Four decades ago, the American government declared a war on drugs. As has been the case with some other American wars, the battle continues with the American government continuously investing money and resources in the stubborn hope of defeating its enemy. The enemy persists with government and violators playing a cop-robber squall, people continuing to harm themselves, the government raising taxes and steepness of penalties, and the jails and social programs filling -- not emptying -- with substance abusers. This despite a plethora of research, interventions, material on the subject, conventions, legal policies, brainstorming, and so forth
The essay suggests that it may be time to consider a wiser, more effective, strategy.
American Policy on Substance Abuse: History & Scope of Issue
Four decades ago, the American government declared a war on drugs. The initiatus came typically enough with Nixon who still fighting one war decided to fight another with one with drugs. In a special message to Congress, in July 14, 1969, President Richard Nixon identified drug abuse as "a serious national threat" and as "public enemy No. 1." (NPR) Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to coordinate the efforts of all other agencies. Commerce and use of psychoactive drugs such as cocaine and opium had been frequent and legal until then, but, starting with Nixon's proclamation, various legal regulations and restrictions against drugs were introduced, dropped, and introduced again, until in 1970 Congress enacted the federal Controlled Substances Act (the "CSA") that repealed most of the earlier federal legislation and became the basis for contemporary American drug policy.
Drugs are categorized into two sectors: Schedule 1 drug, including marijuana, LSD, heroin, and peyote, are permitted only for carefully licensed research purposes, whilst Schedule 2 drugs (cocaine, opium, morphine, meperidine (Demerol) and codeine) are exclusively accepted for medical use (Dolin, 2001). In 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act was implemented, closely followed by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Amendment Act of 1988 which incrementally raised federal penalties for drug-related offences and activities and tightened drug-regulation procedures, whilst the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director is called the 'Drug Tsar' was instituted in 1988 under the National Narcotics Leadership Act (Ibid.). Starting from 2000, a Drug Dealer Liability Act that transferred liability on drug dealers for the harm caused by proscribed drugs was accepted by 13 states, and penalty for drug dealers who involved children in drug transactions was increased under the Protecting Our Children from Drugs Act (2000). Other initiatives included the Drug Free America Act of 2001, the Domestic Narcotic Demand Reduction Act of 2001, and the Drug Treatment and Research Enhancement Act of 2001 (Dolin, 2001).
Perspectives & Analysis of Policy
American legal penalties for drug involvement are severe. Third felony drug offences involving Substance I drugs carry a mandatory life sentence without possibility of release. The penalties also involve any sample carrying a certain amount of the proscribed drug, regardless of the material of the sample involved. Otherwise, fines and sentencing of drug offenses are left to the discretion of the individual states and as regards sentencing, there are, oftentimes, large disparities between each. On the whole, however, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law attempts to achieve national consistency by drafting drug-related legislation that is effective throughout the nation.
Drug-control policy in the United States formats itself on a five-tiered platform that is composed of prevention, education treatment, research, and supply reduction activities. Various government departments manage the War on Drugs and activities are instituted to dissuade foreign countries from producing or transmitting drugs to the U.S.A. Nonetheless, problems exist, people persist in smuggling and using drugs, and the so-called War continues.
Impact of Policy & Analysis
Some of the troubling issues of this War on Drugs include the cost of incarceration, involved police corruption, and the unequal impact of federal penalties on racial minorities. There is a mixed debate on the efficacy of this War: whilst some have suggested decriminalization of certain drugs, others have called for modification of certain policies, or maintaining them whilst conducting more research. More significantly, the LaGuardia Committee Report (1944), the Shafer Commission (1972), the National Research Council (1982), and the National Academy of Sciences (1999) demonstrated that the hype surrounding marijuana was largely unfounded. The ABA-AMA Joint Committee on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and the New York County Lawyers Association (1996) concluded that drugs should be best seen as a medical rather than a criminal offence. The New York City Bar Association (1977), too, reported that federal penalties had done little to decrease drug trafficking (Dolin, 2001).
It may be time to consider the Harm Principle.
Judgment: What is the Harm Principle? Why is it effective?
The Harm Principle was first articulated by Mill (1859) in his "On Liberty" (and then duplicated in Locke's Second Treatise of Government, and in the works of von Humboldt) where Mill (1859) maintains that the government should desist from interfering in perpetration of victimless crimes. As Mill (1859) insists, the only reason for which a government can decide to interfere in the daily activities of its citizens is for protection of these citizens. Other activities that involve body or mind should be left up to the volition of the individual involved. As long as the individual is aware of the repercussions of these deeds, it is her or she who is, and should be, in charge of his behavior. Libertarianism holds this philosophy: "Libertarians believe that individuals should have complete freedom of action, provided their actions do not infringe on the freedom of others"(Boaz, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). Considering that government involvement in drugs has not only failed to inhibit the cycle, but there are troubling concerns as to whether or not the American government should involve itself in the first place in dissuading people not to abuse drugs, implementation of the Harms principle may be a more effective and cogent approach.
The Netherlands: their Stance to Drugs and the Harm's Principle
The Netherlands is a country that puts the Harms Principle in motion and it is a country that has consequently demonstrated a remarkable record in its ability to limit the damage that often results from misuse of drugs.
Most countries prohibit and penalize drug use on the basis of its destructiveness to the larger society. The emphasis is placed on drugs being damaging to the warp and woof of the country as a whole whilst the individual as person is ignored. The Netherlands, on the other hand, formulates its prohibition of drug use around the tenet of reducing harm to users. In this way, it demonstrates that its concern about drugs stems not so much from concern to structure of country but rather form concern of the drug's harm to the individual user. The government is telling the citizen: you can do better; drugs can harm you.
Putting the individual in control of his own health, the government arranges intervention to a minimum. It categorizes its drugs into 'soft' and 'hard' substances and controls both, with the application of a tolerance policy (gedoogbeleid) in regards to "soft drugs." Other countries specify the conditions under which substance abuse of "soft drugs" should be punished and the government should intervene, as see, for instance, the many laws passed by the U.S.A. The Dutch government, on the other hand, specifies the conditions under which offenses should be left alone and the government should refrain from intervening (Bewley-Taylor, David, & Fazey, 2003; Duncan, & Nicholson, 1997). According to current gedoogbeleid, for instance, possession of a maximum amount of five grams of cannabis for personal use is not prosecuted, but, if more is grown, this cannabis has to be handed over upon discovery. People like a certain amount of control over their lives. The Dutch government gives them this whilst making them aware of the danger of drugs and intervening only when absolutely necessary. It allows them a certain amount of freedom and this permission to 'sin' deflates the urge to rebel and the excitement and adventure that comes from so doing. It may be that a great percentage of substance abuse initiates (particularly with adolescents) with the exhilaration that comes from bucking the system and getting away with it. The Dutch government grants their citizens this permission thereby deflating any possible sense of violation from adventure. The American government, on the other hand, conceivably stimulates this sense for adventure in its harsh crack-down on possession of any type or quantity of drugs whatsoever. Dutch penalty too of drug use is less severe than that practiced by the American government. The U.S. government has the policy of life imprisonment for third felony offence of Substance 1 drugs, whilst Dutch penalty can feature 12 to 16 years of imprisonment for importing or exporting any hard drug (Duncan, & Nicholson, 1997).
The Netherlands and Result of their Battle with Drugs
The success of the Netherlands's stance on drugs can be evidenced by the fact that only…