PhD Defence – Michelle Bruijn: the alternative war on drugs

On May 20th, 2021 Michelle Bruijn (University of Groningen) will be defending her PhD thesis, titled ‘The Alternative War on Drugs: Drug Evictions, Cannabis Regulation and the Legal Consequences of Adapting to the Limitations of Criminal Law in the Field of Drug Control’.

Various scholars affirm that the criminal justice system has failed both to reduce drug consumption and to curb drug-related crime; they argue that the war on drugs is waning, and sputtering to close. However, Bruijn’s research shows that the war on drugs changing, rather than waning. Countries have adapted to the constraints of the criminal justice system. Bruijn’s thesis focuses on two of these adaptations: 1) the (re)regulation of cannabis in Canada and the Netherlands; and 2) the use of eviction to fight drug-related crime in the Netherlands and the United States. Bruijn used three different types of research methods to study these two developments: doctrinal legal research methods, comparative legal research methods and quantitative research methods.

In her dissertation, Bruijn shows that the limitations of the criminal justice system have led several jurisdictions to liberalise or legalise the use, possession, sale and production of cannabis. In 2018, Canada became the first G7 country to officially allow the regulation of the entire cannabis market. The Netherlands drew away from a punitive prohibition style decades ago, by tolerating small-scale retail of cannabis in coffeeshops. The Dutch government recently decided to start an experiment with regulated cannabis cultivation in 2021. The UN drug conventions no longer appear to be an obstacle for both countries. To date, both countries have received international criticism for their liberal cannabis policies, but there have been no real repercussions.

Another way of dealing with the failing criminal justice system is to use administrative and private law. Behind drug activities lies not only the threat of a criminal sanction, but also the threat of losing of one’s home. A major advantage of the use of administrative and private law is that these areas of law provide fewer legal safeguards than criminal law. Bruijn’s research shows that the protection offered to evictees in court cases about drug evictions in the Netherlands and the US, does not compensate this lack of legal safeguards. In fact, both the right to a fair trial and the right to housing are under severe pressure. The Netherlands and the US have adapted their fight against drug-related crime to the limitations of criminal law, but Bruijn’s research shows that legal protection offered by human rights has not (yet) adapted to this alternative war on drugs.

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May 20th, 2021

  • Location: Online
  • Organised by: University of Groningen

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