American Society of Criminology (Chicago, IL)

Three Suffolk University students – Andrea Blasdale, Jonathan Ball and Chris Koutrobis – presented their research  on the unintended impact of the Merida Initiative on the drug war in Mexico at the American Society of Criminology in Chicago in November 2012.

They argued that laws are implemented to address American social problems. While well-intentioned, these laws are passed in the heat of passion, are easy to exploit, often have side effects, appease certain groups or are thought to be cost efficient. These factors may actually result in unintended consequences or may make the original problem worse.

The group presented numerous examples that illustrated this tendency of US domestic social policy to have unintended negative effects. Forced desegregation of schools through busing did not reduce segregated schools; raising the minimum wage did not improve the economy; and prohibition of texting while driving may have actually increased driving-related accidents. The intent of US international drug control policy is to reduce drug consumption at home by attacking the problem abroad. Their paper discussed the rationality of this policy by examining the effects on Mexico. Using the model of unintended consequences they argued that this policy, as applied to these countries, often has negative consequences and might actually be making the problem worse.

Eastern Sociological Society (New York, NY)

After five months of data collection and analysis, four sociology students presented their findings at the Eastern Sociological Society Annual Meeting in New York City. Carla McCartin, Nicole McQueenan, Sean Tiernan and Brett Harrington analyzed the results of 115 surveys administered to Suffolk University students. Comparing the results with the findings from last year's study they found that support was still high for the Massachusetts law that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana (82%), although this support had declined 6% from the previous year. Support also decreased for legalizing the medical use of marijuana (77% versus 72%) and the taxation of marijuana (64% versus 63%). Explanation for the decrease in support for the liberalization of marijuana laws may stem from concern due to the slight increase in students who report use (34% to 43%). Support for expanding access may also have diminished as economic issues, obtaining a job, supporting a family, paying college tuition and legislation that would facilitate these were considered much more important by students this year than in the past. This project was supported by the Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research.

Eastern Sociological Society (Philadelphia, PA)

Two Suffolk University students, Andrea Blasdale (Sociology) and Kristen Salera (MSCJS) presented the results of their five month research project on Suffolk students' attitudes about marijuana decriminalization at the Eastern Sociological Society Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Their research indicates that college students are reasonably open-minded about the liberalization of marijuana laws in Massachusetts. The majority of the sample (87%) supports the law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug. Penalties for possession of less than an ounce is now punishable by a civil fine of $100. This liberal attitude toward marijuana extends to future laws regarding its use. The majority of students would consider supporting legislation that permitted medical (79%) and economic use through taxation (65%). Assuming that the students at Suffolk University are not vastly different ideologically from other college students in Massachusetts, Blasdale and Salera considered if further liberalization of the prohibitions on marijuana might be a reasonable approach.

Research indicates that marijuana has medical uses. If the drug was legally available for medical uses, taxes could be collected from not just the consumer, but from the grower, processor and distributor. These monies could be used to offset some of the budget shortfalls currently faced in Massachusetts. Further liberalizing our laws on marijuana use, making it legal, could vastly decrease the amount of money needed to enforce the laws on prohibition. According to Miron and Waldock (2010) Massachusetts spends $92 million on enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. Additionally if the drug was taxed an additional revenue stream of $65 million could be created.

Blasdale and Salera are aware of the potential arguments against the liberalization of marijuana. Will more people use the drug? Their research indicates that there was a small increase in usage post passage of the law. Will younger and younger children find the drug attractive because of legal status? Will the drug potency increase as people develop tolerance to the drug? Will we see a spoke in the number of people who become addicted with an accompanying increase in medical problems? Is marijuana the gateway drug to more harmful substances? Their research indicates a very slight increase in illegal drug use. All of these questions remain unanswered.

Blasdale and Salera's research indicates that attitudes may now exist that may permit answering some of these questions. Massachusetts may now be in a position to try an alternative approach to the current situation where large numbers of people are using an illegal drug, prohibition is costly and ineffective, we lose potential tax revenue and cannot offer the medical benefits to those who are suffering. The Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research sponsored this research.

American Society of Criminology (Washington, DC)

Two groups of Suffolk University sociology students were selected to present the results of their research at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Washington D.C.

One group mentored by Professor Gini Mann-Deibert included sociology students Sarah Beiter, Emma Brooks, Annalia Guerrero, and Lyndsey Kelly. This group examined the portrayal of female offenders in television crime drama and 'non-fictional' true-crime shows. Using social, personality, and situational (crime-oriented) characteristics, their research explored the image and the reality of female offenders across thirty separate coding schemes. Findings suggest that the television image of a female offender may be stereotypical rather than a true portrayal of reality.

Working with Professor Maureen Norton-Hawk, the second group included Suffolk students Bradford Carvallo, Andrea Blasdale, Stephanie Souza and Bonnie McNee. To gain a deeper understanding of the factors that lead to a country's involvement with illegal drugs and its unwillingness or inability to abide by U.S. drug war guidelines, the political, economic, cultural, geographical and social factors of four transit countries were examined. Mexico, Albania, Kazakhstan, and Iran have dramatically different histories, cultures, climates and economies yet are all major drug transit nations. The students' in-depth examination of the internal dynamics of these diverse nations suggests that U.S. drug war policy needs to become more sensitive to the uniqueness of the countries whose policies we hope to influence. The Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research sponsored these research projects.

Eastern Sociological Society (Boston, MA)

Four sociology students, Ashlyn Hackert, Gillian Murphy, Erica Ferrelli and Pat Greaney presented results of their five month research project on Suffolk students' attitudes about marijuana decriminalization at the Easter Sociological Society Annual Meeting. Results from a sample of 175 students indicate that 88% of Suffolk undergraduate students support the recent Massachusetts law decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Support for this legislation varies by political party affiliation with those identifying as Democrat significantly more likely to be in favor of the law. Life experiences such as knowing someone who has been arrested for possession, having a friend or family member using marijuana for medicinal purposes or knowing someone who has lost their job during recent recession, increased the likelihood of support significantly. Eighty percent are in favor of future legislation that permits the medical use of marijuana if physician prescribed. The research also examines the impact that decriminalization has on students' drug using behavior. Did the new law increase use of marijuana or other illegal drugs? 77% of the participants report no change in the frequency of their marijuana use while 88% report that their use of illegal drugs has not changed. The research was sponsored by the Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research.