Date of Award

10-1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

Professor W.B. Shaffir

Abstract

This study examines today's dominant strategies of drug reform rhetoric from a social constructionist perspective, focusing specifically on the movement for marijuana law reform in the legal-political context of Canada. In the first chapter, recent developments in social problems theory are examined in terms of the ongoing debate among constructionists over the meaning of reality and "objectivity" in the human sciences. The second chapter outlines the methods of data collection and analysis, along with some of the problems I encountered, in a study of thirteen "public figures" variously connected and identified with the cannabis reform movement in Canada. A key rhetorical strategy employed by several of the reformers I interviewed--the strictly rational "harm reduction" approach to drug use and policy--is examined in the third chapter, wherein it is generally described as a preeminently pragmatic, public health response to the drug problem that seeks to reduce personal and societal harms due to drug (ab)use rather than prohibiting drug use per se. Despite steadfast resistance from status quo supporters, the harm reduction movement, emphasizing education and treatment over more punitive drug control measures, is increasingly recognized among analysts as a viable and pragmatic policy alternative to prohibition. Harm reduction options for cannabis focus primarily on lowering the cost to society of enforcing ineffective drug laws with resources that are clearly inadequate to deter widespread recreational use. By easing restrictions prohibiting simple possession and use of the drug, as long has been argued by several of the participants in this study (e.g., Solomon, Single, and Erickson 1983), even partial decriminalization in Canada would substantially lower the cost of enforcement and mitigate the personal impact of imposing criminal sanctions on users. In light of these claims, I discuss several cannabis control options aimed at reducing the harms due to overly punitive drug control measures. In addition, I examine a concern that is more commonly reserved for users of "hard drugs," that is the reduction of harm due to regular use. Harm reduction's claims to strict rationality notwithstanding, the movement has had difficulties influencing policy due to some key practical and political problems. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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