Drug Possession: The Criminalization Of Youth

The words we use matter. Be it ‘junkie’ instead of ‘addict’ or ‘she had a few drinks’ versus ‘she took drugs’ the words chosen shape the emotional response.

The callous attitude which wants us to maintain criminal penalty for petty drug possession is not one premised in practicality or reasonableness. It is an ideological belief  that sees drug users as impure and addicts as a subhuman scourge who block the way into Brown Thomas.


For these people, a young person having their stomach pumped from excessive alcohol intake is ‘a naïve teen that went too far’ a 24-year-old sitting at a field listening to their favourite band caught smoking cannabis is a ‘criminal’ to be put in handcuffs, humiliatingly escorted out of the venue by police and given a criminal record scarring her life prospects forever.


This is the reality of criminalizing possession that many overlook. A bizarre, wholly ineffective and disproportionate response to curbing harmful levels of drug use. I’ve worked at the last two major music festivals in Dublin this summer and I can tell you that the prohibition on underage drinking bares no influence on a 16 year old’s decision to drink damaging quantities of alcohol. Should they all be treated as criminals too? Should we as a society see them as crooks to be punished or as young people vulnerable to peer pressure and making mistakes?


A criminal record is for life. Believing in decriminalization is not about being pro-drugs, it’s about looking past ideological constraints and rationally examining what is the best means to manage drug use.


Portugal has shown that decriminalisation results in a decrease in drug-induced deaths and an overall decrease in drug use among 15- to 24-year-olds.

What the writer in last week’s Irish Times seemed to be legitimately concerned about was a culture of excess which young people are particularly exposed to. I’m sorry to inform him that the overindulgence in hashtags is not indicative of the overindulgence of hash.


And perhaps instead of blaming the culture of excess on a youthful catchphrase ‘#livingmybestlife’ (who actually says that?) the constant assault of advertising from our phones to the plethora of posters plastered across our streets prompting us to ‘treat ourselves’ to  ‘buy 12 for the price of 6’ or to ‘live life to the fullest’ manipulating and exploiting our insecurities and desires plays a greater role in that culture of excess than the government’s official position on weed?


We’ve seen this kind of regressive emotional response a thousand times before. The patronizing call to ‘THINK OF THE CHILDREN’ and smear young people as out of control maniacs is typical of a moral panic. In 1972 Stanley Cohen published a seminal work titled ‘folk devils and moral panics’ in which he demonstrated how media in the 1960’s were dramatically amplifying the deviance of the youth subcultures ‘mods and rockers’ to present an enemy to their readers outside the core values of society and as posing a threat to social order itself.


Stoking the flames of moral panic and decrying how decriminalization will be seen as a free pass to engage in dangerous drug use may sell newspapers but by attempting to obstruct much-needed reform it will also destroy lives.



21 thoughts on “Drug Possession: The Criminalization Of Youth

  1. As a former pot head, I’m largely in favour of decriminalisation as I think paddling around trying to micro-police is a toppling folly. That said the single greatest argument against drug use is how impossibly dull people become when smoking weed. They are only interesting or coherent to other people who are high. I’m terribly glad those days are in my rear view mirror, but I wouldn’t care to deprive others of torturous drug induced idiocy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting dilemma, considering the myriad reasons why people use the substances they do. I think that is what we need to be looking at, the whys. And we are so long overdue to do that! But in my experience, there is just so much grief in young people’s lives that is not dealt with properly. And feelings of disconnection etc. Powerful things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I completely agree with your argument. The big problem I notice when debating this point myself is that people do not see the lack of logic behind thinking booze is okay and weed is not. Both are drugs; the curious twist of fate has made one somehow less acceptable than the other, despite the fact that the former is generally far more dangerous than the latter. Yet for some reason people fail to recognise this simple point!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We have facts now that indicate decriminalization may be resulting in the exponential increase in heroin overdoses. These facts need to be considered before any rational judgement can be made concerning decriminalization. It could actually be true that use weed leads to use of hard drugs, especially when weed has become so expensive.


      1. I don’t have link though I have a chart. The chart doesn’t say that decriminalization is a fault. Evidently Jeff Sessions thinks that it is. I’ll post the chart.


  5. Great blog! Love raising awareness on the misuse of words regarding drug use. People seem to think its okay to say they are getting ‘blind’, ‘hammered’ or ‘smashed’; however when it comes to drugs, if someone says they are getting ‘high’ the emotional response is entirely different, despite the physical change being potentially less harmful. We need to start thinking about drugs differently and stop the societal misperceptions, which are often reinforced through the negative connotations associated with drug use descriptions.

    I like the point about someone getting their stomach pumped as just a casual act of someone drinking too much, however smoking cannabis at a music festival is dealt with criminally. It is time that we change our laws.

    I run a campaign called The Crisis of Disconnection, which focuses on the current disconnect of the laws in place and the fundamental issues of drug use.

    Check it out here: https://crisisofdisconnection.wordpress.com/


    Liked by 1 person

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