While community factors set the stage for individual behavior and provide the social context which fosters criminality, drug and alcohol use may alter individual- level motivation and propensity. Few issues have loomed as large in the collective debate about crime and criminal justice as have alcohol and illegal drug use. From stereotypes about drug use and crime among racial minority groups that began as early as the turn of the twentieth century (Musto, 1999) to the “war on drugs” begun under President Nixon, the belief that drug use is criminogenic is deeply woven into the public debate. For example, Brownstein (2003) cites an example from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which advised police chiefs and sheriffs, “If there is a reduction in the number of people who abuse drugs in your community, there will be a reduction in the commission of certain types of crime in your community” (p. 1). Another example comes from a US Drug Enforcement Administration report (2014) about marijuana, which states, “Marijuana is known to contribute to delinquent and aggressive behavior... . Specifically research shows that the instances of physically attacking people, stealing property, and destroying property increase in direct proportion to the frequency with which teens smoke marijuana” (p. 24).

At first glance, data seem support the common assumption that a relationship exists between drug use and criminal offending. The US Office of National Drug Control Policy regularly surveys arrestees from ten major metropolitan areas through its Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program. According to 2010 data, between 50% and 85% of arrestees across the 10 sites tested positive for at least one type of illegal drug in their system at the time of arrest, and between 11% and 37% tested positive for more than one type of drug. In light of the high percentages of offenders who use drugs, criminologists widely agree that a correlation exists between drug use and crime (e.g., MacCoun, Kilmer, & Reuter, 2003; Wagner, 1996).

However, beyond this point of consensus, many questions remain unresolved. Though a great many arrested offenders use drugs, does drug use cause a person to commit crime? Does the relationship between drug use and crime depend on other characteristics of the people taking drugs? Are certain drugs more strongly related to crime than others? We will begin to address some of these questions here, and we provide a more elaborate discussion in Chapter 11.

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