The experiences of crime and policing from the perspective of adolescent cannabis users before treatment entry are not often understood by practitioners.
A qualitative design within an interpretivist paradigm was used. Data were collected using one‐to‐one semi‐structured interviews. A convenience sample was recruited through two treatment centers in Dublin, Ireland in 2015. A deductive thematic analysis was used.
In‐depth interviews with eight young people were conducted. At the individual level, there was a common theme of naïve crimes with the introduction of debt and developing violence. Young people often stole from their families and obtained credit from dealers. Policing was initially viewed as benign. Families suffered as a result of the drug debts but young people also spoke of intergenerational drug use. As the young person’s use progressed, the oppressed became the oppressor, young people were entrapped, violence escalated and real fear of incarceration and remorse was expressed.
Findings highlight the commonality of fear and the seriousness of personal and familial violent harms. The need for targeted developmental preventions in vulnerable settings is proposed. Parents and professionals need to have an awareness of money in the home and the role of intergenerational substance use.