Other Considerations

Prescribing and enforcing punishments for drug use potentially contribute to the instrumental goals of drug control policy mainly by depressing the incidence, prevalence, and frequency of consumption. However, enforcing these laws can also facilitate treatment of arrested users (see Chapter 8). Rational drug control policy must also take into account the costs of enforcing sanctions against users in order to address the cost-effectiveness of different enforcement strategies, or to assess whether the benefits of a given approach bear a reasonable relationship to the costs, thereby confronting one of the critical issues in the drug policy debate. These costs include expenditure of resources for policing and for processing these cases; the losses attributable to stigmatization and imprisonment (see Demleitner, 1999; Erickson, 1993); and the negative impact on perceived legitimacy of the drug laws and on respect for the legal system, an effect that can also undermine the moral basis of obedience (Tyler, 1990).

The committee recommends that the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute on Drug Abuse collaboratively undertake research on the declarative and deterrent effects, costs, and cost-effectiveness of sanctions against the use of illegal drugs. Particular attention should be paid to the relation between severity of prescribed sanctions and conditions of enforcement and the rates of initiation and termination of illegal drug use among different segments of the population.


In the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Congress invoked a new category of sanctions for drug offenders to augment the criminal sanctions imposed by state and federal law. Under the act, federal and state judges are authorized to deny 460 types of federal benefits to persons convicted of any drug offenses, including simple possession. Benefits that may be denied or revoked include student loans and small business loans (Sullivan, 1989). In 1990, Congress directed the secretary of transportation to withhold a portion of a state’s highway funds (beginning in 1993) unless it enacted laws mandating suspension of driving licenses for at least six months for all drug offenders, regardless of age (or unless the governor or legislature explicitly refused to do so). About twenty states have adopted such provisions, which typically apply to both drug and alcohol offenses. (Some state courts have struck down these statutes as applied to cases in which the predicate drug offense is unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle.)

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement