Left and Right Realism: Why People Turn to Illicit Drug Use/Dealing

This essay will use left and right realism beliefs leading to crime to debate why people turn to drug dealing, trafficking and conservation. Whilst using examples of strain theory and rational thought theory to evaluate the decision to turn to drugs in England and Wales during 1980 to the present day.

The 1980’s saw a rise of interest in crime by political parties in the United Kingdom and United States of America. Conservatives were in power on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Nixon and Thatcher focussed predominantly on law and order and neo-liberal economic policies were the latest political trend. They took all crime very seriously. Therefore clamping down on the use and distribution of illicit drugs is often a primary concern for politicians. In 2002, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett said, “decent people become dealers in the pyramid selling, as they persuade friends, acquaintances and strangers to take on the habit so that they themselves can fund their own addiction”. It is important for politicians to vilify drugs, apart from the drugs that are taxed such as alcohol and tobacco. Ironically, they look to blame crime where people live on the edge of society and outside of the mainstream with little stake in society overall. Yet the marginalised, inner-city citizens they vilify are the stereotyped main consumers of all the taxed drugs like cigarettes and alcohol. Yet it’s not just lower classes getting involved in dealing drugs. Drug supply can also involve highly organised criminals motivated by illicit profit rather than provision of a desired but illegal service to their peers. For left realists, Lea and Young, express that society must be realistic about crime and the problems that are caused by it. The issue married with the rise of deprivation throughout England and Wales is more of a growing concern with the rise of unemployment. Pre-emptive deterrence should also be taken seriously. They continue to argue there is a need to create a new motivating policy of crime control.

The prevalence of drugs within our culture and society is now common place. As the rock band, Nickelback suggest that “everybody has a drug dealer on speed dial” in the song Rock star. This suggestion is also echoed by the number of illicit drug users in England and Wales in the Drug Misuse: Findings from 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales. It examines the extent and trends in illicit drug use among a nationally representative sample of 16 to 59 year olds resident in households in England and Wales. The findings of the report illustrate that since 1996 there has been a significant decrease in the use of illicit drugs use over the last 18 years. In 1996, 30.5% of 16-24 age group populations had used drugs, whereas the figure had decreased by a massive 11% showing 19.5% in 2013/14. Interestingly, this reduction begs the question, is the war on drugs actually working? However, there is a huge market for illegal drugs, which is one of the world’s largest industries. Both sides of realism would agree that the escalation of drug crime is very serious. However, these statistics would support the right realistic view of their focus on official statistics. However, what the statistics don’t take into account is the financial background of the participant in the statistics.

For Left realist’s, poverty is one of the biggest causes to crime. They assumed that crime occurred within the working class because of poverty, and that crime was an attempt to redress their balance in our inequitable society. They believe that poverty could and is a leading influence to a criminal career. A criminal career has been defined as the longitudinal sequence of offenses committed by an individual or offender. However, the dictionary definition of the term career specifies two different concepts: a course or progress through life and making a living. For Merton, the key ingredient to crime was not the neighbourhood disorganisation but the “American Dream” a message sent to all citizens that they should strive for social ascent as manifested by economic well-being. Merton tells us that the United States is a complex society. A culture that puts so much emphasis on economic success but this goal is universally echoed and everybody wants to achieve it. However, it can be argued that not everybody will achieve this idealistic approach to their life. If it was the case and everybody did achieve the so-called “American Dream”, society would collapse because nobody would take on low skilled work to service the economy. In 2014, UK unemployment rates were lower than for June to August 2014 (6.0%) and lower than for a year earlier (7.1%). The unemployment rate is the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who were unemployed. The level of unemployment throughout England and Wales fused with the strain of not living up to societies expectations could possibly tempt somebody to turn to drugs as a way of making money. Right realists also believe that people who already believe some of their behaviours are socially problematic and unacceptable may be more likely to also engage in other deviant activities because they feel they have less to lose. This could be argued that they lack a sense of belonging to society and that they have been ostracised and therefore rebel against what people believe to be the norm of society this could be a stressor to leading a criminal career.

The dominance of drug dealing across England and Wales is woven through the very fabric of the social hierarchy. Drug Dealing is a business with multiple reasons for getting involved. Anyone wishing to make large profits quickly and tax free with no questions asked, for any purpose is likely to be tempted by drug dealing. This doesn’t just apply to lower class citizens as Merton would suggest or caused by poverty as left realist’s would believe. Investigators uncovered a world of marijuana cultivation in England known as “Cottage Growers”. One story exposes a primary school that teacher grows marijuana as a way to make ends meet. She makes enough money to pay rent and bills, she also understands that she would lose her reputation, her profession and for the time of a custodial sentence, her child if she were caught.

“It is a risk, and you’re always weighing it up in your mind. Is it worth it? But I earn £20,000 a year as a primary-school teacher. I’ve got a child to look after. I don’t get any help from my son’s father. I’ve got debts. The cost of living is so high. It comes down to this: I want to do something with my life and this is a way of helping me reach my goals”. – Teacher / Cottage Grower

Rational Thought Theory could be applied here. The Teacher even says that she weighed up the options and made a decision which she thinks is worth the risk. Right realists would say this is a massive decline in family values and could be seen as being double deviant, by putting her child’s welfare at risk by breaking the law and being a single parent. It could be argued that she has allowed the difficult question of criminal motivation to be reformulated as a calculation – a balancing of costs and benefits. Although, I would argue that she does present with some serious problem solving deficits. There is certainly a serious motivation to get involved, which predominantly is always financial. This could be argued that she feels successful and in control. It could be suggested that she doesn’t fear the police or any deterring methods of the law. She has developed a way to be successful and the money must be far too tempting to stop.

She brags “maybe, when I’m further along in my career, and I get paid better, I’ll stop. For now, it’s helping me achieve something, and that’s great”.

So what and where are the deterrents? When statements from the Strategy Unit of the Cabinet are leaked through the media admitting that the drugs supply market is highly sophisticated and attempts to intervene have not resulted in sustainable disruption to the market at any level. As a result: the supply of drugs has increased, prices are low enough not to deter initiation but prices are high enough to come cause heavy users to commit high levels of crime to fund their habits.  A statement such as this is likely to encourage any drug user or dealer to continue in their illegal activities. The Government has admitted that drug market is too powerful. What can stop them?

Walter White / Heisenberg: Chemistry teacher turned Methamphetamine cook in popular TV show, Breaking Bad

It could be disputed that drug dealing is a male dominated activity.  However, it is sometimes women from poor countries who are asked to carry drugs with the persuasion of a sum of money to put their child through school or open a small business. They would be labelled a “Drug Mule”. This could be seen as a classical example of Strain Theory. The person understands that they are impoverished and to take on this role would allow them to achieve their own American Dream. Yet, it could also be debated that the person makes a rational choice. Many would describe rational thought theory as purposive decisions. That the offender will weigh up pro’s and con’s to a decision of whether to commit a crime as a means to an end. The thoughts bring with them background factors like motivation, cognitive style, family upbringing, temperament, intelligence, class origin, neighbourhood context and gender. These factors create what are called “criminal motivations” or criminogenic factors.

In conclusion, it could be argued that there are many paths to becoming involved in drugs, with many motivators culminating in drug dealing. Such as Strain theory where Strain is seem to be “unjust” where people feel that they have been treated unfairly, they are more likely to become angry, and anger, according to Agnew’s Strain theory is linked with the likelihood of offending or it could also be argued that dealers are not just from impoverished backgrounds but also middle class societies as left realists would like to believe. The lines are very much blurred and there is no single pathway when it comes to what makes a person choose a criminal career. Who is to blame? Is it the individual or is it society? After all, the economic growth within England and Wales being so low why isn’t everybody turning to drug dealing? Yet it is still a growing concern for the Government. Maguire informs that around £450 million is spent each year in anti-drugs measurement. Over the past 10-15 years despite interventions at every point in the supply chain, cocaine and heroin consumption have fluctuated, prices fluctuate and drugs continue to reach users. Government interventions against the drug business are a cost of business, rather than a substantive threat to industry viability, however by increasing risk, government interventions are likely to slow the decline in prices. On 8 December 2010, the government launched its drug strategy, ‘reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery: supporting people to live a drug-free life’. Unlike the policy before, the 2010 strategy aimed to tackle drug and alcohol dependence in the communities in a much more supportive way. This seems to support the left realism ideologies as it looks to support those who are trapped in the web of the Criminal Justice System. However, although the intentions are pure, an individual needs to make the decision to comply thus making a rational decision.

From whatever perspective the link between drugs and crime are viewed, drugs and crime are socially connected as long as drugs are criminalized.


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