Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world


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Dr Caroline Chatwin

Senior Lecturer in Criminology

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Cornwallis North East
Canterbury , Kent, CT2 7NF


I am a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. See the rest of our Criminology team.

I run my own third year optional undergraduate module and MA module in the field of illegal drugs.  The aim is to explore both the cultural context of drug taking and the political controls that have been placed upon this activity from an international perspective.  I supervise undergraduates and postgraduates in these areas.

My research is mainly based around the intricacies of drug policy at the European level debating whether or not drug policy in Europe should become more harmonised and critiquing policy options implemented at the European level.  I have also done some recent work in cannabis markets in the UK, internet research methods and older cannabis users.

My most recent work is in the field of policy responses to new psychoactive substances.

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

    Chatwin, Caroline and Porteous, D. (2013) Insiders? the Experiences and Perspectives of Long-Term, Regular Cannabis Users. Contemporary Drug Problems, 40 (2). pp. 235-257. ISSN 0091-4509.


    Much research on the use of illicit drugs begins with questions about lifetime use, intended to estimate the number of people who have ever used drugs (i.e., once or more) in their lifetime. By contrast the research described in this article describes the experience and perspective of "insiders" (as opposed to the "outsiders" of Becker's (1963) famous study): people who have used a class ? drug, cannabis, throughout their lifetime. Interviews were thus conducted with cannabis users who were over 35 years of age, had been using cannabis for at least 15 years, and who continued to use on at least a weekly basis. In total, 23 interviews were conducted: 13 of these were face-to-face interviews and a further 10 came from a modest utilization of Internet research methods. Findings suggest that the lifelong, regular users of cannabis that we interviewed did not follow traditional narratives of addiction, but instead participated in responsible and controlled consumption. Furthermore, the perceived health benefits of using cannabis were as important motivations for use as the pursuit of pleasure, and the most damaging aspects of use appeared to stem from the criminality of cannabis rather than any inherent properties of the drug itself.

    Chatwin, Caroline (2013) A critical evaluation of the European drug strategy: Has it brought added value to drug policy making at the national level? International Journal of Drug Policy, 24 (3). pp. 251-256. ISSN 0955-3959.


    Background: The current European Drug Strategy (EDS) and attendant Action Plan come to an end this year signalling a period of evaluation of and reflection on whether they have achieved their aims and objectives. Methodology: This opinion based article seeks to add a critical and academic evaluation to the mix, which is focused on determining the extent to which the European drug policy has brought added value to drug policy that is formulated at the national level, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. The analysis presented here examines the five key areas defined by the EDS: coordination, demand reduction, supply reduction, international cooperation and information, research and evaluation. Results: It suggests that, while clear benefits have been brought in the realm of information, research and evaluation and the development of harm reduction measures, there is still significant progress yet to be made. Conclusion: It finds that neither the Commission's dedication to increasing focus on law-enforcement methods, nor the Council's prescription for 'more of the same' are particularly beneficial to the development of European drug policy. Instead, the priorities should be building on areas where added value has been engendered and on allowing diversity in policy to flourish.

    Potter, Gary R. and Chatwin, Caroline (2012) The problem with "skunk". Drugs and Alcohol Today, 12 (4). pp. 232-240. ISSN 1745-9265.


    Purpose: This article aims to discuss the use of the word "skunk" in contemporary discourse as short-hand for premium quality, indoor-grown cannabis. Skunk, as used in this way, is a contested term that many cannabis users reject. The purpose of the article is to draw attention to some practical implications of this semantic dispute for academic research and for policy development. Design/methodology/approach: The authors draw on qualitative data generated during an online survey project examining UK cannabis markets. Findings discussed are contextualised by reference to use of the word skunk in public discourse through the media and policy documents. Findings: The uncritical use of the word "skunk" by researchers, the media and others can pose problems, particularly where the use and implied meaning of the word is rejected (as it is amongst a segment of the cannabis using population). Attempts to acquire or disseminate knowledge, or to develop or enact policy about cannabis use and distribution in the UK may encounter significant problems if attention is not paid to this issue. Originality/value: The article offers a view of the impact of the increased and uncritical public use of the word "skunk" on those who may be of particular concern to policy makers and academic researchers: those who are most involved with cannabis (e.g. heavier users, cannabis connoisseurs and cannabis growers).

    Chatwin, Caroline (2012) What kind of union? Soft convergence - or top down harmonization. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 12 (1). pp. 20-26. ISSN 1745-9265.


    Purpose: In a recent article in the pages of this journal, the author outlined the hypothesis that, although there have been recent evolutions in European governance effected by the Lisbon treaty, these changes have not brought about any convergence in the national drug policies of European member states. The original article focused on developments in the national drug policies of key member states and based the assessment on their maintenance of key, and significantly different, national policy aims. Standring, in this edition, has offered a critique of that article suggesting that the author has been overly pessimistic in her understanding of the nature of drug policy integration at the European level and that soft integration tools have allowed a high degree of policy convergence in this controversial area. This paper aims to strengthen and confirm the author's position by examining the tools of European drug policy integration. Design/methodology/approach: Key policy strategies (for example, the European Drug Strategy and Action Plans, European level anti-drug trafficking frameworks and recent implementations on newly developed psychoactive substances at the European level) are examined here for indications of success or otherwise in the harmonisation (or convergence) of European national drug policies. Findings: Ultimately, even under these new terms of reference, the paper finds that attempts to either harmonise or converge European national drug policies have done little more than scratch the surface. Originality/value: The paper suggests that neither the top-down regulation, here described, nor the soft convergence that Standring envisages are desirable for European drug policy making where they are implemented with the aim of making national drug policies more similar.

    Chatwin, Caroline (2010) Have recent evolutions in European governance brought harmonisation in the field of illicit drugs any closer? Drugs and Alcohol Today, 10 (4). pp. 26-32. ISSN 1745-9265.


    With the long awaited ratification of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, it appears that plans within Europe to achieve an ‘ever closer union’ are back on track, yet, in the field of illicit drug policy, harmonisation remains as elusive a goal as ever. Sweden and the Netherlands have long provided examples of the different paradigms of drug policy operating within Europe and this article seeks to examine whether, as European Union harmonisation moves forward, recent developments bring the two any closer to convergence on this contentious issue. In addition to changes in Swedish and Dutch drug policy, the progress of the drug policy of other European countries has been evaluated. The article concludes that the Swedes and the Dutch remain ultimately wedded to their national policies and that movement both towards increased repression of drug use and increased liberalisation of drug use can be observed among other European countries. Harmonisation of European drug policy therefore remains in a state of stalemate

    Chatwin, Caroline (2010) User Involvement in the illegal drugs field: what can Britain learn from European experiences? Safer Communities, 9 (4). pp. 51-60. ISSN 1757-8043.


    In Britain, the last two decades have seen a considerable increase in focus on service users' involvement in the provision of services that directly affect them, particularly where service users originate from a hard to reach population such as drug users. While the National Treatment Agency and drug and alcohol action teams often extol the virtues of the involvement of drug users in their service provision, participation of this type does not come without problems of its own. Experience of drug user involvement in service provision is much more established in Europe and this article seeks to utilise European examples in illustrating the potential pitfalls of such a strategy. Case studies are examined from three countries: the Netherlands where drug policy is relatively liberal and drug user groups have been established since the 1970s; Denmark where drug policy is fairly well balanced between repression and tolerance and drug user groups have been established since the 1990s; and Sweden where drug policy is relatively repressive and drug user groups are only just emerging. Salient points from these case studies are then used to form the discussion, relating European experiences to the situation in Britain.

    Chatwin, Caroline (2007) Multi-level governance: The way forward for European illicit drug policy? International Journal of Drug Policy, 18 (6). pp. 494-502. ISSN 0955-3959.


    Illicit drug policy has long been an area that has attracted international policy intervention, however, the European Union has declared it an area of subsidiarity, leaving ultimate control to national governments. Nevertheless, European Union preoccupation with the illicit drug issue and international drug trafficking and organised crime concerns have ensured that continued and increased cooperation in illicit drug policy is never off the agenda. This article examines the history of European integration in contrasting areas of policy and considers both the desirability and the viability of an increasingly harmonised drug policy for Europe. Finally, it proposes a model of integrated illicit drug policy that is strongly connected to developing patterns of European social policy, calling on multi-level governance and close involvement at the level of the citizen.

    Chatwin, Caroline (2004) The Effects of EU Enlargement on European Drug Policy. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 11 (6). pp. 437-448. ISSN 0968-7637.


    In May this year ten new countries joined the existing European Union(EU) member states after long and complex accession negotiations. This article examines preparations for accession that were made in the area of illicit drug policy and discusses both their effectiveness and possible limitations. In the areas of drug trafficking and production and the exchange of information between member states some concrete policy measures have been almost directly transferable to new member states, largely due to the high degree of cooperation between existing member states in these areas. However, in the more controversial areas of harm reduction and dealing with drug use and drug users there are no concrete EU guidelines in place and policy is left up to the national governments of individual countries. In this important area many existing EU member states have adopted important measures designed to reduce the harm of official drug policy but these practices are not proving to be so easily transferable to new member states. This article discusses the consequences of failing to adequately develop policy across the EU in this important area and suggests that failing to address this important issue in the new member states could have far reaching ramifications for the rest of Europe.

    Chatwin, Caroline (2003) Drug Policy Developments within the European Union: the destabilizing effects of Dutch and Swedish drug policies. British Journal of Criminology, 43. pp. 567-582. ISSN 0007-0955.


    This paper examines the couse of drug control within the European Union (EU). The individual policies of both the liberal Netherlands and the more repressive Sweden are explained in detail, and the effects they have on the EU as a whole are discussed. In order to understand these effects more fully an inspection of recent drug legislation developed in the fight against drugs is undertaken. Current trends relating to the drug problem that can be identified throughout the Member States are presented and evaluated with respect to the policies of both the Netherlands and Sweden. A division within the EU centring around the different policy styules of these two nations is discussed and possible solutions to the division are raised. Finally, the positive effects that this battle has resulted in are noted.


    Chatwin, Caroline (2011) Drug Policy Harmonization and the European Union. Palgrave Macmillan, 192 pp. ISBN 9780230271869.


    The issue of illegal drugs is one which impacts on all societies and one which does not respect national borders. It is, therefore, an ideal candidate for the development of an international policy response. The powerhouses of the European Union have expressed a desire to move towards an 'ever closer union' encompassing wider areas and deeper levels of policy, yet illegal drug policy has remained firmly in the control of the heads of member states. This book seeks to understand why it has been so difficult to harmonise in this area and explores both the desirability and the viability of a 'European drug policy'. Finally, it applies the popular European integration theory of multi-level governance to the issue of illicit drugs and suggests that, if harmonization of European drug policy were to develop along these lines, it would be both desirable and viable.

Book Sections
Total publications in KAR: 12 [See all in KAR]
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To date, the focus of my research has been the intricacies of drug policy at the European level.  I began my interest in this area with a PhD investigating the different paradigms of drug policy operating in Europe and exploring the possibility of an integrated European drug policy. 

Over the last ten years I have continued in this vein, publishing articles on the stability of drug policy within Europe, the role of the new European member states in defining drug policy and the relevance of multi-level governance as a policy strategy for the field of illicit drugs. Most recently I have published a research monograph in this area with Palgrave McMillan (2011) entitled ‘Drug Policy Harmonization and the European Union’ and an article in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2013) critiquing the outgoing European Union strategy on drugs.  In 2011 I also worked as the special advisor to the Home Affairs sub-committee of the House of Lords European Select Committee during their investigation into European drug policy.

More recently, I have been developing interests in additional areas connected to the drugs field.  I have conducted several small scale internet research studies and have published in the field of internet research methods.  The research studies explored subcultural elements of the psytrance scene, UK cannabis markets and the experiences of older cannabis users.

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SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 25/11/2014