In Canada, illicit drug use and addiction have traditionally been considered as a criminal justice problem and have been addressed from a legal perspective. Over the past century, a medical approach to drug addiction has slowly crept into the criminal justice processing of drug offenders. This has happened through the combination of principles of punishment with principles of addiction treatment in the sentencing of drug offenders to create a distinct application of ‘compulsory drug treatment’ in Canada. However, this evolution has occurred sporadically over time, with punishment and coercion as predominantly the main approach to dealing with this population. This evolution has recently culminated in Canada with the development of two criminal justice approaches to dealing with the substance use problems of drug offenders that incorporate concepts of punishment and treatment more equally than ever before – conditional sentencing and drug courts. This paper outlines the historical evolution of concepts of ‘compulsory treatment’, discusses such examples of contemporary ‘compulsory treatment’ as conditional sentencing and drug courts, and analyses the implications, concerns and challenges associated with these tools currently used in the sentencing of drug offenders in the Canadian context.

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