Do Normative Issues Outperform Deterrence for Compliance With Drug Laws?

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorJorge Quintas
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Do Normative Issues
Outperform Deterrence for
Compliance With Drug Laws?
Jorge Quintas
This article tests the impact of deterrence and normative variables in the estimation of drug use
among both detected drug users and university students. Consistent with perceptual deterrence
research, we expect: (a) a stronger effect of normative variables on estimation of drug use com-
pared to deterrence variables and (b) that any deterrent effect would be restricted to detected
drug users. In Portugal, we conducted a cross-sectional survey with detected drug users (N=147)
and with a sample of university students (N=247). The main results show that normative variables
outperform deterrent variables as predictors of intention to use drugs. Descriptive norms have a
greater inf‌luence on the estimation of drug use in both groups, and proximal social norms have
robust effects among university students. Core elements of the deterrence model are not related
to the intention to use drugs. Personal certainty of being caught has even an unexpected positive
correlation with this intention. A small deterrent effect is limited to the general certainty variable
and only among more law-abiding people. The overall f‌indings are consistent with a normative per-
spective on law compliance and highlight the importance of including all different normative and
deterrent variables in models estimating drug use.
perceptual deterrence, drug use, compliance, norms, propensity
In the last century, according to international conventions ratif‌ied by the vast majority of coun-
tries, the use of illicit drugs or the possession of drugs for personal use has typically been prosecuted
by the criminal justice system. Only a few European countriessuch as Italy, Spain, Portugal, and
the Czech Republicas well as some American and Australian states have decriminalized drug use.
Although the UN endorsing decriminalization as a viable reform strategy, prohibitionist laws and
their enforcement continue to be the status quo approach for preventing drug use around the
However, recently a number of jurisdictions, including Canada, Uruguay, and some US
School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
CJS Crime, Justice and Security, Interdisciplinary Research Centre, Porto, Portugal
Corresponding Author:
Jorge Quintas, School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Rua dos Bragas, 223, Porto 4050-123, Portugal.
Original Article
International Criminal Justice Review
2024, Vol. 34(2) 134-146
© 2023 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10575677231199235

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