The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs refers to the concerted efforts of the United States government that began in 1970 to fight illegal drug use. The enactment of the Controlled Substance Act in the year 1970 was the beginning of this new era of control when a scheduling system was created (Roleff, 2004 p.89). Substances such as 3, 4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Peyote, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana were all classified as Schedule 1 drugs and considered the most dangerous of all street drugs. As a strong society that took pride in adhering to the highest set of ideals, the United States government was ready to use its might to combat the illegal trade of controlled substances and illegal drugs to protect its citizenry. In this essay, the discussion will center on the consequences of launching this war and why I agree with the assertion that it has failed to achieve its set goals.
The modern day War on Drugs was launched to combat rampant drug abuse and its trade that had permeated the urban inner-city neighbor hoods in the United States. Families were torn apart by this menace, especially when the breadwinners of families became hooked on addictive substances. They were soon unable to perform their parental obligations. Furthermore, trade in these illegal drugs further worsened violent crime as drug cartels and criminal gangs were now fighting for control of turf to sell these lucrative drugs. The federal government saw it fit to launch this War on Drugs to restore sanity and control in the streets by first going after the Schedule 1 drugs that were considered hazardous, a very high potential for being addictive and with no medical use whatsoever. It officially began on June 1971 when the then president, Richard Nixon, made a declaration naming drug abuse the number one enemy of the country. As a result, he increased the Federal Government’s funding to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other agencies that dealt with drug-treatment programs. The campaign was further bolstered by Ronald Regan’s presidency in 1981 as he undertook stern measures to deal with drug cartels in and out of the United States (Eldredge, 1998). He shifted his focus to criminal punishment of the drug users over the administration of the required treatment. A direct effect of this policy was an unprecedented increase in the number of drug users incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
One of the main consequences of launching this onslaught against illegal drugs and its users was that the numbers of those arrested or imprisoned for drug offenses, inevitably increased. In 1986, the United States Congress passed, with an overwhelming majority, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which then received &1.7 billion in funding to clear this menace (Hari, n.d p.40). A “mandatory minimum” sentence for all drug related offenses was also established in order to deter the citizenry abusing these substances or participating in their trafficking. There was an increased sentencing of drug users, especially from the African American community, who had been engulfed by the “Crack Epidemic” (Roleff, 2004 p.89). The African American community had for a long time been marginalized; the Jim Crow laws implemented in the South from 1877 after the end of The Reconstruction Era mainly favored white Americans with Anglo-Baptists Roots which later on led to the segregation witnessed in the 1960s. As a community that was disadvantaged both politically and economically, it was easy for the African American youth to succumb to drug use and trafficking. It was estimated that 80% of all those arrested for possessing or abusing crack cocaine were African Americans who were later slapped with the automatic mandatory minimum sentence of years in a federal penitentiary.
I agree with the argument that this seemingly noble crusade has failed to bring about any positive change. It has been counterproductive as individuals from minority communities (African-American, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans) feel as through the federal government and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has for the longest time been profiling and targeting them. Rather than the war affecting the products, it has affected many people directly through systematic failure of drug control policies. It has not materialized, with drug use and trafficking increasing from 1991 without any hope of dwindling. Proponents of this argument also see it as a waste of lives, money, and time as it has made no noticeable gains worth praising. The prisons are filled with petty drug users alongside violent criminals and murderers which, in turn, transform them from innocent drug users to hardened criminals after imprisonment. It is here that they are introduced into the real world of drug trafficking and crime, creating a hardened criminal as soon to be released back to society as soon as they are due date comes up (The war on drugs meets the war on pain, 2010 p. 34). Additionally, the War on Drug seems to have failed because many senior officials in these drug agencies have been implicated in these very drug trafficking rings. The money that is obtained from these “illegal” activities is then used to find their covert operations in countries that they have vested interests in.
In conclusion, the War on Drugs began as a self-preservation action of a dignified country’s attempt to rid itself of drug traffickers and users. It was meant to improve the society and its well-being but it is now clear that the approach used has not been successful. Presently, the United States has the highest incarceration rate with a large majority of those jailed being drug users. Moreover, an increased number of Americans from minority groups feel targeted by the security apparatus and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) which has destroyed any goodwill that these communities would have share towards them. The United States government should fully acknowledge that their approach has failed formulate new strategies if it is to ever combat the drug menace. Numerous experts in drug control have all agreed unanimously that the government failing in its approach to dealing with this problem and argue in favor of domestic law endorsement instead of using the heavy handed approach of law enforcement. A viable approach would be to make these drugs legal but at the same time regulate their flow. Such an approach would drain funds from the black market that has become highly profitable, using this money to fund violent crime. Economists such as the Nobel Prize winner Milton Freidman are all in agreement that using interdiction as a method to reduce supply of drugs such as marijuana will increase its public demand, the main beneficiary being the cartels. The government should thus make it “easy to obtain” but at the same time limiting its proliferation through regulation.