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Chapter 6. Effects One Year Later: Period of Social Criminalization PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Erickson   
Thursday, 08 January 1981 00:00
Chapter 6. Effects One Year Later: Period of Social Criminalization

The consequences following the designation of a criminal label were ascertained by following up the sample members one year after their court appearance and sentencing. After this interval, 90% (N=85) of the original sample were reinterviewed. Those who could not be interviewed for a second time tended to be older, not living with parents, and neither employed nor in school at the first interview. Otherwise respondents and non-respondents to the final interview were very similar. Sample attrition was not related to levels of cannabis use (see Appendix B). Thus the final sample of 85 offenders may be considered representative of the original one with respect to the effects of social criminalization.

As in the previous chapter, costs will be assessed in several areas, as well as benefits in regard to deterrent effects. The topic of subsequent criminality will also be addressed as a separate cost area. In addition to being an outcome measure, the detection of later criminal activity must also be considered an intervening variable since the effects of criminalization may be cumulative. Any deprivation in the personal, social, economic, and legal spheres displayed one year later may be the product of criminal justice system involvement subsequent to the cannabis offense. This would not be such a potentially significant influence if most of the sample escaped detection for other offenses, but 26% had been rearrested and 15% were found guilty of a criminal offense between the initial and final interviews.


Subsequent Officially Detected Criminality'

Respondents were asked to report the number and type of any charges laid since their court appearance for cannabis possession and also the outcome and type of sentence awarded, if any. Their accounts were later compared to official police records and found to be highly reliable. Only three charges (all driving offenses) not reported by subjects were found in official files.

The group's subsequent history of criminal justice systeminvolvement was quite complex. When asked if they had been charged with an offense since the first interview, 37% (N=31) replied that they had. For more than half (N=19) this had occurred on more than one occasion. When the nature of these charges was explored, it was found that 11 subjects had been charged with crimes against person or property and 12 with illicit drug offenses.2 In a broad "other" category were placed 14 subjects whose offenses ranged over drinking, driving, public order, and breach of administrative regulation. Six subjects were charged in more than one of these three main categories. Since the "other" category included the mixture of provincial and federal infractions (mainly driving and/or drinking) that did not warrant exclusion from the sample initially,' they are treated in this discussion as essentially "non-criminal."

The two principal indicators of subsequent criminality were charges and findings of guilt, both for "predatory" offenses (i.e. against person or property) and those involving illicit drugs. Of the 26% of the sample (N=22) who had been charged with such offenses in the year after court appearance, more than half (N=13) had been found guilty at least once and the rest were awaiting trial or the charges had been withdrawn.' Of those sentenced, most had received conditional discharges, fines, or suspended sentences, though three had been imprisoned.

Neither the occurrence of subsequent charges nor findings of guilt were found to be related to the nature of the sentence. Perhaps the 11 subjects who were subsequently charged with offenses against property or persons represent the more truly "criminal" group. Again, they were found to be evenly distributed among absolute discharge (N=3), conditional discharge (N=4), and fine (N=4) sentences for their cannabis possession offense. Although these data cannot answer the question of whether the subjects would have been less likely to commit their later crime or crimes if they had never been sanctioned for simple possession, these findings do suggest that the type of sentence given then had little bearing on their later criminal career.

Personal Identity

Other studies have shown that negative self-labeling effects are strongest at court appearance (Siegal, 1975). It may be recalled that immediately after court, 6% of the cannabis offenders (6 of 95) acknowledged thinking of themselves as criminal. By the second interview 20% (17 of 85) did so. This included 14 respondents who did not have this self-perception initially, and three who did. Those who developed a criminal identification in the one-year interval are of greatest interest. This shift in perception was not found to be related to the nature of the sentence (Table 20), but did show a tendency to occur more often among those involved in both detected and undetected law-breaking activities subsequent to the cannabis court appearance one year earlier (Tables 21, 22).

As Table 23 shows, the shift to a criminal self-perception was related to the type of offense the subject was subsequently involved in. Those who were charged with a criminal offense against person or property were more likely to develop a sense of criminal identity than those who were charged with a drug offense (40% as compared to 27%). In contrast, those whose charge involved a "noncriminal" infraction (usually driving and/or drinking) were much less likely to think of themselves as criminal (15%) and were almost indistinguishable in this respect from their counterparts with no such record. The combined total of those with either predatory or drug charges or both (N=21) also showed this association with criminal self-perception, but no such relationship was found for actual findings of guilt for these offenses (Table 24). Criminal charge rather than "conviction" appeared to be a contributing factor in a shift to a more criminal sense of self.

For a predominantly young group it was thought that their parents' perception of them might be particularly crucial in affecting their self image. Criminal selfperception was examined in relation to the parents' knowledge of the offense and whether they were thought to perceive the respondent as criminal.

Of the 85 subjects who were re-interviewed, 40% reported that their mothers, and 33% that their fathers, knew of the cannabis offense at the time they went to court. In the following year, an additional 18% of mothers and 21% of fathers were reported to have become aware of the original charge and court appearance. The sample was asked at both times whether their parents ever thought of them as criminals. By the time of follow-up, a total of 14% of the mothers and 13% of the fathers both knew of the offense and regarded their child as a criminal (according to his or her perception). That is, the actual knowledge by parents was accompanied by a criminal identification of the respondent about one-quarter of the time. When the self-perception of those whose parents thought of them as criminal one year after court was compared to that of the group whose parentsdid not think of them as criminal (whether knowing of the charge or not), a marked tendency was found for parents and offenders to agree on the criminal identification (Table 25).

Social Relationships

After the court appearance, about two-thirds of the sample reported that both parents were aware of their use of cannabis but fewer were also aware of the court case. For many subjects, it was important that one or both these facts be kept from their parents. One concern in the follow-up was to learn how successful they had been, and if not, how their parents had reacted.

Of those in contact with their parents, 9% of their fathers and 6% of their mothers had learned of the cannabis use since the court appearance (Table 26). A fairly substantial minority (19% of fathers and 15% of mothers) still were not aware, according to their offspring. Of those who did know, subjects reported a fairly accepting or tolerant attitude towards this use for about two-thirds of both fathers and mothers. Of the balance, mothers were viewed as more likely to be openly disapproving while fathers were more likely to be noncommunicative (Table 27).

With regard to the court appearance, 15 mothers were said to have learned about it in the following year, nine being told by the subject and six learning in some other way. Similarly, 18 fathers then knew about it who had not before, 11 of them being informed by the subject. Other sources of the information included relatives, friends, misdirected letters and calls, and police records. When parents did react negatively, they tended to do so in relation to the charge and the event of going to court. The leniency of the sentence given did not seem to mitigate their response.

A comparison of mother's and father's socioeconomic status with that of the respondent, using the Pineo-Porter (1967) classification, is shown in Table 28. While 15% of fathers' occupations were designated as professional or semiprofessional, 25% as proprietor/ manager/official, and 12% as clerical and sales, that is 52% in all, only 29% of the sample members then occupied such positions. Similarly, 40% of the fathers worked in skilled or semi-skilled jobs compared to 24% of the respondents. Since nearly a third of the offenders werestudents (11%) or unemployed (2 1%) one year after trial, they could be said to occupy a lower socioeconomic status than their fathers or family of origin. However, the sample members were overall too young and unestablished for it to be concluded that they were downwardly mobile in comparison with their family background. It can be suggested, however, that they were at a rather vulnerable point in the development of an occupational identity. In the next section their employment situation will be more closely reviewed.

Economic Deprivation

One of the major handicaps bestowed on holders of criminal records, in theory, is the interference with life chances. By this is usually meant the loss of jobs, the difficulties in gaining employment, and the closing off of certain educational and thus career paths. Although this negative relationship is often assumed, little is actually known about how the stigma of being an offender operates to impair legitimate opportunities, particularly for those who were not incarcerated (see Schwartz and Skolnick, 1962; Palys, 1976; Erickson and Goodstadt, 1979).

Detrimental effects may result if a potential or actual employer is aware of an applicant's criminal history and responds negatively. Another possibility is that the offender, if feeling stigmatized by having a record, will present him or herself in a different, less favorable way, even to employers who do not know of the record. Accordingly, in the study, efforts were made both to assess the objective situation of the subjects one year after trial and to enquire into their perceptions and handling of their "criminal" status in relation to employers.

At the time of their court appearance, 72% reported themselves in the labor force, employed either full or part-time, 17% were attending school, and 11% were not working or at school. Twothirds of those interviewed a second time were employed and 13% were at school. The balance of the sample consisted of 14% who were unemployed but described themselves as looking for work and 7% who were doing "nothing" (e.g. travelling, staying home, or engaged in illicit activities). The shift over the year appeared to be towards fewer in school, fewer employed, and an increase in the proportion unemployed. This finding gains importance from the fact that sample retention had favored those in school or employed at the first interview (Appendix B).

When the shifts in position at final and initial interview were examined in relation to sentence, no clear pattern emerged (Table 29). Looking at the employed group at time of trial (the only one that provides an adequate N for comparison) there is almost no difference between those given absolute discharge and those convicted and fined with respect to their move to school or "other" categories.

Both discharge groups who were in school initially had several members who were employed one year later. This was also true of most of the "other" category sentenced to absolute discharge at trial, while both of the individuals who were not working or at school then, and given a fine or probation, stayed in the "other" category. These results do not suggest that discharge is an advantage over conviction for one's position in life, at least in the short run.

The sample was fairly active in changing jobs during the post-trial year. Most students as well as those in the labor force had sought jobs. While 35% had stayed in one job, 47% had held two or three different jobs, and 15% had four or more (2% had no jobs in the past year). Thirty-eight percent had been studying or working steadily,and 62% had been unemployed at sometime during the past year.5 This group consisted of 22% for whom the interval of unemployment was up to two months and 40% had not had a job for three months or more. A few in this latter category had been travelling or in jail for part of the year.

These outcome measures - number of jobs held and length of unemployment in the post-trial year - were not found to be relatedin any consistent way to sentence (Tables 30, 31). This initial analysis indicates that sentence is not a significant determinant of a subsequent employment situation. Other pre-existing and personal factors, as well as the general economic climate, seem likely to be more influential.6

More than three-quarters of the sample members (78%) reported applying for at least one job, and 52% for three or more jobs, since their court appearance. As the consequence of an employer's reaction to their criminal record could be of potentially significant proportions, their interaction with possible employers was considered in more detail (Figure 4).

Of those who reported applying for jobs since court, more than half also remembered being asked if they had a criminal record. Of those asked, 56% denied having one and 44% acknowledged it in some way. Responses to the question did vary by sentence. Of those who did not admit to having a record when asked, 50% were those given absolute discharge, 15% a conditional one, and 35% had been fined, compared to 38%, 50%, and 12%, respectively, of those acknowledging it. Remarks made by those who had received absolute discharges indicated they often did not consider they had a criminal record. Most of those who admitted to a record said they provided accurate details of the offense. This suggests they may have believed a "minor record" for marijuana possession would be less detrimental than an unspecified "criminal record."

To carry the breakdown in Figure 4 further, in cases where the employer knew of the record, twice as many applicants were offered the job as not. And finally, only one-quarter of the subjects whose history was definitely known to the employer felt that the employer's decision to hire them was negatively affected by the fact of a record. These accounts of subjects' actual dealings with potential employers do not support a conclusion that the record was highly detrimental when acknowledged. Of course, it could not be determined if employers had checked and discovered the record unbeknownst to the respondent, and reacted negatively.

There were no cases where bonding or a current job was known to be lost as a result of the revelation of the record in the year subsequent to trial. However, it should not be forgotten that more than half of the job-hunters who were asked about a record did not admit or were not aware of having one. Conversely, since almost half of those seeking employment were never asked this question, it would appear that a record was not that pertinent to many of the types of positions for which sample members applied. These were mainly of a semi-skilled or unskilled nature.

All the subjects were asked the more general attitudinal questions about an employer's right to be informed of their criminal record and about an employer's likely reaction to such knowledge. Ofthe total respondents, about 85% of those fined or placed on probation expressed the view that employers had no right to know their record for simple possession; 71% of those given an absolute discharge felt this way. While 40% of the total sample thought employers would generally object to someone with a record working for them, regardless of the offense, 51% perceived employers as not caring about a record only of marijuana possession; 9% said they did not know how employers would react.

The findings presented in this section suggest that while the objective employment situation of sample members had declined over the past year, it was not conspicuously traceable to the record itself. However, those subjects who were convicted and fined perceived their records as especially problematic, perhaps because they were more certain than those discharged that they had one. Some strategies adopted included denying it and relating details to play down its importance. What the interviews do suggest is that for offenders who have no secure occupational position, particularly the younger and less educated, a record is at best something they hope will go unnoticed or overlooked, and at the worst will intrude into their future prospects in a manner unknown and uncontrollable by themselves. Subjects' own accounts of job-hunting experiences, though only for a one-year period, did provide a limited account of difficulties with employers' in the short-run.

The difficulty in generalizing from this employment history data based on subjects' accounts lies in the great variety of positions and procedures they were exposed to in seeking employment. Some filled out standard forms, others were interviewed, others submitted resumes, and the question regarding record was put in a number of different ways as well. The employer's response to an applicant who is also a cannabis possession offender is best gauged by a controlled field experiment.

Such a study was conducted by Erickson and Goodstadt (1979) in which experimental conditions of conviction, absolute discharge, and no record were randomly assigned when responding to 120 vacant positions advertised in daily papers in Toronto. In both criminal history conditions, the offense of cannabis possession was specified. The principal finding was that the number of favorable replies declined significantly as seriousness of criminal record increased. In the "no record" group, 87.5% received positive responses compared to 67.5% with absolute discharges, and 45% of those convicted and fined. The authors concluded that while a discharge reduced the harmful impact of criminalization on employment opportunities compared to conviction, it was not the same as not having a record. The actual sample of offenders, in preferring that employers not know of their record, appeared to be realistic in their appraisal of likely negative repercussions.

Disrespect for the Law
As in the prior chapter, legal costs will be assessed in relation to disrespect engendered for the law at three levels of generality - the offense-specific prohibition, the functioning of the criminal justice system, and the law in society.

Disrespect - Marijuana prohibition
When asked their opinion on the statement, "Marijuana use should be against the law," 95% had disagreed at the first interview and 92% disagreed one year later. Thus, little change had occurred in relation to accepting the legitimacy of the specific prohibition against cannabis. Sentiments were less forcefully expressed at follow-up in that a smaller proportion "strongly disagreed" than at the time of court appearance (37% compared to 65%). When these attitudes to the illegality of cannabis were related to levels of use at both times (Erickson and Single, 1977), it was found that respondents were more likely to change their attitude to conform to their behavior than vice versa. These findings suggested that attitudes disrespectful to this particular law are more a consequence than a cause of increased use, at least in a sample of sanctioned offenders.

Disrespect Criminal justice system
Disrespect for the criminal justice system may be manifested as a perception of uneven sentencing by the courts. A question asked during the first interview as to whether sample members perceived their sentence outcome as the same or different, and if so more or less severe than was usual in their type of case, was repeated during the second one. A general shift had occurred in all sentence groups away from impressions of less severity to consistency, or from consistency to more severity, (Table 32). Those who considered their absolute discharge "less severe" at the time of sentencing tended to see it now as "same" (58%). Of recipients of conditional discharge who viewed it as the "same" before, 44% perceived it as "more severe" one year later, and a similar but less marked pattern was shown in the fine category (18%). Most who considered fine or conditional discharge "more severe" the first time kept this impression. Five of the six subjects who had viewed these sentences as "less severe" now saw them as "same" or "more severe." It appears that perceptions of sentence likely to be awarded others were more realistic about a year after trial than they were at the time. As time passed, those who received absolute discharges were more likely to perceive their sentence as the same than as less severe as others got, while those who received fines or probation saw them as more severe. This trend was not completely consistent, as some did shift in the opposite direction.

When asked a direct question at the final interview about fairness of sentence, 91% of those receiving absolute discharges, in contrast to 42% of those put on probation and 35% of those fined,thought their sentence was fair. It could not be determined precisely from where the more accurate perception of sentencing practices, that may have contributed to their assessment as unfair and inconsistent one year later, was derived. It should be noted that since interviewers provided no information in this regard, unless specifically asked and then only at the completion of the final interview, it was not a "testing effect." Comments offered by subjects encourage speculation that awareness of the popularity of absolute discharges among Toronto judges was acquired in the following year from friends and acquaintances who had gone to court, from their own trips, or from the media. It may be recalled that only 20% of the original sample hadexpected an absolute discharge and 42% had received one. But a year later, it was this absolutely discharged group who were much more likely to consider their sentence "fair" than those who had received fines or probation. The unevenness of sentencing practices for this offense appears to have generated a sense of injustice and disrespect for the courts in offenders who were more severely sanctioned.

The second area of disrespect for the operation of the criminal justice system that may develop is towards law enforcement officers. At the time of the court appearance, some of the group reported a more negative attitude to the police as a result of their arrest. It was therefore of interest to learn of any further encounters with police. In the following year, 80% of the sample had experienced some additional police initiated contact in the form of being stopped or approached by them.' For nearly half it had occurred once or twice only (N=33) and for the balance three or more times (N=35). In four cases the contact had been out-of-province. Both their person and their car had been searched more often than not, about 60% of the time. To 41% of the contacted respondents' knowledge, the police were never aware of the cannabis record by the end of the contact and in the balance of cases it was introduced at some point. Either police officers asked the respondents and were told the truth, or they already knew subject and history personally, or they checked on the police radio system (linked to CPIC, a central computer registry) and learned of the record.

At follow-up, sample members were asked how they felt now about the police, and 60% reported a generally favorable attitude and 40% an unfavorable one. Of those who had indicated no change in their sentiments to the police at the first interview, 68% looked on them favorably one year later. However, of those who had reported feeling more negative about the police after the charging incident, 40% now had a favorable attitude; for the balance, the hostile or distrustful feelings remained. When attitude to the police at follow-up was related to post-trial contacts with the police, it was found that an unfavorable attitude was more likely to be retained in direct proportion to the number of subsequent interchanges with officers (Table 33). Of the original more negative group, 40% of those with no subsequent contacts had retained this attitude, compared with 55% of those who had one or two contacts and 86% of those who reported three or more. In contrast, those whose attitude to the police was said to be unaffected by the arrest incident were also almost equally unresponsive to additional police contacts. These findings suggest that the more negative attitude to the police that can develop as a result of the cannabis arrest is not always permanent, but ensuing contacts with the police may serve to reinforce it.

Disrespect - Law in society
The three attitudinal items pertaining to respect for the law in general were asked again (see Chapter 5). As at the first interview,
general respect for the law was found to be very high, with more than 90% in agreement that "it's important that people in a society respect most of its laws," "people should [not] break laws they disagree with," and "most laws are worth obeying." A fourth question, asked only at follow-up, was, "Do you agree or disagree that laws that are openly broken weaken respect for authority?" It was found that 17% strongly agreed and 69% agreed with this statement. This suggests that a somewhat different aspect of respect, directed at "authority" rather than "the law" is believed by this group to suffer when law-breaking is widespread.

A second approach to the assessment of the group's general respect for the law was to contrast their views on the relative seriousness of illicit activities with those of judges. The subjects were asked to rank eight offense areas in order of seriousness. These rankings were compared with those provided in a 1970 study of Ontario judges (Table 34). Except for different positions of drug offenses, the average ranks do not differ markedly. Heroin distribution was ranked first by judges and very close to second by offenders; cannabis control was considered least serious by the offender group but trafficking in marijuana was ranked fourth by judges. The offenders were more likely to place the direct predatory-againstperson offenses (armed robbery and assault causing bodily harm) higher than the judges, who placed the offense of break and enter higher than assault. Public drunkenness was ranked very low in seriousness by both groups. As was suggested in the discussion in the previous chapter (see Table 12 on penalties deemed appropriate for various offenses), the sample appears to have adopted quite a conventional stance to crimes other than cannabis use and sale. Offenders perceived the relative seriousness of offenses somewhat differently than did judges, but were still not hesitant about making this differentiation one year after their court appearance. Presumably if they had come to deny the legitimacy of all law, they would have been unwilling or unable to discriminate between crime categories. The results provide further evidence that those prosecuted for cannabis possession do not develop a generalized disrespect for the law. Goode (1970) and Plant (1975) documented similar findings for cannabis users without criminal records.

Loss of Rights and Privileges
Of the three sample members who had landed immigrant status, none had been deported. One reported a visit and warning from Immigration Department officials.

Since so few respondents had travelled outside of Canada, and these mainly across the border to the United States, it was difficult to ascertain the extent of any interference with travel rights. If a subject admitted to the record, as this case illustrates, problems might arise:

I told the border guard I had a record for marijuana, and he wouldn't let me cross. So I went to another place and I didn't tell them and got across.

No respondents reported any difficulties with obtaining passports, but again few had applied. The ones who had gone abroad since court had no problems to report. Since many had plans to travel in the "next few years," a longer range study would be required to assess more fully any complications in this area. After one year they were minimal. On the whole, there was little evidence of deprivation of rights and privileges in the short run.

The Offender's Subjective Perspective
To gain some insight into the subjective importance of the event over time, subjects were asked whether they had ever thought about the experience of being charged and taken to court in the year since it had happened. For some, the memory seemed to have faded quickly, as 37% said they "never" thought about it. Almost all of the remainder (60%) acknowledged thinking of it "occasionally," mainly when the topic came up in a casual conversation, while only three individuals reported "often" dwelling on it. The extremes of reaction are typified by the cases of "Robert" and "Daniel" (see Appendix C).

Another area where personalized response is of interest was the subjects' handling of sentences which imposed additional penalties i.e. conditional discharge with probation and conviction with a fine. Many variations in the fulfillment of the probation requirement were reported. Some judges had ordered non-reporting probation and others had required the offenders to report. For one-third of those given a conditional discharge, probation was terminated before the specified term was completed. The procedure adopted by probation services varied in frequency and method of reporting. For example, one subject visited the probation office once a month and was terminated, after six months of his 12-month sentence, while his coaccused phoned into the same office once every month for a year. Most respondents perceived the necessity of physically attending at an office "a nuisance" and "a waste of time." Few repercussions seemed to be attached to missing visits or being charged subsequently. No official action was reported in any case and no discharge was revoked (a possibility available in law).

Nearly a quarter reported some threats, however, as this case illustrates. A respondent who received four discharges for marijuana possession in less than two years, the second a conditional discharge placing him in our sample, described his experience with his probation officer this way:

When I was charged [the third time] I told my probation officer a few days before it came up and he said, 'You're in real trouble this time.... Once the case is disposed of 171 have to take you back to court on the other charge.' When I told him I got a discharge, he said I was lucky (and didn't do anything) I didn't tell him about the fourth charge.

That the probation services were not the only criminal justice personnel to overlook breaches of conditional discharge provisions was further illustrated by this same subject's meeting with the police, some time after his fourth charge.

We were drinking beer in the park and the police pulled up. They checked us out on their radio, and then said, '0. K. boys, we know you're on probation for marijuana, now you're breaking probation by drinking in a public place.' We said, 'Oh we're trying to cut down on marijuana - that's why we're drinking beer. 'The cop said, 'You know any pushers?' and we said, 'You got all the guys I know m jail.' So they let us go, saying, 'You owe us one, you hear about any pushers you tell us, OX?' 'Strews said.

The accounts of the subjects given conditional discharges suggest they perceived little benefit from the probation process, and broke conditions (most obviously that of refraining from cannabis use) without official repercussions.

For those who were fined, difficulties were posed by the inability to produce the money within the time allowed. This affected one-quarter of those whose sentence was a fine. All but one got an extension and eventually paid it; this one individual went to jail for non-payment. Thus while fines were seen as a less intrusive penalty than probation by the subjects, the likelihood of official follow-through for non-compliance seems greater. Potential liabilities are associated with both dispositions which are not possible with an absolute discharge.

Drug Use and Marketing
Another potential cost area is the intensification of the deviant activity. Does criminalization for cannabis use contribute to escalation of other forms of drugtaking and to involvement in the marketing of illicit drugs?

The association between cannabis and other drug use is shown in Table 35. The correlations between frequency of cannabis use at the initial and final interviews, and reported frequency of use of seven other categories of drugs at time of followup, were all positive (with the exception of a weak negative relationship between speed injections and cannabis use at follow-up). The small sample size, however, tempers the significance of the correlations. An association between cannabis and psychedelics (+.57), and to a lesser extent cannabis and alcohol (+23), was displayed at the time of the final interview. Also documented were the correlations between cannabis and cocaine use (+29) and to a lesser degree, oral speed (+21) and opiate smoking/sniffing (+.19). Frequency of cannabis use at the time of the first interview showed an association with all forms of drug use a year later with the exceptions of speed and opiate injections. In fact, the latter two were stronger correlates of each other (+27). Measures of association must not be taken to imply causal statements, but these data do reiterate the general conclusion that "multiple drug use is the rule rather than the exception among those who use drugs, whether their use is ... licit or illicit" (Le Dain, 1973:750; Leon, 1977:8).

At the initial interview, when respondents were asked if they had ever purchased cannabis themselves, 91% acknowledged doing so. Of those who had, 64% reported buying cannabis once a month or more often in the past year, 26% did so less frequently than every month, and 10% had bought it only once. At follow-up, subjects were again asked if and how often they had bought cannabis on the average since their court appearance. Nearly 84% reported some purchase of the drug in the interim. Of those involved in buying in the most recent period, 52% had done so at least once a month, 42% on more than one occasion but less often than every month, and 6% once only.

Thus the proportion actually taking part in the purchase of cannabis appeared to have declined somewhat in the post-court year, and those buying it had done so rather less frequently than in the year before their court appearance. The decline in frequency of cannabis purchases could be related to the lower overall frequency of use recorded in the year after trial (see p. 131).1 In this context, it may also be noted that one-third of the sample reported spending less time with cannabisusing friends than the year before, compared to 9% who said such contact had increased. The reduction in buying incidents also could reflect, in part, a pattern in which some users bought larger amounts less often, or bought concentrated forms of the drug that last longer, in order to reduce the risk of detection that accompanies dealer contact. It was not suggested by users in the final interviews that the drug was less available than the year before, but large price increases were mentioned by some - another possible influence on demand.

At the follow-up interview, the 85 respondents were asked if they had ever sold marijuana or hashish to anyone. "Selling" was defined as a transaction that financially benefited the respondent, either through direct excess profit or by subsidizing his or her own supply of the drug? Applying this definition, half of the sample (N=43) had sold cannabis at some time. Of these, nearly one-quarter reported doing so one to three times and the rest more frequently. The other half who had not "sold" by this definition (N=42) included nine respondents who acknowledged non-profit exchanges with their friends (i.e. giving it away), an action that is encompassed in the legal definition of trafficking. These respondents certainly did not consider themselves "dealers," nor did those who acquired relatively small amounts which they distributed to their friends at a price raised just enough to finance their own share. The term "dealer" was reserved for those who operated at a higher level of the distribution chain, where quantities were greater and contacts extended beyond one's immediate friends.10 A few such individuals were numbered among the respondents.

The sample members who had reported ever selling cannabis (N=43) were asked when this had occurred relative to theircourt appearance on the simple possession offense. While 42% indicated they had engaged in selling activities at some time in the period prior to but not since their trial, another 11% had done so in the posttrial year for the first time, and for 47% selling had occurred both before and after their court appearance. Of the entire sample of 85, 28% said they had sold drugs other than cannabis at some time, but details of this activity were not pursued in any detail.

The interrelationships of drug use and buying and selling activities are shown in Table 35. The frequency of cannabis use at both time periods was significantly correlated with ever buying or selling cannabis, but not to selling other drugs. Although both buying and selling cannabis did correlate positively with the use of the other illicit drugs and alcohol, the stronger association was between using and selling. Sale of other drugs was significantly related to all forms of speed and opiate use. These findings suggest that further explication of the relationship between using, buying, and selling might well be pursued with these data.

The subcultural hypothesis of drug escalation places involvement in illicit marketing activities as a central link between cannabis use and the use of "hard" drugs (Goode, 1972; Johnson, 1973; Single and Kandel, 1978). The illicit status of cannabis exposes the user to the opportunity to sell it and other prohibited drugs, and acquire friends who have used more "dangerous" substances. It is this process which explains why the cannabis user is more likely to have also used "hard" drugs. According to this model, the relationship between cannabis use and the use of other drugs would be greatly reduced when marketing activities are held constant. Data describing these interrelationships in the offender sample are presented in Table 36 for six types of illicit drugs. The three separate indicators of involvement in marketing are buying of cannabis, selling of cannabis, and selling of other drugs. The selling of cannabis or another drug was dichotomized into evernever categories. Since almost all sample members had bought cannabis at some time, buying cannabis was divided into more frequent and less frequent purchase.

The findings are, first, that those involved in marketing were more likely to have used other drugs, at both levels of cannabis use. This relationship was consistent for all types of drugs used, with the exception of psychedelics and speed injection by high frequency cannabis users. Here, 100% had used psychedelics at some time, regardless of whether they had ever engaged in buying and selling activities. Injectors of speed were less likely to have been frequent purchasers of cannabis, and were nearly as likely not to have sold cannabis or other drugs as to have done so.

The second set of findings from Table 36 relates to variation by type of drug. For the more frequent cannabis users, there was adecline in experience from "soft" to the more "hard" forms of drugtaking. This pattern applied both to those less involved and to those more involved in marketing. For example, of those who had never sold cannabis, 100% had used psychedelics, 41% cocaine and speed pills, 29% opiates by smoking or sniffing, 23% speed injections, and none had had opiate injections. Of those who had sold cannabis, 100% had used psychedelics, 68% cocaine, 62% speed (pills), 53% opiates (smoke, sniff), 29% speed (inject), and 12% opiates (inject). A similar decline in the experience with these drugs was displayed for less and more frequent buyers of cannabis, and never and ever sellers of other drugs. This trend was less apparent for the lower frequency cannabis users, although it applied to the extremes of psychedelics and opiates (inject). However, for cocaine, speed (pills), opiates (smoke, sniff), and speed (inject), at a given level of marketing involvement, there was very little difference in proportions who had ever used any of these drugs. These findings might suggest that heavy users of cannabis are somewhat more discriminating in their patterns of other drug use.

Finally, in considering the difference between lower and higher frequency cannabis users in their use of other drugs, when marketing involvement was controlled, qualified support for the drug escalation hypothesis was displayed. Considerable importance was attached to the type of drug. The relationship between cannabis use and other drug use showed the greatest reduction for psychedelics and opiates (inject), where no or almost no differences were found in the proportions of both low and high users trying these drugs. Heavier users of cannabis were more likely than lighter users to have tried cocaine, even when selling of cannabis and other drugs was held constant, but the opposite was true of speed injectors. No clear pattern was found for oral ingestion of speed or opiates. The subcultural interpretation of drug escalation also holds that selling is a more important link than buying, and this was demonstrated in the data by the absence of a marked difference in use of any of the other drugs by those who bought cannabis once a month or more, in both low and high frequency categories of cannabis use.

A limitation of these data as a test of the escalation hypothesis is that cannabis use levels in the offender sample were generally higher than would be expected in a more representative sample of young persons. Thus the support shown for the subcultural escalation model in this study might be modified in a sample containing nonusers or more low frequency users (Single and Kandel, 1978). However, the criminalization experience could not be assigned a causal role in accelerating the involvement with other drug use and marketing.


In the final interview the same questions relating todeterrent effects were asked as at the first one, as well as several questions pertaining to the respondent's legal knowledge. A fundamental assumption of classical deterrence doctrine is that potential offenders are aware of the actual risks and shape their behavior accordingly. More contemporary writers have pointed out that the subjective perception of penalty and risk are the crucial factors (Andenaes, 1974; Waldo and Chiricos, 1972; Erickson, Gibbs, and Jensen, 1977; Meier and Johnson, 1977; Silberman, 1976). Since all this sample had experienced an official response based on cannabis use, their perception would have been based on a more concrete reality than is possible for users who have not been criminalized. As users generally have been found to be more knowledgeable about the law than non-users (Waldo and Chiricos, 1972), criminalized users might be expected to be even more aware of legal penalties.

During the interval between the subjects' court appearance and follow-up, the government introduced new cannabis legislation. As described in Chapter 2, this Bill (S-19) proposed to move cannabis from the Narcotic Control Act to the Food and Drugs Act and reduce maximum penalties; however, it was never passed into law. The existence of the Bill and the debate on it, which received extensive press coverage, provided an opportunity to assess its transmission as legal knowledge to the sample members. First the accuracy of the knowledge Will be examined before turning to the deterrence findings.

Legal Knowledge
Respondents were asked the open-ended questions:

What is the maximum or heaviest sentence a person could get now in Canada if convicted (i) of possessing marijuana? and (ii) for trafficking in marijuana?

Under the Narcotic Control Act, imprisonment for (i) seven years and (ii) life, respectively, are the maximum allowable sentences. With regard to possesssion, two said they didn't know and of the balance of the sample, half responded with some form of a jail term. One said a discharge and the remainder answered fine (36%) or probation (12%). In contrast, 91% of the sample (excluding six "don't know" replies) thought a jail sentence could result for trafficking.

When questioned further on the maximum number of months or amount of fine that would accompany the selected outcome, only 11 of those responding (28%) specified the technically correct seven-year maximum for possession when treated as an indictable offense. Most specified a shorter sentence. The heaviest fine sentence believed possible for possession was less than the $2,000 allowed on summary conviction for a second offense according to all but 5% stating this option. For trafficking, penalties were similarly underestimated, with only 10% of those who thought imprisonment could result correctly choosing a life sentence; nearly three-quarters thought 10 years or less was the maximum.

It should be noted that the sample's responses regarding maximum sentences for possession and trafficking were a much more accurate reflection of sentences actually being awarded than they were of those technically available in law. Perhaps the wording of the question encouraged this interpretation. It is also possible that to the lay person, what is known or believed to be the practice represents "the law" much more than the abstraction "on the books." If the latter is so, the leniency of the courts relative to the actual laws may serve to dissipate, to some extent, the disrespect and perhaps overt opposition that might otherwise be directed at the application of such harsh provisions."

After the open-ended questions about maximum sentence, the sample were asked if they knew the "name of the law which governs cannabis now." Nearly half (41%) stated they did not know, and of those who ventured an answer, twice as many named the Food and Drugs Act as the Narcotic Control Act (36% as compared to 18%; 5% made some other response).

Finally the sample was presented with a card containing six statements and asked to select the one which most accurately described "the law about simple possession of cannabis in Canada today." These statements and the responses are shown in Table 37. The same proportion said they didn't know or rejected all the alternatives (15%) as selected the correct one. In all, 19% chose the Narcotic Control Act options and 63% those of the Food and Drugs Act. Thus it would appear that a majority of the sample believed that Bill S-19 had in fact been passed and become law. The Food and Drugs Act statement referring to the penalty of a fine up to$500 reflects Bill S-19 as it was originally introduced in November of 1974. Since the follow-up interviews did not commence until the summer of 1975, all of the sample could have been aware of this proposal. The other Food and Drugs Act statement, describing the discharge and automatic pardon, resembles the Senate amendment to the original Bill. Although the Senate did not finalize its amendments and forward the Bill until early 1976, its deliberations were publicized throughout 1975 and this particular one could have come to the sample's attention as well. Knowledge of the pardon provision was minimal.12

Thus these offenders, who might have been expected to have a heightened awareness of the law due to their experience, were found to greatly underestimate allowable penalties and to have assumed a legal change that had not actually been passed. Since any influence exerted on their behavior by the law will be in relation to what they think it is (whether accurately or not), the question of who has the responsibility for dissemination of accurate legal knowledge is raisedby these findings. Henshell (1978) has discussed the public's knowledge of penalties and implications for deterrence.

Deterrent Effects
One year after court, the level of cannabis use remained high though heavy consumption had decreased somewhat. The proportion using cannabis twice a week or more was then 60% compared to 72% at the time of the first interview. Only 8% reported no use at all in the past year and another 8% had used it once a month or less. The balance of 24% used cannabis up to once a week on the average. Reasons given for the reduction in intensity of use were typically related to changes in lifestyle and greater maturity (see Brown et al., 1972).

When asked how likely it was that the respondent would use or continue to use cannabis in the next year, 89% responded "very likely" or "quite likely." Two percent said "not very likely," 8% "not likely at all" (the same 8% who reported no use in the past year), and 1% or one individual said he "didn't know." Thus for a small minority, use appears to have been discontinued permanently, while for the large majority relatively frequent cannabis use patterns persisted and were projected to continue.


One interesting relationship that can be examined with the follow-up data is that between level of use and beliefs as to the maximum penalty available in law (Table 38), and as to the most likely penalty for oneselfif caught again for this offense (Table 39).) Sample members who believed (accurately) that jail was a possible outcome also tended to be those with the highest use level. While 24% who thought some non-jail sentence was the maximum were in the lowest use group, only 7% of those who chose the more severe penalty were in the least frequent use group. This goes against the expectations of deterrence doctrine but supports the finding of Waldo and Chiricos (1972) that marijuana use was most frequent among those who had the most accurate perception of the severity of the law and less frequent among users who tended to underestimate the penalties. However, no clear pattern was evident when one examined the relationship between use level and expected severity for oneself if charged again (Table 39). Those who thought jail most likely for themselves included a slightly higher proportion of heavier users than those who specified another alternative. Those who expected a fine were more likely to be medium level users than those in other outcome categories. The least frequent users were distributed quite evenly among the options. In all, very few respondents related the possibility of jail to themselves. In opposition to deterrence doctrine but in accordance with other studies (Waldo and Chiricos, 1972; Erickson et al., 1977; Meier and Johnson, 1977; Silberman, 1976), perceived severity of sentence is not an effective deterrent to cannabis use; attention is re-directed to extra-legal factors such as social judgment of the act and perceived health risks.



This chapter has presented the costs and benefits experienced by the sample of cannabis offenders in the post-trial phase of social criminalization. One year after the court appearance, 90% of the original sample were interviewed, and nonresponse bias was found to be minimal.

To review the findings, 26% had been charged with a criminal offense in the past year, and 15% had been found guilty. A greater proportion of the sample members considered themselves "criminal" than at the first interview (20% compared to 6%), and this was related to subsequent involvement in criminal activities and negative parental perceptions. Of mothers and fathers who had learned about the cannabis charge in the post-court year, about 60% had been told by the subject and the rest had learned in some other way. Thus secrecy had not been achieved by all sample members. Respondents were, objectively considered, worse off one year later, with almost twice the proportion neither working nor in school. Job changes and periods of unemployment were common. None of the costs noted thus far - criminal identification by self or parents, negative reaction of parents, or economic deprivation - was shown to be related to the nature of the sentence received for the cannabis offense.


Considering the more subjective reactions of the subjects, concern was expressed for the effect of a criminal record on employment, particularly by those convicted. The large majority preferred not to reveal a record to employers. While respect for the law in general, and disrespect for the marijuana prohibition, remained high, some disrespect had emerged for the courts. Conditional discharge and fine sentences were more likely to be perceived as inconsistent and unfair than one year earlier, Loss of respect for the police, as a result of the arrest incident, had abated somewhat, except for those who had experienced additional contacts with them. While only 4% of the sample reported "often" dwelling on their court experience, difficulties in complying with the terms of their sentence of probation or fine were reported by some. No conditional discharge had been revoked and a conviction substituted, but one individual had gone to jail for non-payment of his fine.


Deterrent effects were found to be very similar to those recorded at the first interview. While 8% reported no cannabis use in the past year, and 8% used it once a month or less, for the balance the relatively moderate or high levels of regular usage persisted. Intention to continue also remained high. The sample's legal knowledge was generally inaccurate, with a pronounced tendency to underestimate penalties available in law and to assume that Bill S-19 had become law. Heavier users had more accurate knowledge of penalties, but very few (9% of the total) expected the most severe outcome of jail for themselves on any subsequent possession charge; about half expected a fine. Awareness of the pardon provision and its applicability to their situation was almost non-existent among respondents. Since those few whose use had ceased tended also to be the least frequent users one year earlier, specific deterrent benefits remained "low." Some costs, however, have been documented.


CHAPTER 6: Social Criminalization

1 The official record source was also used to ascertain the subsequent criminal justice involvement of the 10 subjects who were not re-interviewed in the followup. It was found that five of them had no charges, one had been charged with a food and lodgings fraud in another province, one with drunkenness, two with possession of cannabis, and a warrant was outstanding on one subject for conspiracy to import narcotics. There were no multiple charges. Thus this group of non-respondents may be seen as quite similar in criminality in that half had stayed completely out of trouble compared to 63% of the final sample of respondents.

2 The 12 subjects with drug offenses included eight who were charged with possession of cannabis, two of them on more than one occasion. The other four had charges involving cultivation or trafficking of cannabis. None had charges related to any other illicit drug.The charges in the "predatory" category, reported by 11 subjects, included mainly theft under $200, possession of stolen property under $200, and common assault. A number of more serious charges - break and enter, robbery, assault causing bodily harm - was attributed to three subjects in this group.

3 See Chapter 3, footnote 1. The official record check showed five subjects with federal driving convictions (involving alcohol) and 11 with drinking convictions under provincial statutes (mainly underage drinking) at the time of the first interview. Between the first and the second interviews, three subjects were charged with driving offenses, seven with breaches of provincial liquor laws, and two with causing a disturbance.

4 Three independent measures of criminality prior to the cannabis possession court appearance were constructed and related to subsequent criminality in the post-trial year. The first of these, based on the respondent's self-report, contrasted those who reported any justice system involvement for criminal offenses (i.e. discharges, arrests, acquittals, charges pending or dismissed) with those who did not. The other two measures of prior criminality were based on the official record check. One divided those who had prior convictions or discharges for criminal offenses from those who did not, and the other separated those with convictions, discharges, plus any other form of contact (arrests etc.) from thosewho did not. Interestingly, the self-report measure showed a stronger positive association with subsequent charges and findings than did the official record measures.

5 Comparable Ontario unemployment figures for the age 15-24 group, both males and females, were 7.7% in 1974 and 11.0% in 1975, so unemployment among the young generally had increased during the interval between the two interviews.

6 Not surprisingly, number of jobs and length of unemployment were negatively correlated with age and education and positively correlated with past and subsequent criminality, but further analysis of these inter-relationships is required. This, however, is a different exercise than presenting the costs associated with criminalization and will not be developed here.

7 Since 62% reported such contacts with police before their cannabis arrest (see Chapter 4), the figure of 80% being stopped in the post-court year suggests the possibility of increased enforcement activity by police against those with known records.

8 When subjects who intended to continue use were asked at the first interview whether they would use "more," "less," or the "same" as in the past year, about . one-third forecast a decline in their frequency, with nearly all of the remainder projecting unchanged use.

9 This definition of selling is somewhat more restricted than that used by Johnson (1973). He found that, in his sample of college students, 22% had ever sold cannabis, 13% had ever sold a "hard" drug, and 6% had sold three or more hard drugs as well as cannabis. Goode (1970) reported that 44% of his sample of marijuana users had ever sold a drug.

10 See Langer (1977) and Sorfleet (1976) for detailed accounts of the dealer's world.

11 Perhaps this underestimation of available penalties reflects another kind of "pluralistic ignorance" (see Brown et al., 1972) which serves to reduce the normative conflict generated by widespread breaking of marijuana laws.

12 Common responses to a question asking subjects whether they intended to apply for a pardon were these: "Never heard of it," "I don't need one - I got off," "I've got nothing to be pardoned for," "I don't have a record." Even when the pardon was explained at the completion of the final interview, most respondents said they would not seek one because they perceived the procedure as intrusive and offering few clear advantages to themselves.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 15:07

Our valuable member Patricia Erickson has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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