federal government’s stance on drug use, I believe that the issue is more complex.  As Reich (1964) explains, a number of events have led to a growth in the power of the State over the individual.  I believe that is the control of the State over the body that is both reflected and legitimated in the government’s discourse on drugs.

            An important change has occurred over the past few decades which has constituted the increased power of government in society.  That change, according to Reich (1964: 733), is “the emergence of government as a major source of wealth”.  This wealth, in the form of “money, benefits, services, contracts, franchises, and licenses” is replacing more traditional forms of wealth “which are held as private property” (ibid).  The result is that more and more North Americans live on government largess and are thus dependent upon maintaining a relationship with the government for their wealth (ibid).

The consequences of the growth in government largess are profound.  As Reich argues, when any level of government hands out something of value, whether a social assistance check or a license, “the government’s power grows forthwith” (ibid: 746).  “It automatically gains such power as is necessary and proper to supervise its largess.  It obtains new rights to investigate, to regulate, and to punish” (ibid).  Reich explains that one of the most serious consequences of government largess is that it gives government power over recipient’s moral character (ibid: 748).  When moral character is in question, “a new and unusual punishment” that has accompanied the growth of largess is the “denial or deprivation of some form of wealth or privilege that the agency dispenses” (ibid: 755).  For example, in the United States,  “the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 includes ‘user accountability provisions’ that require a judge to strip a convicted drug offender of such federal benefits as a student loan, a research grant, or a mortgage guarantee” (Gordon 1994: 35).  Drug offenders also frequently have their driver’s license suspended even when the offence has not been driving related (ibid).  The revocation of government largess extends beyond the individual drug offender.  The United States federal government has “threatened to punish states that do not enact such laws by withholding highway funds” (ibid).

While Reich’s extreme individualism may have questionable origins (see Williams 1995), that recent decades have seen “vast expansions of state power and state control” is supported by other authors (Johns 1992: 174).  Jensen and Gerber (1996: 429), tracing the history of civil asset forfeiture in the United States, conclude:

Asset forfeiture is, then, intended to serve as a criminal sanction but has been camouflaged as a civil one, thus requiring a lower standard of proof, and shifting the burden of proof away from the state onto the accused….Thus the state has extended its control over citizens and simultaneously weakened the rights of individuals to protect themselves against state intrusion (italics in original).


Johns (1992: 89) explains that the War on Drugs metaphor has been used by the government to “generate so great a perception of external threat that there is increasing tolerance for the expansion of state power into all phases of social life and the erosion of democratic freedoms”.  Jensen and Gerber come to a similar conclusion:

Because the illegal drug trade has been the focus of a moral panic in the United States, legislators, the judiciary, and the public alike have largely failed to realize the far-reaching harm that can result from this forfeiture policy and the potential for expansion of it into other areas of state control over citizens (1996: 429).


Thus, the possible loss of individual rights to state authority goes largely unchallenged by the public.  The moral crusade of the Drug War “produces a war-time mentality – the spirit that anything goes, including the sacrifice of constitutional freedoms” (Wicker cited in Johns 1992: 89).  As Johns concludes, “it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the War on Drugs in helping to legitimate a vast expansion of domestic state power over the past decade” (ibid).

With the increase in government largess, individuals are increasingly looking towards government “for aid in attaining their personal goals” (Szasz 1963: 221).  These goals not only involve the acquisition of wealth, but the maintenance of health as well.  When individuals look to the government to maintain health and “cure sickness”, the state assumes the role of therapist (ibid: 222).  This has given rise to what Szasz terms the Therapeutic State.  In contrast to Theocratic Societies, where “authorities have used God and Religion to bully man (sic) into submission”; Therapeutic Societies “use Science and Medicine to do so” (Szasz 1985:87).

Medicine and the State collaborate with the primary goal of maintaining social order through the “regulation of personal conduct” (ibid: 21)[10]. In terms of drug use, as soon as a drug user is categorized as an addict, he or she is considered “sick” and in need of treatment.  Like all patients, the addict becomes “a dependent and anxious person, malleable in the hands of the doctor and the health system, and open to their manipulation and moralism” (Taussig 1992: 86).  Once an individual enters the realm of “patient”, a “destructuration of the patient’s conventional understandings and social personality” can take place (ibid: 87).  The goal of the Therapeutic State through Medicine is to “restructure those understandings and that personality; to bring them back into the fold of society and plant them firmly with the epistemological and ontological groundwork from which the society’s basic ideological premises arise” (ibid).  This happens because the medical profession,  “though primarily medical and hence concerned with healing the sick, is also religious and magical and hence concerned with rituals of pollution and purification; and is also political and penological, and hence concerned with the social control of personal conduct” (Szasz 1985: 125). Thus, Medicine has come “to have a dual social character and function: to cure disease and to control deviance” (ibid: 137)[11].  What makes Medicine and hence the Therapeutic State particularly powerful is that this control and manipulation “is concealed by the aura of benevolence” (Taussig 1992: 87).

Within a Therapeutic State, human problems become medicalized.  Taussig (1992 ) provides the example of “maladaptation”.  “Maladaptation is of course not a thing, but a purely normative concept travelling under the disguise of scientific jargon” (ibid: 103).  It is a term used to cover all kinds of behavior from low work productivity to substance “abuse” (ibid).  By medicalizing human problems, “pointed political values [are] smuggled under the guise of technical constructs” (ibid).  The constructs remain “immune to criticism” because they are “stamped with the authority of the hard and impenetrable scientific fact” (ibid).  Szasz (1985: 163) argues that providing medical solutions to human problems can be compared to totalitarian politics: “[Both] come to the same thing in the end: namely, to the exaltation of the State and its secular-religious agencies of social control – science, medicine, and especially psychiatry, and to the degradation of the individual”.

Thus, the publications of the federal government reflect and legitimate the control of the Therapeutic State.  Early detection, intervention, enforcement, and harm reduction; all of these terms reflect the collaboration of government and Medicine in their attempt to maintain social order by preventing drug use.  In addition, the fact that it is the government and the medical professions that “control the definition of drugs as therapeutic or toxic, and hence their legitimacy and availability in the marketplace” is a reflection that we live in a Therapeutic State “and display its particular values” (ibid: 139).

If the Therapeutic State is concerned with maintaining social order, and does so by regulating personal conduct such as drug use, we need to ask why  drug use is a threat to social order?  Indeed, this is a popular theme in the federal publications on drugs: the idea that drug use causes “societal harm” by leading to the breakdown of social systems is reiterated throughout the documents.

Alexander (1990) and Szasz (1985) have some insights into this issue.  Alexander argues that drugs have become a threat to those seeking control, “because drugs have a real potential to increase personal power against societal control, at least temporarily”:

When used at the right times, drugs like LSD and marijuana really do facilitate extraordinary, marvelous ways of seeing the world, as testified by serious intellectuals like Aldous Huxley.  Under their influence, social conventions may seem arbitrary and individual expression may seem all important (Alexander 1990: 336).


Szasz (1985: 175) concedes this point.  He argues that independence is a “political sin” because “the person who controls himself, who is his own master, has no need for authority to be his master” (175).  Thus, “autonomy is the death knell of authority, and authority knows it: hence the ceaseless warfare of authority against the exercise, both real and symbolic of autonomy – that is, against…self-medication” (ibid).

            Gordon (1994) believes that drug control policy may indeed be concerned with issues of authority versus autonomy.  William Bennet, the former Drug Czar for the United States has said that “the drug crisis is a crisis of authority” (cited in Gordon 1994: 133).  Bennet called for the “reconstitution of legal and social authority through the imposition of appropriate consequences for drug dealing and drug use” (ibid).  Gordon argues that it is this authoritarian streak that “gives political energy to the prohibition movement” (ibid).

The fear of personal power and autonomy demonstrates that “it is always the body that is at issue – the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission (Foucault 1975: 25).  As Foucault writes, “the political investment of the body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use” (ibid).  The importance of the “economic body” is evident in the government publications on drug use..  Above all, drugs seem to be a problem for the government because they are believed to cause “low productivity”- a point which is emphasized repeatedly in the literature.  Szasz (1994: 376) explains the threat of drug use to the economic body:

The concept of free trade in drugs runs counter to our cherished notion that everyone must work and idleness is acceptable only under special conditions.  In general, the obligation to work is greatest for healthy, adult, white men….But the new wave of drug abuse affects mainly young adults, often white males, who are, in principle at least, capable of working and supporting themselves.  But they refuse: they “drop out”; and in doing so, they challenge the most basic values of our society.


It is thus the economic value of the body that drug use threatens.  And this is where the real battle between autonomy and authority takes place.  For, the constitution of the body “as a labor power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection,…the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body” (Foucault 1975: 25).

            Thus, repression of autonomy and the subjection of the body are effects of the power of the Therapeutic State.  But, as Foucault (1975: 194) argues, it is misleading to describe the effects of power in strictly negative terms.  “In fact, power produces; it produces reality” (ibid).  This creative aspect of power is discussed in Foucault’s work on sexuality.  When Medicine entered into the discourse of sexuality, particularly “peripheral sexualities”, “the control machinery of power that focused on this whole alien strain did not aim to suppress it, but rather to give it an analytical, visible, and permanent reality” (Foucault 1990: 201).  Likewise when Medicine enters into the realm of drug taking it also aims to give it an analytical, visible and permanent reality.  Like sex and sexuality, addiction and drug abuse have become abstract notions, “the titles used to cover all bodies and their pleasures” (Ward 1997: 131).  Through classifying and categorizing, “power operates as a mechanism of attraction: it draws out those peculiarities over which it keeps watch” (Foucault 1990: 202).

Thus, power creates reality.  To some extent, this power has created the “crisis” of drug use.  This is because controls, whether in the form of drug policy or medical and psychiatric examinations that discover the addict , “function as mechanisms with a double impetus: pleasure and power” (ibid).  On the one hand, there exists “the pleasure that comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out, palpates, brings to light” (ibid).  Or in other words “the power that lets itself be invaded by the pleasure it is pursuing” (ibid).  Opposite this is the pleasure “that kindles at having to evade this power, flee from it, fool it, or travesty it” (ibid).  This is power “that asserts itself in the pleasure of showing off, scandalizing, or resisting” (ibid).  This is the pleasure/power of drug use as an act of defiance or resistance.  This is not to say that all drug use stems from the pleasure and power derived from evading authority.  But some of it certainly does.  As Waterston (1993: 245) writes, “the very act of taking illicit drugs may be considered a form of resistance, a defiant gesture”.  Szasz concedes this point.  He argues that we can view the drug user in two ways: “as a stupid, sick, helpless child, who, tempted by pushers, peers, and the pleasures of drugs, succumbs to the lure and loses control of himself; or as a person in control of himself, who, like Adam, chooses the forbidden fruit as the elemental and elementary way of pitting himself against authority” (1985: 175).  If we recognize drug use as an act of rejecting authority, then the drug user becomes “a person in command of himself, the executor of responsible decisions” (ibid).  However, the Therapeutic State only perceives drug users as “the innocent victims of overwhelming temptation” (ibid).  Thus, drug policy has sought to  protect the user “from further temptation by treating him as a child, slave, or madman” (ibid).

By treating drug users as children, slaves, or madmen, the Therapeutic State maintains control over the individual.  But why is this control, this regulation of personal conduct so important?  Szasz believes that it goes beyond a fear of personal autonomy.  He argues that those supporting the Therapeutic State have a vested interest in controlling certain types of drug use.  He explains that many of the illicit drugs like opium are “simple and unpretentious” (1985: 65).  Opium and marijuana do not require a chemist, a pharmaceutical industry or a physician for their manufacture and administration (ibid).  “This”, Szasz writes, “threatens the doctor with displacement… by folk medicine and by the efforts of the sick person to cure himself through self-medication – all this making the physician dispensable and insecure” (ibid):

This, then, is also one of the important reasons why the modern physician has embraced synthetic pain killers and mood changers: there can be no Darvon or Valium without chemists, pharmaceutical industries, and physicians to prescribe them!  This makes the modern physician appear as a scientist, not a magician; and it makes him indispensable….(ibid).


            While Szasz’s claims may appear to brand him as a conspiracy theorist, they are supported by other evidence.  For example, consider the replacement of heroin with methadone as a means of treatment as discussed in Chapter Three.  Miller writes that opiates have “cross tolerance” meaning that one opiate can be substituted for the other (1994: 11).  If heroin and methadone produce the same effects on the user, then why is it necessary to substitute one for the other?  One explanation may be that prescribing methadone makes the physician (and pharmaceutical industry) indispensable.  Not to mention that the administration of methadone by someone with social power curtails the personal autonomy achieved through self-medication with heroin. 

            Lester Grinspoon, a prominent psychiatrist who has conducted extensive research on the medicinal uses of marijuana, also believes that vested interests play a part in drug control.  Grinspoon suggests that pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to spend money on researching the use of marijuana as medicine because the drug “cannot be patented” (Grinspoon and Bakalar 1993: 156).  It has also been suggested that marijuana is a threat to the pharmaceutical industry because it “will take the place of a lot of prescription drugs”, including Valium, Zanax and Tylenol (Reefer Madness 2 1998).

            The role of the pharmaceutical industry in the prohibitionist discourse exemplifies how vested interests are important in sustaining drug control.  For example, in the United States,  1991 tax records reveal that seven out of the twelve top corporate contributors to the Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) were pharmaceutical companies (the other five were alcohol and tobacco companies) (Buchanan and Wallack 1998: 333).  The largest financial contribution to the PDFA was a three million dollar donation given by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “a large private foundation whose endowment derives from the profits of the Johnson and Johnson Corporation” (ibid: 332).  The Johnson and Johnson Corporation, manufacturers of ValiumTM, LibriumTM and Tylenol-3TM, are linked to the PDFA through Jim Burke.  Burke, the former Chairman of the pharmaceutical company, is now the head of the PDFA (ibid).

            The pharmaceutical industry’s financial involvement in the PDFA is, at best, questionable.  Buchanan and Wallack (1998: 351) argue that by financing the PDFA and hence keeping the organization private, the pharmaceutical industry protects itself “from counter-ads that might run if a publicly financed, publicly controlled media campaign was initiated” (351).  The PDFA’s media campaign of sensationalizing the dangers of illicit drugs, in effect “takes the heat off legal and widely advertised drugs” including pharmaceuticals (ibid: 329).  A recent University of Toronto study revealed that the side effects from appropriately administered prescription drugs are now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States (Castleman 1998).  The study reveals that side effects “cause close to 106,000 deaths per year.  That’s more deaths than the annual totals for AIDS, suicide, and homicide combined, and equal to an astonishing 290 deaths per day” (ibid).  Thus by financing media campaigns that focus on illicit drug use, the pharmaceutical industry effectively detracts attention away from the dangers of legal drugs. 

            In addition to financing anti-drug advertising campaigns, the pharmaceutical industry is also a major contributor to medical organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) (Breggin 1998: 216).  As Breggin (1998) explains, in the 1970’s the APA found itself in a financial crisis.  Threatened by the growing popularity of psychologists, social workers and counselors in treating mental and social problems, the APA “had to convince the American public that psychological suffering should remain under the ultimate control of physicians, including psychiatrists” (ibid). To accomplish this, a “medical model” of psychiatry was invoked.  The premise of this model is that “emotional or spiritual suffering is rooted in genetics and biology, requiring drugs, electroshock and other ‘medical’ interventions” (ibid).  In order to promote the medical model of psychiatry, the APA enlisted the financial aid of the pharmaceutical industry.  As Breggin writes, drug companies have thus become “the financial engine for advertising and promoting psychiatric interests” (ibid: 223).

            The medical model of psychiatry requires that a variety of conditions, such as depression, anxiety and addiction, be portrayed as diseases (ibid).  As explained in Chapter 3, little is known about the nature of addiction, and the same can be said for the above mentioned illnesses.  But constituting a condition as a verifiable disease gives license to medical intervention, often in the form of drugs.  Thus, if addiction is held to be biologically based, then using “medical” drugs to treat drug abuse can be presented as a “logical” solution. Indeed, methadone treatment for heroin addiction can be seen as one result of the collusion between psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.  There are other examples.  Dupont Pharmaceuticals, who is also heavily involved in financing the PDFA, has recently developed a product known as ReviaTM.  ReviaTM , an opioid blocking drug, is stated to “block the physical dependence to morphine, heroin and other opioids” (Dupont 1999). However, the drug has no known effect on preventing relapse of opiate use (ibid).  In other words, ReviaTM is just a drug that temporarily inhibits the effects of other drugs.  It in no way “rehabilitates” the user.  Also ReviaTM is extremely toxic and has been contraindicated in acute hepatitis and liver failure (ibid).  That a potentially hazardous substance with no rehabilitative benefits is being promoted as a “treatment” to opiate addiction, accurately displays the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry in drug control.

            In addition to its intimate ties with the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry also maintains a close relationship with government.  This is particularly true in Canada, where the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of the federal government prides itself on their “friendly relations” with drug company representatives (Lexchin 1998: 490).  The HPB characterizes their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry as being “co-operative”, and maintain that they have an “open door policy” (ibid).  This position has recently led to criticism from scientists within the HPB who argue that “there has been a philosophical shift toward providing a service to the [pharmaceutical] industry” (Baxter 1998).  The HPB acknowledges that it now has a “business relationship” with the drug industry as drug companies must now pay a fee to the government “each time they seek regulatory approval for a drug” (Kennedy 1997).

            That the pharmaceutical industry may now view itself as a “client” of the government has certain repercussions.  For example, safety may be compromised as HPB scientists say that they are now “under pressure from drug companies and their own departmental managers to approve drug applications more quickly” (ibid).  The collusion between government and industry means that the drug companies’ interests will certainly be kept in mind when it comes to drug policy formation.  In fact, this may have occurred with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Bill C-8).  The Canadian Pharmaceutical Association publicly supported the punitive anti-drug legislation (Larson 1996: 19).  It would be interesting to learn what influence the pharmaceutical industry had on the development and implementation of Bill C-8. 

            Along with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industries, government officials and agencies (such as the police) also have a vested interest in drug control legislation.  As Gordon (1994: 161) argues, “prohibition politics serves as an important vehicle for acquiring or sustaining political power”.  Often, politicians will use tough drug policies “to capture political territory – either along  an ideological dimension, appealing to the cultural or religious right, or as part of the creation of an image of leadership” (ibid: 165). In fact, this may explain the start of Canada’s version of the War on Drugs in 1986.  After losing nearly one-half of their post-selection support, and dropping to second place in public approval ratings in less than two years in office, Mulroney and the Conservatives needed to bolster their declining popularity (Jensen and Gerber 1993: 455).  According to Jensen and Gerber (ibid), this declining public support, combined with increased media attention towards crack in the United States, made the instigation of a Canadian Drug War “a safe political issue to bolster [Mulroney’s] administration’s seemingly endless spiral downward in the polls”.

Support for drug control usually benefits collective political interests rather than individual politicians.  As Gordon explains, “weighing in  on the side of  protecting people from dangerous drugs and violence…is a relatively costless way to restore a bit of piety to political classes that have been damaged by revelations of private culpability and public corruption” (ibid: 170).  Also, support for tough drug policies is “a handy tool for one group to differentiate itself from its opponent in the political arena” (ibid).

In terms of government agencies, the police obviously have a vested interest in drug control.  When the RCMP was founded, “the new force was not uniformly welcomed, and it relied heavily on rigorous drug enforcement as one means of justifying its existence” (Solomon and Green 1988: 97).  Even today, “big [drug] busts and reasonable conviction rates serve to sustain morale among the police as well as justifying the allocation of personnel and financial resources by government” (Giffen et al. 1991: 132).  Also, the drug-related forfeiture of assets makes pursuing drug offenders a “big business” (Jensen and Gerber 1996: 423).  Between 1984 and 1992, asset forfeiture receipts in the United States grew from $27. 2 million to $874 million, “nearly a fortyfold increase” (ibid)[12].  While similar statistics are not available for Canada, it can be presumed that drug-related asset forfeiture is big business here as well.

Thus drug control policy often serves as a political and material resource.  While not all who benefit financially or politically from prohibition politics do so with the purposeful aim of profiting from the suffering of others, there is an element of “addiction mongering” where addicts are “manufactured” to make those involved in their treatment and rehabilitation “ever more indispensable and wealthy” (Szasz 1985: 66).

While the government’s prohibitionist policies can partially be explained as distraction politics or the desire to maintain the status quo, the need to legitimate the control of the Therapeutic State over the body must also be recognized as an important facet of the government discourse on illicit drugs.  It must be remembered that “if the War on Drugs was really aimed at the reduction of drug abuse and the misery and violence it can engender, than a rationalist perspective on drug policy – one which concentrates primarily on the explicit objectives that policy actors say they embrace – would presumably begin to consider serious and substantive alternatives to the prevailing prohibitionist pursuits” (Gordon 1994: 7).  This has not happened.  The War on Drugs is not only continuing, it is escalating (Erickson, 1992: 58).  The debate over drugs has thus “become less important for possibilities of concrete public action than for its breadth as a contested terrain on which battles over power and principles rage” (Gordon 1994: 7).

Thus, federal government publications on illicit drugs represent more than just inadequate solutions to a complex problem.  They also reflect and legitimate the control of the Therapeutic State over the body, particularly the “economic body”.  The control of personal conduct is pursued for a variety of reasons.  First of all, it is an authoritarian response to the personal autonomy that some drug use represents.   Secondly, it is pursued for pleasure:  the pleasure that accompanies the power to investigate, the power to seek out and articulate aberrant forms of drug taking behavior.  Finally, it is pursued because those who support the Therapeutic State, whether physicians, pharmaceutical companies, or politicians, have a vested interest in maintaining prohibition. 



With the renewal of Canada’s Drug Strategy in 1998, it is evident that drug policy in Canada continues to support the goals of prohibitionism established earlier in this century.  While “harm reduction” is the new catch phrase in government policy, it merely “puts a new face” on policies which favor enforcement in drug control (Erickson 1992: 260).  In order for “harm reduction” to be an effective strategy, the government will need to realize that “prohibition in and of itself can generate certain types of harms, at both the individual and societal levels, in direct proportion to the vigor of implementation” (ibid).  The government’s recognition of the harm of prohibition is unlikely to occur anytime soon.  “The inertia of Canada’s own history, its tradition of repressive laws and criminal justice institutions and procedures, impede fundamental change in drug policy” (ibid: 258).

            Historically, prohibition has served “many aims and interests other than the  declared objective of reducing dangerous drug abuse” (Gordon 1994: x).  This “shadow agenda” has often involved racial conflicts.  The first drug laws in Canada were enacted with the shadow agenda of marginalizing Chinese immigrants from the economic mainstream.  While the 1908 Opium Act targeted opium smoking among the Chinese, the 1908 Patent Medicine Act gave the Euroamerican pharmaceutical and medical industries the monopoly on manufacturing and selling opium.

            Today, prohibition still serves to marginalize the “dangerous classes”.  Illicit drug use has become associated with racial minorities, youth, the poor, and liberals.  The new dangerous classes are threatening not solely for their status within society, but for their demands upon society as well.  The language of enmity enables us to perceive the dangerous classes as such a threat that we can justify their political and economic abandonment.  For example, in the United States, users and sellers of crack have been categorized as the most violent of criminals.  This attribution of violence to crack users led to the establishment of “a 100 –1 sentencing ratio between possession of crack and powder cocaine” (Cockburn 1998: 11).  While the possession of only five grams of crack carries a minimum five year prison sentence, “the same mandatory minimum is not reached for any amount of powder cocaine under 500 grams” (ibid).  Cockburn argues that this law is “transparently aimed at blacks” (ibid: 12).  This is because most users of powder cocaine are white (58 percent of those arrested between 1986 and 1995) while an overwhelming majority (84 percent) of those arrested for possession of crack in the same period were black (ibid).

            Drug users have become scapegoats: they are symbols of all that is wrong in our society.  Whether moral failure or disease is attributed as the cause of drug use does not really matter: both serve to exclude the user from society.  As Ward (1997: 130) writes, “society defines itself by what it excludes”.  Thus by defining drug users as “criminal, mad, or ill, [society] reassures itself of its own sanity, health and naturalness” (ibid).

            Drugs themselves also must be understood by the imagery they invoke.  It is not because of their chemical nature that drugs are considered either holy or unholy.  In fact, the chemical properties of drugs have been erased by their fetishization.  We regard illicit drugs as so magical and powerful that the user loses self-control upon their ingestion.  Licit drugs, on the other hand, are also magical in that they bring people together in socially approved ceremonials.

            Above all, illicit drugs and their users have come to symbolize chaos: both at the individual and societal level.  At the level of the individual, illicit drug use is perceived to blur the sacred boundaries of mind and body; the rational and the irrational. At the societal level, drug use threatens social disorder: the breakdown of fundamental hierarchies of authority.  In this environment, prohibition emerges as antithesis to the supposed disorder caused by drug use. Symbolically, it encourages social solidarity and the coming together of communities.  Most of all, prohibition fulfils a yearning for order in society. Thus, drug use and prohibition must be understood by the symbols that they engender.

            The symbolic allure of prohibition is sustained by a political language that both “excites and mollifies our fears” (Edelman 1998:131). Indeed, it is through ”linguistic evocations and associated governmental actions [that] we get a great many of our beliefs about what our problems are, their causes, their seriousness [and] our success or failure in coping with them” (ibid: 138).  In the case of our drug problem, language use that is both anxiety provoking and reassuring creates ambiguity that often leads to acquiescence regarding policy.  Also, the authoritative language of the helping professions establishes that addiction is a verifiable disease that requires professional intervention and is thus too complex for the public to understand.  This obviously sets limits on the discourse, because the ideas (and definitions) of those who possess the authority to speak will rarely be questioned by those with subordinate roles.

            The federal government publications on drug use sustain the symbolic allure of prohibition.  Drugs are fetishized.  Health Canada presents illicit drugs as so magical and powerful in nature that to use them just once is believed to lead to depravity and addiction (1995: 4). While the language in government publications threatens the “social misery” of drug use, it also fulfils the yearning for social order.  The eradication of drug use is promoted as an achievable goal: if only we all join together in the fight against drug use.  The government’s language is powerful because it to a large extent manipulates our “mental models of social events” (van Dijk 1996: 86).  Unless we have access to alternative forms of information (which is unlikely since the government’s drug message is also promoted through the mass media), then we are persuaded into accepting the knowledge, attitudes and ideologies promulgated by the government. 

            The inertia of Canada’s drug policy over the last century can be explained by several factors.  First of all, it is simply the desire of policy makers to maintain the status quo.  More important however, is the idea that drug control survives because it reflects and legitimates the control of the Therapeutic State over the body.  Drug use threatens both authority and productivity because drug use often is a declaration of personal autonomy that sometimes involves the withdrawal of the body as a labor force. Drug control also is sustained because it is a discourse of power. This power involves a certain sensuality: pleasure and power cannot be separated. To some extent, this pleasure/power helps to create some forms of drug use.  For, a response to the power of authority is often the pleasure and power of resistance. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, drug control is pursued because of vested interests. The medical and pharmaceutical industries, politicians, and the police often benefit politically or financially from prohibition.

            What is the future of drug policy in Canada, and what are the possible alternatives to the current strategy of prohibition?  Recently, an interesting article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen that suggests that the government might be changing its position that marijuana is a “dangerous drug with great potential for serious harm” (Library of Parliament Research Branch 1994: 4).  In March of 1999, the federal government announced that it “plans to conduct human clinical tests to determine if smoking marijuana can reduce pain in terminally ill patients” (Beltrame and Greenaway 1999: A1).  These trials are seen by many as “the first step toward legalizing the drug for medical purposes” (ibid).  This is an interesting development considering that only five years ago the government attributed chronic intoxication, dependence and “overall personality impoverishment” as the consequences of marijuana use (Library of Parliament Research Branch 1999: 4-5).  How can this change of heart be explained?  I believe that an increase in public and media awareness about the possible benefits of marijuana use has been responsible for changing the status of marijuana from an “unholy substance” to a potentially “holy drug”.  For example, a recent television program hosted by the respected David Suzuki presented convincing evidence about the benefits of marijuana for medicinal purposes and criticized the current policy of criminalization ( Reefer Madness 2, 1998).

            However, marijuana’s change of status from an “unholy” to potentially therapeutic substance does not challenge our basic presumptions about drugs and drug users.  Legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes is still out of the question for the government.  When pleasure is the aim of drug use, then self-medication is still a crime.  Also,  the basic premise of why we conceptualize some substances as “holy” and others as “unholy”  remains unquestioned. Interestingly,  many of the same people that support the legalization of marijuana also support increasingly harsh penalties for users of heroin or crack cocaine.  Thus, legalization is often a movement that only supports the decriminalization of the drugs of preference of the middle class (i.e. marijuana), while simultaneously condemning the users of still unholy substances (who coincidentally are usually members of the dangerous classes) to “harsher and harsher police control, surveillance and punishment” (Johns 1990: 176).  This step towards the possible legalization of medicinal marijuana is thus not a challenge to the discourse on drugs - it is a part of it. This supports Foucault’s idea that discourses are controlled systems of knowledge.  Within a discourse, there are legitimate and illegitimate statements and ideas.

            Would the legalization of all illicit substances be a valid alternative to our current drug policy?  This is a difficult question.  One of many problems with the legalization argument is that its proponents seem unsure of how it should proceed.  Some advocates favor full legalization: a sort of “free-trade” in drugs (Szasz 1994: 375).  Others want drugs available under a “strict medical prescription” (Vallance 1993: 93).  Some advocates of decriminalization suggest that drugs should be sold in strictly controlled government stores with sales to minors prohibited (ibid).  Indeed, this lack of unanimity in the legalization argument is perceived as one its main flaws.  It has been argued that “most of those in the legalization movement are not considering carefully the terms of any legalization deal that may eventually be offered” (Johns 1992: 175).

Other criticisms of the decriminalization movement are more serious.  For example, like prohibition, “the legalization of drugs will not solve the fundamental social problems that exist in society” (ibid).  If many of our social problems flow from economic institutions, then a policy that focuses strictly on decriminalization without addressing the social and economic aspects of drug use will merely again serve as distraction politics.

            I believe that finding an acceptable alternative to our current drug policy cannot proceed until we question some of the fundamental ideas that help to sustain a prohibitionist discourse.  For example, the notion that addiction is a “disease” and that abstinence is the desirable cure needs to be critically examined.  Indeed, this is already happening in the case of alcoholism.  A Canadian program called Drinkwise “gives problem drinkers the choice to either control their intake or abstain” (Bauer 1998).  Drinkwise “provides an alternative to the concept that alcoholism is a disease, suggesting instead that not all drinking problems are alike and that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution” (ibid).  Indeed, some go as far as to argue that the disease theory of alcoholism is a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  Audrey Kishline, founder of Moderation Management (Drinkwise’s U.S equivalent) argues that “some problem drinkers can control their drinking but are told they can’t….If they buy into that belief, they may feel that all is lost after one drink and end up going on a binge” (cited in Bauer 1998). 

            Clearly, the concept behind Drinkwise has applications to other drugs as well.  However, until we stop fetishizing all illicit drugs as powerfully addictive in and of themselves, moderation or “harm reduction” in the true sense of the word seems an unlikely possibility.

Thus, the future of Canada’s drug policy is unclear.  The history of prohibition, its symbolic allure, as well as the vested interests which it sustains will certainly hinder any fundamental change to the current course of drug control.  Not until we “are able and willing to accept men, women, and children as neither angels nor devils, but as persons with certain inalienable rights and irrepudiable duties, shall we be able and willing to accept heroin, cocaine, and marijuana as neither panaceas nor panapathogens, but as drugs with certain chemical properties and ceremonial possibilities” (Szasz 1985: 181).


[1] As van Dijk explains, “social power is control exercised by one group or organization (or its members) over the actions and/or minds of (the members) of another group.  It is often institutionalized “so as to allow more effective control, and to enable routine forms of power production” (1996: 85).


[2] While Potter and Wetherall’s method of discourse analysis was employed to analyze psychological interviews, their method is equally applicable to textual analysis.


[3] According to Erickson, “the term prohibitionism includes the array of laws, criminal justice practices and social evaluations that serve to suppress particular forms of drugs, forbidding their use, production and sale” (1992: 239).


[4] The term “dependence” is part of the language of the War on Drugs and will be discussed fully in the next chapter.  During the temperance movement in the 19th century, dependence and addiction came to refer to the habitual use of a drug (Alexander 1990: 114). 


[5] Taussig (1987: 465) has an interesting definition of magic that fits well here.  He writes that magic has become “a gathering point for Otherness in a series of racial and class differentiations embedded in the distinctions made between Church and magic and science and magic”.  Drugs are magical – they stand as Other to God in that their use is seen as immoral, and they stand as Other to science in that their use is seen as irrational (Manderson 1995: 812). “Here magic exists not so much as an “it” entity true to itself but as an imaginary Other to the imagined absoluteness of  God and science” (Taussig 1987: 465).


[6] One of the most recent anti-drug commercials that I have seen, sponsored by the PDFA, involves a teenage girl depicting the damage caused by heroin use.  The girl takes a large iron frying pan and proceeds to destroy the entire kitchen she is standing in, while screaming things like “this is your life on heroin”.  The commercial is quite violent and shocking.


[7] Alexander defines “negative addiction” as a harmful involvement with a substance or activity “that creates a persistent barrier to essential parts of [a person’s] personal and social potential (1990: 105 and 122).  Negative addictions that do not involve drugs can include gambling and harmful eating or dieting practices.  Centrifugal addiction is a short term phase where certain aspects of life are driven to the periphery. The person becomes “involuted and intensely focused” (ibid: 120). Alexander argues that centrifugal addiction is often a necessary part of development and that it can be a positive experience for many (ibid: 122).  He provides the example of students who had become involved with marijuana or LSD over a summer and looked back on the experience “as temporary and positive” (ibid: 120).   In terms of addiction as a temporary refuge, Alexander writes that ‘there is now overwhelming evidence that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is often transient and frequently disappears without professional treatment (ibid: 286).


[8] For a comparison with the United States’ National Drug Control Strategy see Zimring and Hawkins (1992).  For an interesting account of European drug policies and their contrast to the North American “War on Drugs” approach, see Dorn, Jepsen and Savona (1996) and Cohen (1997) .


[9] Other research supports Weil’s claim.  For example, see Grinspoon (1971), Soloman (1966), and Kaplan (1970).

[10] Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1998: 209) use the term “body politic” to refer to “the regulation, surveillance, and control of bodies (individual and collective)…in sickness and other forms of deviance and human difference”.


[11] See also Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1998) and Singer (1998).




[12] In the United States, some of the revenue from asset forfeiture can be distributed among any law enforcement agency that participated in the seizure of assets (Jensen and Gerber 1996: 425).


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