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The association between drug dependence and drug possession charges

Albert M. Kopak (Assistant Professor, based in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA)
Norman G. Hoffmann (based in the Department of Psychology, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 27 May 2014




The purpose of this paper was to investigate the extent to which drug dependence was associated with the probability of being charged with drug possession compared to drug sales or other offenses.


Data were drawn from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program which collected information from ten cities across the USA between April 1 and September 30, 2010. The sample was comprised of male arrestees between the ages of 18-65 who reported past drug use (n=2,193).


Multinomial logistic regression results indicated the odds of being arrested for drug possession compared to other types of offenses increased by 12 percent for each additional symptom of drug dependence reported by arrestees (RRR=1.12, 95 percent CI=1.06-1.19). In contrast, drug dependence did not predict an increased probability of being charged with drug sales over other types of offenses or drug possession charges.

Practical implications

This evidence suggests drug dependence was a preeminent factor in the likelihood arrestees were charged with drug possession. Criminal justice policies should prioritize dependence assessment and formulate individualized treatment plans to realize a significant reduction in the amount of possession cases processed through the system.


There have been many empirically underdeveloped arguments calling for the decriminalization of drug possession, but none have considered the importance of drug dependence as a preeminent reason why offenders receive possession charges. This research provides a clear and concise illustration of why drug dependence needs to be acknowledged in policy-oriented discussions focused on the criminalization of drug possession.



M. Kopak, A. and G. Hoffmann, N. (2014), "The association between drug dependence and drug possession charges", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 87-95.



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