The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986: A Policy Analysis

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act
of 1986: A Policy Analysis
Laura Sandoval
California State University, Long Beach
School of Social Work
May 2013
Policy was designed to address rising crime and drug rates.
o In 1982, 12.2% of Americans ages 12 and over reported use in
the past 30 days
o In 1986, there were 34.1 million estimated crimes nationally;
5.5 million were violent
Policy-makers believed there was a link between drug use and
violent crime.
o For those who commit violent crimes, 46% reported drug use in
the previous month, 28% reported being under the influence of
drugs at the time of the crime, and 12% reported committing
the crime in order to get money for drugs
Social Work Relevance
Since the policy's implementation, groups
have been negatively and disproportionately
affected by the policy.
o Latinos
o Women
Social workers should be invested in seeing
social justice within the criminal justice
system and towards those who use drugs,
as we understand drug misuse is also a
physical health addiction and problem.
Literature Review
Since the criminalization of drugs, American
policy has alternated between two
philosophical approaches to reducing the
prevalence of mind-altering substances:
Supply-reduction: Policies that aim to reduce the
supply of drugs in America. This includes policies
focused on stopping the ability of providers from
distributing drugs to users.
o Demand-reduction: Policies that aim to reduce the
demand for drugs in America. This includes policies
focused on stopping users from buying drugs from
providers for personal use.
Literature Review
Examples of Supply-Reduction Policies:
1917: The 18th Amendment
o The Prohibition of alcohol
1951: The Boggs Act
o Imposes the first mandatory minimum sentences for drug
distributors and users.
Examples of Demand-Reduction Policies:
1966: Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act
o Those with addictions can seek treatment in lieu of
1970: Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and
Control Act
o Repeals Boggs Act and allows for offenders to seek treatment
This analysis used a modified version of
David Gil’s policy analysis framework as
outlined in Unravelling Social Policy.
A purposeful sampling of documents was
used to review the issues, values,
objectives, effects, and implications of the
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Primary sources include the Anti-Drug Abuse Act
legislation, government hearings, and reports.
Secondary sources include books, academic
papers, peer-reviewed articles, and policy analyses.
Policy Analysis
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
Imposes mandatory minimum sentences on
those convicted of possession of illegal drugs
Sentenced vary based upon the type of illegal
drug, the amount of the drug, and whether or
not the individual had been charged with a
previous drug offense.
Punishments range from 5 years to life
Policy Analysis
Strengths of Policy
Isolates the impacts of drug users on greater society
(intent of the policy)
Challenges of Policy
Disproportional impacts on African-American
communities, Latinos, and women. Also negatively
impacts the communities they are from.
Incarcerates even low-level users for many years.
Not resulted in reduction of drug-related violent crime
Prison growth and related costs have skyrocketed
Takes away rights from judges to implement
punishments on individual basis
Eliminate sentencing disparities in policy that
allow for disproportionate punishments (such as
the 100:1 ratio).
Public should recognize drug use as personal
and public health issue, not just criminal justice
Social workers should make creative use of
media to impact public opinion to incur support
for policy change.
Policy makers may want to implement harmreduction philosophies in future drug policies to
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Pub. L. 99-570. (1986).
Beck, A., Gilliard, D. K., Greenfeld, L. A., Harrell, C. W., Hester, T., Jankowski, L., Morton, D. C., Snell, T. L., &
Stephan, J. J. (1993). Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991.
Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, Pub. L. 91-513. (1970).
Dorsey, T. L. & Middleton, P. (2008). Drug-Related Crime Facts. NCJ 165148.
Dumont, Brockmann, Dickman, Alexander, & Rich, 2012
Eddy, M. (2003). War on Drugs: Legislation in the 108th Congress and Related Developments. Brief for Congress.
Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
Flanagan, T. J. and Jamieson, K. M., eds., Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics - 1987. U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC: USCPO, 1988.
Hawdon, J. E. (2001). The Role of Presidential Rhetoric in the Creation of a Moral Panic: Reagan, Bush, and the war
on drugs. Deviant Behavior, 22(5), 419-445.
Lenora, L., Luthra, N., Verma, A., Small, D., Allard, P., & Levingston, K. (2005). Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug
Policies on Women and Families. ACLU. Retrieved from
Lynch, M. (2012). Theorizing the Role of the ‘War on Drugs’ in US Punishment. Theoretical Criminology, 16(2), 175199. doi:10.1177/1362480612441700
National Center for Health Statistics. (2012). Health, United States, 2011: With Special Feature on Socioeconomic
Status and Health. Hyattsville, Maryland.
Pub. L. No. 82-255, ch. 666, 65 Stat. 767, repealed 1970
Rehnquist, W. (2005). What the Experts Say. Retrieved from
Spiess, M. & Fallow, D. (2000). ONDCP: Drug Policy Information Clearing House. Fact Sheet. Washington: DC. Drug
Policy Information Clearing House.
U.S. Const. amend. XVIII, repealed 1933

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