To what extent will the drug-crime nexus remain after drug laws liberalisation? An examination of criminal charges among patients in treatment for cannabis use disorders and controls under varied drug policy regimes
A growing number of states and jurisdictions have reduced or removed criminal sanctions on violations of drug laws. While there is no expectation that liberalization of drug laws would result in elimination of all offences committed by drug market participants, reductions in both drug-related crimes and law enforcement expenditures have been important arguments in favour of these policy changes. Despite these arguments however, there is limited knowledge with regard to how different drug policy regimes may influence the nature and extent of drug-related offenses. This longitudinal study investigates all criminal charges among patients in treatment for cannabis use disorders (CUD) and controls, as well as the factors associated with being charged. It further examines how these charges may be affected under several hypothetical drug policy scenarios.
We utilized data from the Norwegian Patient Registry (NPR), which comprises administrative information on all patients in specialist healthcare services in Norway. The sample included all individuals admitted to substance use treatment with cannabis-use related disorders as the principal diagnosis (n=3,951) in 2009 and 2010. compared this treatment sample to a randomly drawn sample of comparable demographics from the general population (n=7,902). Using national identification numbers, additional information on all study participants were then obtained from other national administrative registers, including data on criminal charges and incarceration, education, employment and welfare benefits spanning the period up to 2014.
The number and types of charges for drug-related and non-drug-related law violations were analysed, and their associations with various risk factors were examined via regression models. Further, we estimated the hypothetical effect on criminal charges if currently illegal drugs in Norway were to be a) decriminalized (i.e., all criminal charges for personal use and possession eliminated) or b) legalised (i.e., all charges for cultivation, manufacturing, and sales also eliminated).
Preliminary results indicate that 70% of patients had been charged with at least one criminal offence during the observation period; 56% with at least one drug law violation, 28% with theft, and 19% with violent crime, while the corresponding estimates for controls were 3%, 2% and 2%, respectively. Factors positively associated with being charged with a criminal offence were being male, having only compulsory education, having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and having an additional diagnosis for use of opiates, sedatives or poly-drug use. Factors negatively associated with criminal charges were being employed or studying, receiving health-related benefits, and having a mood disorder or a neurotic disorder diagnosis.
Analysis concerning putative changes in the number and types of charges under the hypothetical drug policy scenarios have not yet been completed but a full set of results will be presented at the conference.
Majority of CUD patients were charged with one or more criminal offence during the follow-up period. The potential effects on charges under hypothetical decriminalization or legalization will be discussed.