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Socio-legal constructions of drugs and the harms of drug prohibition: the need to contest and re-conceptualise the drug apartheid.

Taylor, S (2020) Socio-legal constructions of drugs and the harms of drug prohibition: the need to contest and re-conceptualise the drug apartheid. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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The works that form the basis of this submission for PhD by publication are intrinsically linked through their focus on contemporary responses to substance use. This is achieved through employing a critical criminological lens to consider two key themes; the socio-legal construction of ‘drugs’; and the harms of drug prohibition. Underpinning this discussion is the contention that the arbitrary frameworks governing the availability and legality of different substances construct a drug apartheid – a system of inclusion and exclusion that privileges certain drugs and their users whilst segregating, criminalising and punishing others. Resultantly, contemporary drug policy, justified by its purported ability to mitigate drug-related harms, contradictorily serves to enhance their scope and severity. Yet the legitimacy of the drug apartheid is maintained through a reductionist drugs discourse, which obfuscates nuanced knowledge and presents fallacy as fact. This process conceals the full spectrum of drug-related harms. Simultaneously, this discourse abdicates responsibility for such harms onto minorities of irresponsible and indeed problematic substance users, disavowing the influence of consumer capitalism, structural social inequalities and indeed drug policy in shaping these damaging outcomes. This thesis addresses each of these key issues in turn. Firstly, it outlines how we, as a society, construct ‘drugs’ on a social, legal and political level, critiquing this through the lens of the drug apartheid and the reductionist drugs discourse. Secondly, it provides a damning assessment of drug prohibition through a focus on the harm of non-drugs and the harming of the vulnerable, echoing how these are characteristics of the ongoing drug apartheid. Together, these strands feed into a condemnation of one of the most incongruous and damaging social policies of modernity. Concomitantly, it is argued that there is a need to reconceptualise our understanding of both drugs and drug-related harm in order to contest the drug apartheid. There is a need to recognise the full spectrum of harm prompted by both legal and illegal substances alongside that born from drugs policy itself; and there is a need to acknowledge that whilst drug-related harms are disproportionately experienced by socially marginalised populations, that the processes of the drug apartheid permeate the entire social strata, making us all susceptible to its damaging outcomes. The key message emanating from the submitted works therefore is that the drug apartheid and its tools of drug prohibition and the reductionist discourse need dismantling as our current (non)drug policies are prompting more harm than they prevent. Hence, there is a need to reconstruct drugs on a social, legal and political level and to redress the harms consequentially caused. This can be pursued through a two-fold agenda. Firstly, through a critical, theoretically driven research ambition to better understanding all drugs as drugs, their benefits, and their harms, and how drug policy relates to this. Secondly, through the conceptualisation of a single regulatory framework which encompasses all currently legal and illegal substances, recognises the need to live with rather than without (certain) drugs and which therefore readdresses the harmful contradictions and biases of the status quo.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Drugs; Drug Policy; Drug prohibition
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
K Law > K Law (General)
K Law > KD England and Wales
Divisions: Justice Studies (from Sep 19)
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2020 11:13
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2022 16:05
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00013074
Supervisors: Millings, M
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13074
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