America is at war. We have been fighting drug abuse for almost a century. Four Presidents have personally waged war on drugs. Unfortunately, it is a war that we are losing. Drug abusers continue to fill our courts, hospitals, and prisons. The drug trade causes violent crime that ravages our neighborhoods. Children of drug abusers are neglected, abused, and even abandoned. The only beneficiaries of this war are organized crime members and drug dealers.
States has focused its efforts on the criminalization of drug use. The government has, to no avail, spent
countless billions of dollars in efforts to eradicate the supply of drugs. Efforts of interdiction and law enforcement
have not been met with decreases in the availability of drugs in America. Apart from being highly costly, drug law
enforcement has been counterproductive.
Current drug laws need to be relaxed.
The United States needs to shift spending from law enforcement and
penalization to education, treatment, and prevention.
History of U S Drug Policy
first surfaced in the United States in the 1800’s. Opium became very popular after the American Civil War. Cocaine followed in the 1880’s. Coca was popularly used in health drinks and
remedies. Morphine was discovered in 1906
and used for medicinal purposes. Heroin
was used to treat respiratory illness, cocaine was used in Coca-Cola, and
morphine was regularly prescribed by doctors as a pain reliever.
turn of the century witnessed a heightened awareness that psychotropic drugs
have a great potential for causing addiction.
The abuse of opium and cocaine at the end of the 19th century reached
epidemic proportions. Local governments
began prohibiting opium dens and opium importation. In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act required all physicians to
accurately label their medicines. Drugs
were no longer seen as harmless remedies for aches and pains.
Harrison Narcotics Act, passed in 1914, was the United States’ first federal
drug policy. The act restricted the
manufacture and sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and morphine. The act was aggressively enforced. Physicians, who were prescribing drugs to
addicts on “maintenance” programs were harshly punished. Between 1915 and 1938, more than 5,000
physicians were convicted and fined or jailed (Trebach, 1982, p. 125.) In 1919, The Supreme Court ruled against the
maintenance of addicts as a legitimate form of treatment in Webb et al. v.
United States. America’s first federal
drug policy targeted physicians and pharmacists.
1930, the Treasury Department created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry J. Anslinger headed the agency until
1962 and molded America’s drug policy.
Under his tenure, drugs were increasingly criminalized. The Boggs Act of 1951 drastically increased
the penalties for marijuana use. The
Narcotics Control Act of 1956 created “the most punitive and repressive
anti-narcotics legislation ever adopted by Congress. All discretion to suspend sentences or permit probation was
eliminated. Parole was allowed only for
first offenders convicted of possession, and the death penalty could be invoked
for anyone who sold heroin to a minor (McWilliams, 1990, p.116).” Anslinger was critical of judges for being
too easy on drug dealers and called for longer minimum sentences. He established a punitive drug policy with a
focus on drug law enforcement.
The Federal Bureau
of Narcotics also used propaganda as a preventative measure. They created myths and horror stories about
drugs. Marijuana was blamed for bizarre
cases of insanity, murder, and sex crimes.
Anslinger said that marijuana caused some people to “fly into a
delirious rage and many commit violent crimes (McWilliams, 1990, P. 70).” It is puzzling that Anslinger and the FBN
fabricated such tales, while there existed less dramatic, but true horror
stories connected to drug abuse. The
propaganda of the 1940’s and 1950’s was often so far fetched that people simply
didn’t believe the government’s warnings about drugs.
1960’s gave birth to a rebellious movement that popularized drug use. The counterculture made marijuana
fashionable on college campuses. Other
“hippies” sought to expand their minds with the use of hallucinogens like
LSD. Many soldiers returned from the
Vietnam War with marijuana and heroin habits.
In short, the demand for drugs in America skyrocketed in the 1960’s.
Johnson Administration, in reaction to a sharp rise in drug abuse, passed the
Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966.
The act specified that “narcotic addiction” was a mental illness. The law recognized that the disease concept
of alcoholism also applied to drug addiction.
Drug use, however, was still considered a crime. The act did not have a major impact because
the small amount of funding that was appropriated for treatment couldn’t meet
the increasing demand for drugs in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The act did pave the road for federal
expenditures on drug abuse treatment.
The Modern Drug War
President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs.
He proclaimed, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States
is drug abuse. In order to fight and
defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive(Sharp,
1994, p.1).” Nixon fought drug abuse on
both the supply and demand fronts.
Nixon’s drug policies reflect both the temperance view and disease view
initiated the first significant federal funding of treatment programs in. In 1971, the government funded the then
experimental and enormously controversial methadone maintenance program. In June 1971, Nixon addressed Congress and
declared, “as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take
the risks of meeting the demand (Sharp, 1994, p.27).” In this statement he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of
interdiction and eradication are destined to fail.
Nixon failed to listen to his own advice.
Nixon launched a massive interdiction effort in Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in
1973. They initiated Operation
Intercept, which pressured Mexico to regulate its marijuana growers. The U S government spent hundreds of
millions of dollars closing up the border.
Trade between Mexico and the U S came to a virtual standstill. Mass amounts of Mexican crops headed for the
U S rotted, while waiting in line at the border. In the end, Nixon achieved his goal of curtailing the supply of
Mexican marijuana in America. Columbia,
however, was quick to replace Mexico as America’s marijuana supplier.
interdiction of Mexican marijuana was the government’s first lesson in the
“iron law of drug economics (Rosenberger, 1996, p.22).” Every effort the U S government has made at
interdiction since Operation Intercept has at most resulted in a reorganization
of the international drug trade.
Heavily monitored drug routes have been rerouted. Drugs enter the United States through land,
sea, and air. Closing our borders to
drug smugglers is an impossibility as long as the demand exists.
President Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. In a speech to Congress he said, “penalties
against possession of the drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself
(Rosenberger, 1996, p25).” Although
Carter endorsed lenient laws towards marijuana use, he was against legalization. Carter’s drug policy was focused on the
supply front, with most funding going to interdiction and eradication
decriminalization did not fail, but failed to be realized. Carter’s presidency witnessed a sharp
increase in cocaine use. From 1978 to
1984, cocaine consumption in America increased from between 19 and 25 tons to
between 71 and 137 tons. The demand for
cocaine increased as much as 700 percent in just six years (Collett, 1989, p.
35). Marijuana was widely connected to
cocaine as a feeder drug. Thus, the
federal and state governments moved away from marijuana decriminalization.
1981, President Reagan gave a speech mirroring Nixon’s admission that fighting
the supply side of the drug war was a losing proposition. He said, “It’s far more effective if you
take the customers away than if you try to take the drugs away from those who
want to be customers.” Reagan, like
Nixon did not heed is own advice. The average annual amount of funding for
eradication and interdiction programs increased from an annual average of $437
million during Carter’s presidency to $1.4 billion during Reagan’s first
term. The funding for programs of
education, prevention, and rehabilitation were cut from an annual average of
$386 million to $362 million (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 26).
demand side initiatives focused on “getting tough” on drugs. The program became known as the “zero
tolerance” program, where punitive measures against users were emphasized. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse gave the drug user
full accountability. Drug users were to
be prosecuted for possession and accordingly penalized. Although some block grants were given for
drug treatment, the rehabilitative efforts were insufficient to meet the
overwhelming amount of drug abuse.
Reagan’s demand side drug policy largely reflects the colonial, or
moralist view of addiction.
headlining innovative drug policies, Clinton has largely continued the
Republican’s supply sided drug policy.
In the 1995 budget, Clinton earmarked an extra $1 billion for both the
demand and supply fronts of the government’s drug policy. Clinton attracted the media’s attention when
he doubled the spending for rehabilitation and prevention programs. However, more substantial increases were
made for eradication programs and law enforcement. The 1995 budget included $13.2 billion for drug policy. $7.8 billion was spent on supply sided
efforts, while only $5.4 billion was spent on education, prevention, and
rehabilitation. Although Clinton did
increase the percentage spent on the demand front of the drug war, his policy
clearly reflects supply sided tactics (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 51).
is important to note that Congress has a significant influence on shaping
America’s drug policy. The Republican
104th Congress successfully killed many of Clinton’s attempts to spend more on
the demand side. Even the Democratic
103rd Congress of the early 1990’s fought shifting the drug policy towards
prevention and rehabilitation. Both
Democratic and Republic Congresses overwhelmingly favored continuing with
supply sided efforts.
Clinton didn’t significantly change the direction of U S drug policy he
presented some innovative proposals.
Clinton encouraged Community Action Programs and grass roots
organizations to participate in the demand side of the drug war. However, of the $1 billion given to the
Community Empowerment Program only $50 million was allocated to drug education,
prevention, and treatment (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 63). Thus, the potential of the programs was never realized.
The Drug Debate
proponents of drug policy can’t be classified as Liberal, Conservative, Left,
Right, Democratic, or Republican. Many
Liberals and Democrats, such as the 103rd Congress favor drug criminalization
and supply sided efforts, while some Conservatives, such as Milton Friedman and
William Buckley favor drug legalization.
There are, however, three prevailing views on addiction in America,
which have derived from America’s views of alcoholism.
Colonial or Moralist view considers the drug user to be sinful and morally
defective. The drug itself is not the
problem. The moralist’s drug policy
entails punitive measures for users.
Drug use is a crime. Reagan’s
“zero tolerance” policy on drug use is an excellent example of a moralist drug
the Temperance view considers the drug itself, as an addictive substance and
the cause of addiction. The supply of
drugs is a public hazard. According to
the temperance view, drug policy should focus on drug smugglers and drug
dealers as the root of drug addiction.
U S drug policy has largely been influenced by the temperance view of
disease concept views addiction as being a treatable disease. Neither the drug user, nor the drug supplier
is responsible drug addiction. The
disease concept calls for a drug policy that focuses on drug treatment and
rehabilitation. Clinton, for example
embraced the disease concept and increased funding for treatment programs.
There has been continuous and
widespread debate about drug policy since Nixon waged America’s first war on
drugs. Remarkably, the issues have
changed very little. In fact, U S drug policy hasn’t had many significant
changes over the last 30 years. The U S
has long endorsed a supply sided drug policy.
Most of the funding has gone to interdiction and eradication
efforts. These measures have failed and
continue to fail. The United States
needs to significantly shift its funding towards education, prevention, and
treatment. Thus, America needs to
decriminalize drug use.
decriminalization does not imply drug legalization. Drug trafficking and drug dealing need to remain criminal
activities. Punitive drug laws on drug
users need to be relaxed. Of the
750,000 drug law offenses in 1995, 75% of them were merely for use (Nadelmann,
1991, p. 20). Habitual drug use
offenders, who are usually addicts face heavy fines and long prison
sentences. Drug law enforcement and
incarceration are extremely costly and counterproductive. Addicts have the potential to be
treated. The appropriate response is
The National Institute on Drug Abuse
estimated that in 1993 as many as 2.5 million drug-users could have benefited
from treatment. Only about 1.4 million
users were treated in 1993. Almost half
of the nation’s addicts were ignored.
The government spent only $2.5 billion on treatment programs compared to
$7.8 billion on drug law enforcement.
The government needs to shift its funding from costly, unproductive drug
eradication programs to meet treatment demands.
does not imply opening up our borders to drug suppliers and tolerating violent
drug syndicates. The supply side of the
drug war should be reduced, not ignored.
Violent drug gangs and large-scale drug suppliers should be targeted
instead of the drug user and the small time dealer. Although spending less on interdiction will inevitably make it
easier to smuggle drugs into the U S, there is no evidence that the demand for drugs
will significantly rise.
have been some victories in the drug war.
Every addict who through federally funded treatment programs and
rehabilitation becomes sober is a victory.
The benefits are endless.
Addicts, who treat their disease often reenter society and become
productive workers. Recovering addicts
are able to parent their children and are positive and powerful examples in
order to decriminalize drugs, society has to abandon the puritanical idea that
drug users are morally defective. The
government, which has already publicly acknowledged the disease concept of
addiction, needs to focus its drug policies on the demand side. The U S government can only relieve drug
abuse by treating our addicts through rehabilitation and preventing the use of
drugs through education.
The War on Drugs: Is it a War
United States has been engaged in a
“war” for nearly 25 years. A war in which there is a great deal of confusion as
to why we are engaged in it, and if we are in the war for the right reasons.
The resolution of the war is curtailed by varying opinions and subjective
statistical proof. The war which has been a continuing struggle, is the “war on
drugs” At the heart of this war is a
fundamental question: Is this a battle
the United States can win? It is likely
everyone will agree drugs are harmful, they have serious medical side-effects.
Drugs are addictive; can ruin a family, a job, a life. I agree that drugs have very negative side
effects, but is the solution to fight a very costly and ineffective battle to
eradicate drugs entirely? Is this even
a possibility? I am not so sure, and
this paper will show that the war on drugs has likely caused much more harm
than good. Further, it will explain why
not all drugs are the same, explore some options, and look at the future of the
United States, and of the world
spend $50 billion per year trying to eradicate drugs from this country.
According to DEA estimates we capture less than 10 percent of all illicit
drugs. In this regard, I have a two part question 1) How much do you think it
will cost to stop the other ninety percent?
Too much. 2) Does $50 billion a
year for a 90% failure rate seem like a good investment to you? I am sure the answer is no. Has the cost of the War on Drugs in terms of
billions of dollars, blighted lives, jammed prisons, intensified racism,
needless deaths, loss of freedom etc., produced any significant change in drug
availability or perceived patterns of drug use? Unfortunately not.
Abraham Lincoln said "Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason
in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and make crime
out of things that are not crimes."
It is estimated that 45 million U.S. citizens have tried an illicit drug
at least once. How many of the 45 million drug users do you feel we must
incarcerate in order to win the war on drugs?
Why does the FDA stand up for the right of adults to smoke tobacco,
which is highly addictive and causes over 400,000 deaths per year, while
decreeing that adults have no right to smoke marijuana, which is non-addictive
and kills no one? Alcohol costs thousands of lives, and alcoholism is an
accredited disease, but anyone age 21 or older can go to the liquor store and
buy alcohol. Drug use is an
acknowledged fact of life in every prison in the country. If we can't stop
prisoner use of drugs, how can we rationally expect to stop average free
citizens from using them? Despite
signatures from 85 prominent groups and individuals, why has the Hoover
Resolution (a call for an independent panel to revue existing drug policies)
not been considered, accepted, or initiated? What lessons from alcohol
prohibition lead you to believe that the current drug war will end in victory?
At a time when working people are being asked to tighten our belts in order to
help balance the budget, how do you justify increasing the funding to the drug
law enforcement bureaucracy? Explain why supporting a failed policy of drug law
enforcement has a greater priority than student loans or drug education
programs. There are so many questions,
with so few answers. Now we must
consider the solutions. First one must
understand what we are dealing with.
drugs are much more serious than others.
LSD was originally produced as an elephant tranquilizer and can
obviously cause very violent and serious effects. There have been incidents of people, high on LSD, ripping their
hands out of hand-cuffs, by breaking every bone in their hands. The scary things is these people didn’t even
feel it. Cocaine and crack are much
more prevalent, very addictive, and can kill you the very first time you try
them. Many will remember the great
promise of basketball player Len Bias, whose life was taken after one night of
experimentation with Cocaine. Heroine
use is very addictive, leaves its users feeling and looking empty, and the
spread of AIDS is proliferated by the sharing of needles for this drug. So all these drugs can be lumped into the
“very serious/addictive” category, with obvious varying extremes. Should
Marijuana fit into this category? A
scientific study funded by the White House says no. The study showed, “Marijuana’s active ingredients seem to have
many medical benefits including pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting,
and appetite stimulation” (Rolling
Stone, pg.32). The study also rejected the notion that marijuana is a “gateway
drug.” Many experts believed that using
Marijuana is a stepping stone and once people can’t get a high from pot, they
will move on to more serious drugs. The
study gave no proof that this gateway phenomenon existed, and seemed to point
in the direction of at least reconsidering our current position on
Marijuana. It is clear to me that
Marijuana does not belong in the same category as the other drugs, and the
proposition of legalization should be seriously considered.
What do we
have to enjoy from legalizing Marijuana, and possibly other drugs, or at least
regulating there use? Consider the
experiences of Holland--a country where drugs fall under the jurisdiction of health
agencies, not law enforcement, which has seen a decline in chronic use of hard
drugs and casual use of soft drugs since decriminalization. If illegal drugs are so obviously harmful to
people's health, why is it necessary to put so many American adults in prison
to prevent them from using these drugs?
If people want to take drugs, people are going to find a way to get
drugs. The problem is the war on drugs
is not attacking the right people. The
people being hurt are the recreational users who get busted for having $50
worth of pot or cocaine in their pockets.
These people aren’t drug dealers, they aren’t gang-bangers, they are
people with families, that use drugs, and are put away for decades. Consider some simple figures: “The number of federal prisoners who are
drug offenders is 55, 624, 50% of whom
are non-violent first time offenders.
59% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug chargers, compared to
only 2.5% incarcerated for violent crimes.
717, 720 Americans were arrested in 1997 for murder, rape, robbery, and
aggravated assault (combined), while 695,200 were arrested for marijuana
offenses alone” (Playboy, pg. 47). I feel the last figures are the most
telling. It just seems like the purpose
of the war on drugs has been lost, and as a result of the powers that be not
accepting an alternative, other battles are being lost as well. Jimmy Carter
once said, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging
to an individual than the use of the drug itself” (Playboy, pg. 47).
Currently this is not the case, and this is just another example of a
need for change.
major problem with our current situation is money. Not only is it expensive to prosecute drug offenders, it is
expensive to detain them. Currently,
more money is being put into building prisons than into building schools. In 1998, 16 billion dollars were spent in
federal funding for the war on drugs.
That is an astronomical number, and it seems as if the results don’t go
along with the effort. If all this time
and money is being spent on education, and prevention, and treatment, and the
numbers continue to rise, then an alternative must be sought. As immoral and ridiculous as legalization
may seem to some, all the facts seem to show that it, at the very least,
deserves consideration. Without a
solution to the current situation, the U.S. will remain in a vicious circle
with no hope of coming out of it.
we go from here? Clearly major steps
need to be taken. I believe the first
step is an admission by the administration that our current system doesn’t
work. The next step must be to find out
what the opinion is on the streets and in the schools. Do the education and awareness efforts
work? What makes someone decide to try
drugs? What is the biggest influence on
the child? Maybe by taking note of what
other countries have done, for example Holland which was mentioned earlier, the
U.S. can get ideas for some sort of compromise. It seems to me that the U.S. is set in its ways that drugs will
not be tolerated and that this is a battle we must win. What must be realized is that changing our
policies is not an admission of defeat.
This shouldn’t be a matter of egos or overly conservative opinions. The bottom line is that drug use needs to be
reduced, the murders must be brought down, and the number of people
incarcerated must be decreased.
drug war began in the 1960s, and for thirty five years it has failed to produce
and real success. Which is better for America during the next 35 years,
prohibition with the continuing costs and ineffectiveness, or reform policies
that approach the problem from a different angle. Instead of spending so much money on imprisoning drug offenders
and preaching why drugs are bad, why not spend the money on schools, and school
programs? The idea is to keep kids from
using drugs, and this will in turn reduce the numbers of adults that use drugs. The same goal is present in alcohol and
cigarettes, and it is handled much differently. Why not treat at least Marijuana just like cigarettes and
alcohol. Don’t make it illegal, just
take steps to discourage people from using it. Education is a must, but prosecuting small time offenders is
pointless. The facts just don’t do much
to support the war on drugs. Consider
some facts and costs that this country has undertaken as a result of attempting
to make drug use illegal.
I will end
this report with some outlined problems with keeping drugs illegal. There is a need for change, and this must be
The war on drugs has
failed. By making drugs illegal, this country has:
1) Put half a
million people in prison : $10 Billion a year
2) Spent billions
annually for expanded law enforcement
3) Fomented violence
and death (in gang turf wars, overdoses from uncontrolled drug potency &
4) Eroded civil
rights (property can be confiscated from you BEFORE you are found guilty;
search and wiretap authority has expanded.)
5) Enriched criminal
The street price of
a single ounce of pure cocaine is several thousands of dollars, yet the cost
to produce the drug is less than $20. The difference is the amount we are
willing to pay to criminals for the privilege of keeping the drug illegal.
Not only that, but such a high markup is strong incentive for people to enter
into the sales and trafficking of these drugs. The stiff penalties we assess
against drug dealers only makes the price higher and the criminals more
desperate to escape capture, more determined to protect their market from encroachment.
If drugs were legalized, the price would drop by to a tiny fraction of their
current street values and the incentive to push drugs would vanish.
Recall that during
prohibition, bootleggers and police used to shoot it out over black market
'shine. Illegal speakeasies did a booming trade, the profits of which went to
organized crime. With the end of prohibition, alcohol has been taxed and
provides a revenue stream to the State. Would drug use go up? Maybe. But it
might well go down, since there would be no profit in getting new users to
users against themselves costs the rest of us too much: in dollars, in safety
and in freedom.
The Final thought is simply
this: The drug war is not working,
and if alternatives are not considered now, a solution may never be possible.
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