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Jailed for Possession

Jailed for Possession: Illegal Drug Use, Regulation, and Power in Canada, 1920-1961

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    Jailed for Possession
    Book Description:

    Jailed for Possessionis the first social history of drug use in Canada and provides a careful examination of drug users and their regulators including doctors, social workers, and police officers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2727-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    What would happen if we legalized or decriminalized drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana? Would use increase? Would there be more addiction and drug-related deaths? Would the problems caused by drug prohibition, such as drug-trade violence, addiction-related crime, and the poor health of users, disappear? By decriminalizing or even legalizing drugs, could we improve the lives of users and reduce the societal costs of addiction? Or would we just make things worse?

    In the 1990s, as rates of drug use increased, profits from the drug trade funded military conflicts around the globe, and HIV and hepatitis C wrecked the...

  5. Chapter 1 The Drug Panic of the 1920s and the Drive for Chinese Exclusion
    (pp. 16-34)

    Opiates have been described as the world’s best painkillers, as an elixir for the romantic imagination, and as a dangerous cause of moral decay. Cocaine has been seen both as a harmless ‘glamour drug’ and as a catalyst of inner-city violence. Drug users themselves interpret the effects of drugs differently, depending on their cultural background, their preconceived ideas about drugs, and the environments in which they use them.¹ In other words, language and practices construct the meanings of drug use for both users and non-users. Although there have been occasional celebrations of drug use, especially in the later part of...

  6. Chapter 2 ‘Hop Heads’: The Effects of Criminalization, 1920–1945
    (pp. 35-65)

    From 1920 to 1945, the types of drugs used, the people using them, and the consequences of drug use changed significantly. This was not just the result of increased penalties. Other factors, including the Great Depression, social disapproval of drug use, and changes in the Chinese population, also played a role. Nonetheless, criminalization and harsher penalties made drug use an increasingly risky and dangerous activity. After 1922, drug users, who were often described as ‘hop heads,’ frequently served long terms in prison for possession. The intense policing and increased cost of drugs also prompted some users to switch from smoking...

  7. Chapter 3 ‘Hypes’: Using and Quitting, 1945–1961
    (pp. 66-91)

    From 1945 to 1961, the harsh drug laws of the early 1920s remained in place, and the state put even more resources into policing. Users spent much of their life in prison. The relative prosperity of this period and its homogeneous social norms meant that few people were attracted to the risky life of drug use. The few who did become users, or ‘hypes’ as they were often called, were drawn from the troubled and the poor. Users started young and had usually spent time in juvenile detention homes or in prison before they started using drugs. For these rebellious...

  8. Chapter 4 ‘After a Short Struggle’: Police Officers and Drug Users
    (pp. 92-114)

    The leading role in enforcing Canada’s harsh drug laws fell to the police, and they exerted tremendous power over drug users’ lives. Other regulators, including doctors and social workers, were also involved in drug users’ lives, as I will discuss later, but drug users often had the option of seeing a doctor or a John Howard Society social worker. They had no choice when it came to police officers who raided their homes and assaulted them on the streets. From the early 1920s to the early 1960s, the number of police increased enormously relative to the number of users, and...

  9. Chapter 5 Proscribing Prescribing: Doctors, Drug Users, and the Division of Narcotic Control
    (pp. 115-129)

    Police officers deliberately sought drug users out, but doctors regarded drug users as troublesome and manipulative patients and were usually happy to stay away from them. And yet, doctors and medical discourses exerted considerable influence over drug users’ lives. Individual doctors decided whether to prescribe narcotic drugs to desperate patients, small numbers of psychiatrists ‘diagnosed’ and treated drug users, and a few influential members of the profession came to play an important role in drug law and policy. At the same time, doctors might have been forgiven if they saw themselves as the ones being regulated.¹ The Opium and Narcotic...

  10. Chapter 6 Turning Rounders into Square Johns: Drug Users and the John Howard Society
    (pp. 130-150)

    While police officers saw their job as arresting and incarcerating drug users, social workers at the John Howard Society of British Columbia (JHS), a prison-visiting society, aimed to help those who used drugs. This chapter will examine the JHS’s work with its drug-using clients from 1931, when the agency first began operation, to 1961, when the new Narcotic Control Act passed. At the JHS, middle-class social workers encouraged drug users to give up their ‘rounder ways’ and to find employment and friends outside of the drug-using world. They also provided drug users with comfort, occasional financial support, and advocacy. Most...

  11. Chapter 7 Free Drugs or Prison for Life? Changing Approaches to Treatment
    (pp. 151-158)

    Even in the 1920s, journalists and social reformers demanded treatment for the unfortunate drug user, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. The Narcotic Division insisted that treatment was a provincial matter. They encouraged the provinces to pass legislation to provide for the treatment of addicts, but only Alberta and Nova Scotia passed such legislation, and only Alberta put it into effect.¹ When the drug panic of the early 1920s faded, and the ‘nefarious’ Asian trafficker disappeared from the drug discourse, the idea that addicts were ‘sick’ people who required treatment grew in strength. In part, the Great Depression increased...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-162)

    The world of drug use has changed dramatically since 1961. There is a much broader range of drugs in use, there is far more polydrug use, and there are dramatically more users from a much greater diversity of backgrounds. The increased volume and velocity of international trade, the growth of global inequalities, the intensification of consumerism, and the technological changes allowing for many small underground laboratories have made controlling the drug market even less feasible than it was in the years 1920–61. The large number of users makes it impossible for the police to even contemplate the type of...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 163-172)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 173-212)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-232)
  16. Index
    (pp. 233-242)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)