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New Research in Drug Enforcement

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few recent highlights concerning the sometimes problematic implementation and enforcement of drug laws. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Tokin up in the 5280: Insight into how Denver police officers make sense of, and define, interpret, and react to the legalization of marijuana

Author: Hoofnagle, Kara K.

Abstract: Laws surrounding the possession, use, and distribution of marijuana have undergone many changes for over a century. Political pressures and social prejudices have most often been the cause of these changes, rather than scientific research or rational thinking. As a result, the law has sometimes lagged behind social practice as in the current case in much of the U.S., including Colorado. In such an environment, it often falls on a police officer’s definition, interpretation, and reaction to the laws to determine the extent to which certain laws and sanctions are enforced. Drawing on the work of Weick (1976), this dissertation utilizes the theoretical framework of sensemaking to examine two research questions. First, what sense are police officers in Colorado making of new legalization of marijuana laws? Second, how are officers defining, interpreting, and reacting to marijuana laws in Colorado? Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 Denver police officers. Findings suggest that the lack of bright line policies regarding marijuana enforcement play a role in officers making sense of the law in different ways. Officers’ definition and interpretation of marijuana law seems to be founded upon their experiences, as well as the experiences of their peers. Several unintentional consequences of marijuana legalization were identified by officers, and appear to play a substantial role in the sensemaking process. Theoretically, this research contends that the four key components of sensemaking (Weick 1976) (i.e., social process, ongoing process, reliant on extracted cues, and based off of plausibility rather than accuracy) are interwoven with the aspects of defining, interpreting, and reacting to laws. As such, a call exists for the elaboration or construction of a theory combining the intertwined elements of defining, interpreting, and reacting to organizational change with the interwoven elements of sensemaking. Findings suggest several policy implications. The call for Colorado and all states that are considering legalization for recreational purposes is to create bright line policies in an effort to reduce confusion among officers. The construction of such policies will reduce the grey area in which officers operate thereby ensuring that users are treated fairly across all jurisdictions and states.

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Danner, Mona J. E.

University/institution: Old Dominion University

Junkies and Jim Crow: Drugs, race, and incarceration in New Orleans, 1880-1980

Author: Tallaksen, Amund Rennesund

Abstract: This dissertation traces the epidemiology of illicit drug use in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1880 to 1980. By highlighting the changing demographic patterns of drug use and the corresponding drug policies enacted at the federal, state, and municipal levels, I argue that because the vast majority of drug arrests and convictions are conducted by local law enforcement under the auspices of state law, a historical study of state-level drug policies is essential to understand the history of drugs in the United States. Dividing the history of illegal drug use in New Orleans into two distinct periods, before and after World War II, this dissertation makes three interrelated arguments. First, during the first half of the twentieth century, New Orleans suffered higher levels of heroin addiction than other cities in the Deep South, and the city served as a regional distribution hub because of its busy port and the presence of a local Italian-American Mafia, the only such organization in the South at the time. After World War II Louisiana politicians, in an effort to target organized crime, helped pass stricter drug laws both in Baton Rouge and in Washington, D.C. More punitive than any previous drug law in Louisiana, the 1951 law transformed New Orleans’ illicit drug markets; the Mafia left the local heroin business and ceded space to African American underworld entrepreneurs. Second, as young African American men became the new face of the heroin economy and as the illicit markets moved into poor black neighborhoods, segregationists and reactionary whites came to exploit the perceived connection between blackness and criminality. Third, I argue that the illicit economy, centered in African American areas, was not simply a symptom of urban decay, but a contributing factor to white flight and capital flight out of New Orleans, highlighting heroin’s role in the urban crisis of the late 20 th century.

Degree date: 2015

Advisor: Acker, Caroline J.

University/institution: Carnegie Mellon University

Understanding what factors influence Florida State Troopers to enforce the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) statute: A phenomenological study

Author: Walwyn, Celvin G.

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to explore Driving Under the Influence (DUI) enforcement in Central Florida and the factors that causes Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Troopers to perform such enforcement based on their lived experiences and their possibly perceived DUI enforcement obstacles. Many studies exist on how to reduce the number of lives lost on the nation’s roadways caused by impaired drivers who are driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. Most of these prior studies were conducted from the viewpoint that reduction of loss of life and serious bodily injury to motorists can be accomplished through public education that demonstrates the perils of driving while impaired or under the influence. Other studies found that reducing serious bodily injury and death on the nation’s highways might be accomplished through strict enforcement of the traffic laws against driving while impaired. A review of literature over the last 30 years found no articles focusing on the experiences of Florida State Troopers in Central Florida who are responsible for the enforcement of the DUI statute. The majority of the studies conducted on DUI in Florida focused on what could be done to stop persons from driving under the influence through public education and law enforcement. That left a gap in understanding what influenced Florida State Trooper in Central Florida to enforce the DUI statute because the experiences of the state troopers who enforced the statute were never included in any of the studies. In order to address the research gap, the researcher chose a qualitative study using the underpinnings of phenomenology to explore the perceptions of the 10 Florida State Trooper participants who patrol Central Florida. Interviews were conducted, and the participants spoke of their experiences in enforcing the statute. The data was analyzed, and the themes based on the experiences of the participants were identified. The themes of enforcement decision-making, enforcement and perception of the value of the job being done, supervisor-subordinate, and productivity were discovered. The study provides information that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement may use to enhance training in the enforcement of the DUI statute.

Subject: Public health; Criminology

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: McKoy, Kathy D.

Committee members: Franks, George; McKoy, Kathy D.; Moran, Nathan

University/institution: Capella University

Department: School of Public Service Leadership


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