Have Stiff Drug Laws Helped or Hurt the Criminal Justice System Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Drug Laws

The Shortcomings in our Current Drug Law Policy: Research Proposal

As a major policy issue in the United States, the War on Drugs has been one of the most monumental failures on modern record. At a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, thousands of lives lost and many thousands of others ruined by untreated addiction or incarceration, America's policy orientation concerning drug laws is due for reconsideration. Indeed, the very philosophical orientation of the War on Drugs and of the current drug policy in the United States has been one of prosecution and imprisonment rather than one of decriminalization, treatment and rehabilitation. As our medical and scientific communities characterize addiction as a disease, the United States government continues to characterize this disease as a crime. And in doing so, it has created an unnecessary criminal class in the United States. The research proposal will set out to prove that stiffer drug laws will only have the impact of criminalizing countless drug addicts who might otherwise benefit substantially from rehabilitation and other treatment-based strategies. With a specific focus on the prohibition of marijuana, the research will set out to distinguish between those states that employ laws of prohibition and those that do not.

Purpose of Study:

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the failure of the central philosophy of the War On Drugs by illustrating that little to no connection can be made between the mass incarceration of drug-related offenders and a reduction in the penetration or costs of the drug problem. Quite in fact, as the literature review will reveal in more plain evidence, the most determinable consequence of America's drug policy has been the extraordinary increase in the number of those held in the nation's prison systems and, consequently, an excessive financial burden on the taxpayer to support this overcrowded system. The study here is intended to illustrate that stiff drug penalties have increased our prison population but that, especially relative to rehabilitation and treatment programs, have done little to reduce or eliminate drug addiction.

Literature Review:

Before proceeding to a discussion on the research elements that will be used to prove the assertion stated directly here above, it is useful to provide some background data on the War on Drugs. This will be used to demonstrate the persistence of the policy problem identified in the section directly above. First and foremost to this discussion is the reality that the War on Drugs has been a fatally flawed policy. The article by Moyers (2010) points out that among the more startling realities of a policy centering on incarceration and prohibition is the degree to which this has inflated America's prison population. Moyers points out that the United States is far and away the owner of the world's largest jail system. Though the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world's population, it is home to 25% of the world's prisoners, 2.3 million citizens or one in every 31 Americans. (Moyers, p. 1)

Moyers places the price tag for this prison system at roughly $60 billion annually and points out that a great deal of both the population and expense of America's prison system may be connected directly to its drug policy orientation. According to Moyers, "in his Senate floor speech introducing the legislation, Senator Jim Webb tackles another thorny political issue, U.S. drug policy, "The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%." (Moyers, p. 1)

This increase denotes a highly tangible consequence of the war on drugs. However, it is unclear that this consequence has also come with a reduction in the presence of drug trafficking, dealing or addiction in the United States or beyond. In fact, by criminalizing drug abuse, there is evidence that the United States has only helped to increase the street value and desirability of the very substances it aims to stamp out. According to Debusmann (2012), the federal government continues to view this mode of incarceration as worthy of more investment than either treatment or rehabilitation. Debusmann indicates that in spite of President Obama's early campaign promise to end the War on Drugs in favor of a more tempered policy orientation, "the 2013 budget proposal allocates 41.2% for demand reduction and 58.2% for law enforcement. In other words, more of the same -- policies that have been pursued since President Richard Nixon first declared war on drugs in 1970. Obama's 2004 assessment of those policies -- "utter failure" - has come to be shared by many even though he no longer stands by it and even though members of his team such as Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano insist the old approach is working." (Debusmann, p. 1)

Here, we are given cause to believe that in spite of its own acknowledgement that an emphasis on prohibition and incarceration has simply not worked, the United States federal government continues to favor this over such methods as might actually relieve addiction and promote long-term recovery over long-term institutionalization. In the latter effect, the text by Debusmann points out, the current policy orientation has cost the United States taxpayer what the article estimates at roughly three trillion dollars. And yet, according to Debusmann, "according to the government's latest "survey on Drug Use and Health," more than 22 million Americans - nearly 9% the U.S. population - used illegal drugs in 2010, up from 8% in 2008." (Debusmann, p. 1)

This denotes that a policy which is at once costly, unpopular and unequal is also ineffective.

Criminal Theory Framework:

The research conducted here deconstructs the issue of drug prohibition through an examination of the U.S. War on Drugs and the drug trade in general. Considering the failures of the War on Drugs from an economic, political and sociological perspective, as well as applying sociological theories such as Merton's Strain Theory, we can see that the illegality of drugs contributes to or exacerbates many of the problems facing those of minority ethnicities, in lower socioeconomic classes and in politically disenfranchised demographics. Indeed, according to Eldredge (1998), author of Ending the War on Drugs: A solution for America, the decades old policy of militant prohibition has caused far more suffering than it has prevented. The research proposal endorses a survey concerning the legalization of marijuana as a point of entry into examining the implications of repealing America's universal prohibition of drugs. Based on Merton's Strain Theory, we can deduce that specific groups of Americans are likelier than others to have been impacted negatively by the War on Drugs. As the text by Connor (2010) points out, when a specific institutional pressure such as stiffer drug penalties is magnified, "the lower classes are the most vulnerable to this pressure, or strain, and will maintain their unfulfilled economic aspirations in spite of frustration or failure." (Connor, p. 1) This suggests that for those in minority groups or disadvantaged economic demographics, there is a greater likelihood of bearing the brunt of incarceration even if we may not necessarily presume that the penetration of drug use and drug dealing are any higher in these populations. Such inequalities help to drive the assumptions within this research calling for a critical reconsideration of policy orientation.

Research Questions/Hypothesis:

The primary research question driving the study proposal here asks the following:

Have the policies of drug prohibition and incarceration reduced the impact of drug dealing and addiction in the United States?

This primary question gives way to a number of sub-questions that will also be considered in the conducting of research and the development of materials for data-gathering. The following research questions will be pertinent to these processes:

What effect has the prohibition of marijuana had on the permeation of addiction on a state-by-state basis?

What effect has the decriminalization of marijuana had on the permeation of addiction on a state-by-state basis?

What are the economic impacts of marijuana prohibition on a state-by-state basis?

What are the economic impacts of marijuana decriminalization on a state-by-state basis?

These research questions underscore the basis hypothesis of the present research proposal, which holds that the policies of drug prohibition and incarceration -- examined here through the lens of existing marijuana laws -- do not sufficiently address the public health problem of drug abuse or justify their extremely high taxpayer cost.


The research will be based on a qualitative survey to be distributed through direct contact with respondents who are selected for their expert knowledge in the field.

General Research Design:

The research endeavor will cast the legal and punitive conditions in states with marijuana prohibition laws against those in states where marijuana has attained legal status. The expectation is that such a comparison will demonstrate the practical benefits of decriminalization in the case of selected substances. Sampling will be conducted by first examining state laws in order to select those states…

Cite This Research Proposal:

"Have Stiff Drug Laws Helped Or Hurt The Criminal Justice System" (2012, April 30) Retrieved January 18, 2018, from

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