Social Regulation of Drugs: the New 'Normal'?

Patricia Gail Erickson


A Norwegian researcher recently described normalization as "the most important development in the sociology of drug use in several decades." This paper will trace the evolution of normalization of illicit drug use in Canada from the 1970's to the present. Based on decades of research, it will be seen that markers of stigma and subcultural isolation have given way to widespread use, mainstream acceptability and lifestyle choices Particular attention will be paid to the growing gap between punitive drug prohibition policies and the attidutes and behaviour of drug uses and non users alike. Illustrations will be provided by recent intervew studies with socially integrated adult cannabis users and university students. Hence, social regulation it is argued, which involves drug users setting their own standard of how/when/where/with whom to consume certain substances, has largely replaced the total ban dictated by the criminal law. Thus despite continued enforcement and even expansion of the drug laws, norms around appropriate use have come to resemble those for legally regrulated substances like alcohol and tobacco. The implications for the future of Canadian drug policy will be considered.


cannabis, prohibition, legal regulation, normalization

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