The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
deprivations to the criminal sanctions for drug offenses (e.g., confinement, fines) and the typical collateral consequences of all criminal convictions (including loss of the right to vote if the conviction is for a felony). For some, these supplemental sanctions may be justified simply because people who use illegal drugs are not deserving of assistance by the state. However, in the absence of such an independent moral justification, the instrumental argument for these sanctions would appear to be that threatened loss of student loans, driver’s licenses, and welfare benefits augments deterrence, promotes user accountability and suppresses the demand for drugs. At the present time, however, there is no evidence one way or the other regarding whether these added noncriminal sanctions (denial or revocation of privilege or benefits) exert any additional deterrent effect.
Second, what are the costs or side-effects of these practices? In some ways, this is a subset of more general questions now being raised about the costs of stigmatization associated with criminalization of drug offenders, including the consequences of imprisoning, as felons, such a large proportion of the nation’s young black male population (Nagin, 1998). However, the specificity of the supplemental sanctions for drug offenders (denial of housing and welfare benefits) raises further questions about the desirability of further stigmatizing people who have used illegal drugs.
Denial of benefits and privileges implicates a key ethical issue in drug abuse prevention. Sanctions and punishments, of whatever kind, exert their preventive effects at the population level—by symbolizing strong social disapproval and thereby reinforcing drug-free social norms, by deterring initiation by youths, and by encouraging recreational users to terminate use as they move into traditional social roles. However, denial of benefits and privileges intended to maintain normative disapproval and credible deterrent threats, tend to fall largely on the most disadvantaged part of the population.
The committee recommends that the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute on Drug Abuse collaborate in stimulating research on the effects of supplemental sanctions, including loss of welfare benefits, driver’s licenses, and public housing, on the use of illegal drugs.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order directing federal agencies to establish a comprehensive employee drug testing program, setting the stage for adoption of drug testing policies throughout the workforce. In 1989, the National Drug Control Strategy, predicted that workplace drug testing would prove to be a powerful deterrent to drug