Drugs and policing – Continuity and change in contemporary drug law enforcement practices (10 November 2021)

Published on 08/10/2021

A large proportion of police stops are targeted at drug offences and research has estimated that up to two-thirds of all stops concern possession of illicit drugs in England and Wales (Shiner, Carre, Delsol & Eastwood, 2018). Simultaneously, there has been increased recognition that drug law enforcement does not achieve its intended goals and that it brings a range of unintended and harmful consequences with it. Consequently, both local and national governments, as well as police departments, have been exploring possibilities of moving in new directions and have been developing alternative approaches (Rosmarin & Eastwood, 2016). Thus, drug policy and drugs policing seem to both be undergoing change in some respects and in some places, as well as display marked continuity in others.

Research on drugs policing has been characterized as a somewhat fragmented and underdeveloped field (Bacon & Spicer, forthcoming). Nevertheless, recent years have seen emerging new and exciting research on drug law enforcement and the policing of illicit drugs. This research has both documented novel innovations in drugs policing, as well as prevalent resistance to change. This online conference aims to bring some of this work together and is dedicated to exploring the practices and experiences of police stops in the context of illicit drug use and possession.

The conference will address different issues relating to the policing of illicit drugs. These include a focus on how drugs policing is practiced and the (harmful) consequences of this. Furthermore, the conference will dedicate attention to the policing of drug markets. In addition to this, presentations will explore how policing could be reoriented in order to better support people who use drugs and how some police forces have been developing ‘harm reduction policing’ strategies in recent years. Lastly, the conference will dedicate space to explore how drugs policing is experienced by those subjected to it, as well as to possible solutions to the enduring problems of drugs policing and ways to move forward.

The conference is organized by the COST Action Polstops and is being hosted by the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University.

The conference will take place online on 10 November 2021, 10:00-16:30 (CET).

Please click here to register.



10:00 – 10:15 Opening of the conference and general information

Torsten Kolind & Tobias Kammersgaard (Aarhus University)

10:15 ‑ 11:45 Session 1: Policing drugs and its (harmful) consequences

Chair: Tobias Kammersgaard (Aarhus University)

”You shouldn’t smoke weed and then this wouldn’t happen”: the smell of cannabis in police stop-searches Mike Rowe (University of Liverpool)
Serious harms and questionable benefits: a literature review on the policing of drug possession Charlie Lloyd (University of York)
Drugs, ‘Race’ and Defunding the Police: Daring to Dream Michael Shiner (London School of Economics), Habib Kadiri (StopWatch)
Dismantling drugs policing: moving to reforms premised on racial and social justice Niamh Eastwood (Release)
11:45 ‑ 12:00 Coffee break
12:00 ‑ 13:00 Session 2: Drug detectives and the policing of drug markets

Chair: Thomas Friis Søgaard (Aarhus University)

Tensions between the effective and symbolic policing of local drug markets Ross Coomber (University of Liverpool)
Responding to the drug market practice of ‘cuckooing’ Jack Spicer (University of West England, Bristol)
Drug discourses and the self-legitimacy of drug detectives Steven Debbaut (Ghent University)
13:00 ‑ 13:30 Lunch break
13:30 ‑ 14:30 Session 3: Harm reduction policing

Chair: Torsten Kolind (Aarhus University)

Harm reduction policing: Conceptualisation and implementation Matthew Bacon (University of Sheffield)
Harm reduction as policy networks Esben Houborg (Aarhus University)
Harm reduction vs. gentrification: The case of Frankfurt am Main Bernd Belina (Goethe University Frankfurt)
14:30 ‑ 14:45 Coffee break
14:45 ‑ 16:15 Session 4: Experiencing drugs policing

Chair: Randi Solhjell (Norwegian Police University College)

The impact of criminalisation on people who use drugs: Findings from the Drug Policy Voices project Rebecca Askew (Manchester Metropolitan University)
The Misuse of Drugs Act and Racialised Policing of Black British Communities Bisi Akintoye (University of Kent)

Amal Ali (London School of Economics)

Marginalized people who use drugs and their experiences with policing in a context of partial decriminalization Tobias Kammersgaard (Aarhus University)
Experiences of drug policing from the perspective of people who use drugs: Where we are at and what needs to change Louise Vincent (North Carolina Urban Survivors Union)
16:15 – 16:30 Final words and goodbye

Torsten Kolind & Tobias Kammersgaard (Aarhus University)


NB: Please note that the time zone is Central European Time (CET)

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