¶ … war on drugs has been an unmitigated disaster that has fallen short of its intended objectives, and done nothing but blotted up taxpayers' money, opened up avenues for organized crime, and filled up the prison systems with mere drug users and possessors as the real traffickers and drug lords get enriched. Four decades since the launch of the war on drugs, violent crime caused by the drug trade continues to be a serious social concern. Four administrations have personally waged a war on drugs, characterized mainly through the criminalization of drugs and other harmful substances; yet these efforts have done little to decrease the availability and use of drugs in America. The country still tops the world in illegal drug use. A recent report by CNN, for instance, showed that approximately 500, 000 persons were in prison for drug-related crimes in 2012, compared to only 40,000 in 1989 (Branson, 2012). Our attempt to prohibit people from consuming drugs by banning the same seems not to have stopped them from using drugs, but only stopped them from obeying the law (Branson, 2012). The war on drugs, in its entirety, has been costly, and at the same time counterproductive. There is need to consider alternative ways of dealing with the drug issue. This text advocates for the relaxation of drug policy, and the shifting of spending from penalization and law-enforcement to prevention, treatment, and education.
The History of the War on Drugs in America
Then war on drugs was first declared in 1970 by President Nixon after it became apparent that drugs were ingredients for political dissent, social upheaval and youthful rebellion (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Nixon waged his war by introducing such measures as no-knock warrants and mandatory sentencing, and increasing the presence of federal agencies tasked with drug control (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Marijuana was placed in Schedule One, which was composed of the most restrictive drugs (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Between 1973 and 1977, there was a public outcry for the state to decriminalize marijuana possession and distribution for personal use. Nixon, however, would have none of this. Eleven states decriminalized the same during this period (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Promises to decriminalize marijuana dominated President Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in 1977, and in October the same year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a vote to decriminalize marijuana possession for quantities not exceeding one ounce (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). The decriminalization effect, however, went silent soon after that. When Ronald Reagan took over as president, he expanded the war on drugs in a move that saw the number of arrests and people in jail for nonviolent drug-related crimes rise from 50,000 to over 400,000 by the end of 1997 (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Zero-tolerance policies were adopted during Reagan's reign, and the DARE Drug Education program, which was based on the ideology that drug users are a menace and need to be taken out, gained ground (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). Congress and states passed draconian penalties that caused a significant growth in the prison population during this time. A federal ban on funding for syringe access programs was also imposed.
Bill Clinton took office in 1992 and perpetuated the draconian zero-tolerance policies initiated by his predecessors despite advocating for treatment as an alternative to incarceration during his presidential campaign. Clinton notoriously rejected proposals to end the federal ban on syringe funding and to eliminate the disparity between powder cocaine and crack sentences (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). He, however, surprisingly admitted (four weeks before leaving office) in a public interview, that the country needed to revise its imprisonment policies for drug users (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). It was not until President Bush took over that the war on drugs began to run out of steam as the administration focused less on incarceration and more on prevention and treatment.
The Cost of the War on Drugs
The war on drugs has lasted roughly four and a half decades; however, after all this while, there is still raging debate as to whether we, as a nation, are engaged in the same for the right reasons. At the center of all the controversy is the simple question -- is the war on drugs one that the United States can win? Well, we all agree that drugs have negative side effects; they are harmful and very capable of running a life, a job, a career and a family. However, is it worthwhile to put huge amounts of our resources into a war that has not been able to realize its intended objectives over four decades into its launch? We spend approximately...
Ever since President Nixon launched the war in 1971, we have spent over $1 trillion in financing it; yet we have nothing (other than a swelling prison population and being the world's leader in illegal drug use) to show for it (Branson, 2012). What is even more worrying is that despite spending so aggressively on the drug war, we have not managed to curtail the use and sale of illegal drugs. Warner (2008), for instance, showed that the U.S. had significantly higher rates of drug use compared to other countries such as New Zealand and the Netherlands, which have more liberal drug policies -- 16% of Americans were found to be users of cocaine against only 4% of New Zealanders and 1.9% of Netherlanders (Warner, 2008). Moreover, the rates of possession and usage have risen substantially since the 1980s, even with the war in place. On any given night in 2012, for instance, about 500,000 Americans were behind bars for drug-related offences (almost 10 times the 1980 total) (Drug Policy Alliance, 2012). These statistics are a perfect indication that the war on drugs has failed to realize its intended objectives, and needs to be replaced with more effective alternatives before it is too late. The first step towards correcting the situation, however, is establishing why the war failed in the first place.
Why the War on Drugs Failed
There are multiple reasons why the prohibition of drugs failed to realize its intended objectives. These include:
A focus on Law-Enforcement as opposed to prevention and treatment: we all agree that social elements such as poverty, low-educational levels, and lack of effective social programs are risk factors for drug use and abuse; yet instead of employing strategies of research, education and prevention geared at addressing issues of unemployment and poverty, the war concentrated on law-enforcement and on arresting and incarcerating anyone found trafficking or in possession of illegal drugs (Branson, 2012). A bulk of funding was allocated to enforcement programs as treatment programs continued to be overlooked -- addicted drug users in need of treatment were channeled to the criminal justice system, which basically implied that the demand for illegal drugs was still there, and drug lords, therefore, still had a market for their commodities. In 1993, for instance, only $2.5 billion was allocated to treatment programs, compared to $7.8 billion allocated to law enforcement -- for this reason, only 1.4 million drug users out of the total drug user population of 2.5 million were able to receive treatment (ACLU, 2015). When people do not receive the requisite treatment because the system is too preoccupied with punishment and prohibition, they continue to provide a market for illegal drug trade to thrive.
Privacy Issues: another driving factor of the drug war's failure was its openness to privacy invasion. This continues to be a social issue in the implementation of drug laws even today. The civil society took issue with the criminal prohibition of drugs because it caused law-abiding citizens to be unfairly subjected to arrest, prosecution and at times incarceration for things that they do in private (ACLU, 2015). In so doing, the government basically violated its citizens' fundamental rights of personal autonomy and privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution (ACLU, 2015). The underlying belief was that people ought not to be punished if their actions do not cause harm to others, regardless of the amount of harm they do to themselves (ACLU, 2015).
Openness to Racial Prejudice and Discrimination: research has shown the criminal prohibition of drugs to be a facilitator of discrimination against people of color (Drug Policy Alliance, 2012). Compared to their majority counterparts, people of color are more likely to be arrested, searched, frisked, and harshly sentenced (Drug Policy Alliance, 2012). For instance, despite making up less than 30% of the total American population, blacks and Latinos make up 77% and 57% of persons incarcerated in federal and state prisons for drug-related offences respectively (Drug Policy Alliance, 2012). Black people, who make up slightly less than 13% of the total population, account for nearly 30% of drug-related arrests and 40% of incarcerations every year (Drug Policy Alliance, 2012). The case is no different for Latinos, who make up only 17% of the population, yet comprise 20% and 37% of people incarcerated for drug-related offences in state and federal prisons respectively…
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"The program offers a unique advantage over many traditional surveys of drug use through its collection and testing1 of a urine sample from respondents to verify answers about recent drug use (Abt Associates Inc., 2009))." Fry, Smith, Bruno, O'Keefe & Miller (2007). Benzodiazepine And Pharmaceutical Opioid Misuse And Their Relationship To Crime. Retrieved from http://www.ndlerf.gov.au/pub/Monograph_21.pdf This source details the relationship between the prescription drugs benzodiazepine and pharmacological opioid use and crime.
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