Public Criminology in an Age of Austerity: Reflections from the Margins of Drug Policy Research

Andrew D. Hathaway


On May 14th 2001 the author was invited to testify in Ottawa as an ‘expert witness’ by the Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. Based on this experience, the present paper offers insight on the matter of presenting research with the aim of influencing drug policy discussions. The testimony was derived from statistics produced with standard survey items and measures for studying patterns and problems of cannabis use. Among other observations, the interpretation given was that, even at high use levels, marijuana users experience few symptoms of dependence or abuse. Excerpts from this testimony, and other work submitted, are cited in the 2002 report of the Committee. The potential impact of the testimony given is examined in this paper in relation to the other submissions which were based on qualitative research and one that was explicitly polemical in nature, or derived from ideological assertions by the author. The excerpts from these works that were eventually included in the final Senate report suggest that scientific arguments per se were not deemed more persuasive in this forum than the use of other kinds of rhetoric or evidence. These observations will be further situated in the context of scholarly discussion about the challenges and prospects of Public Criminology and the role of academics as “democratic underlabourers.”


Public Criminology, Drug Policy Reform; austerity;

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