Drug and alcohol control
The regulation of drugs and alcohol is instructive as an example of the legal response to, and construction of, a ‘social problem’. This particular ‘social problem’ periodically generates moral panics which result in, and rely upon, the representation of offenders as ‘dangerous’ and of the relevant activities as presenting a general threat to crime control and to ‘law and order’. A number of specific questions can be raised about the criminal regulation of drugs and alcohol. Notable among these are the uneven ‘mens rea’ requirements under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and in particular the arbitrary distinction between alcohol and other drugs. This division is especially contestable given the facts that alcohol has greater addictive qualities than some of the proscribed drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and is arguably more strongly associated with health and social problems in the UK than is, for example, cannabis (Husak 2002). While the possession of both alcohol and tobacco is generally lawful, their use is highly regulated in terms of those to whom they can be sold and where they can be consumed.
There are many specific offences associated with alcohol and drug use. While alcohol is lawfully available but regulated, the possession of many drugs is prohibited. A large number of people come into the criminal justice system through alcohol-specific offences, for example being drunk and disorderly in public, and offences against the licensing laws, such as selling or serving alcohol to underage drinkers.