‘War on Drugs’ was declared in 1971 by the then president Richard Nixon. The overall goal of the War on Drugs was to eradicate drugs from our societies and to keep America safe, something it has not managed to deliver. Instead, the War on Drugs has unintentionally facilitated a growing criminal market that drives unimaginable levels of profit to organized crime. This situation consequently costs taxpayers a lot of money annually because the government deploys vast military, criminal justice and police resources with people being incarcerated on a historically unprecedented scale(Clegg & Branson, 2015).
How and Why War on Drugs is failing
Categorizing legislative or policy initiatives as failed or failing is a political act aimed at identifying problematic sections of the initiatives in question while appropriating the failures to a particular group of people or to certain individuals. This political process of debating whether political or economic initiatives are failing or succeeding is thus an important evaluation tool that effectively assigns responsibility depending on actions previously taken. To identify the turning point of a public policy, it is necessary to recognize and define its successes or failures. The process ensures that policy makers and communities involved are forced to not only re-examine the measures used to interpret and evaluate policy but also to highlight the challenges involved. Failure debates helps to identify the known and redefine the collective image of success because of the crucial role they play by inviting technical assessment and evaluation of the details involved.
There are conflicting and misleading reports from the various agencies involved in the war on drugs, for instance the Drug Enforcement Agency that is reporting that the U.S. is winning the War on Drugs. While on the other hand the Centers for Disease Control statistics provides the evidence that illegal use of drugs is active in more than 10% of the population with more than 30,000 deaths occurring as a result of drug overdose(Owsley & Serot, 2011). This picture raises several red flags and points to the fact that the war on drugs is not being won. According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, 40 years of ceaseless fighting this war has however been a big failure(The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2015).
Like prohibition, the anti-drug effort has failed to accomplish what it set out to do, instead there appears to be more evidence of drug use surrounded by violence and governed by the rising of powerful and ruthless gangs of criminals. The evidence of failure is to be seen on the devastating consequences the war has had on not only individuals but also societies. For instance, it is known for a fact that the initial growth of the AIDS epidemic would have been reduced significantly by U.S drug policies had policy makers moved earlier to institute drug policies relating to harm reduction such as the needle exchange programs for users of drugs.
In the U.S. more than half a trillion dollars is used in the prosecution of people selling or using drugs. Statistics show that there has been a significant increase in the population of prisons from barely 500,000 inmates at the beginning of the Reagan administration to an estimated 3 million inmates(The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2015). It goes without saying that there also exists sufficient evidence of the bias against African-American communities who make up an astounding percentage of those trapped in a permanent second class citizen status and those in prison as a result of the War on Drugs. The approach by criminal justice on public safety as regards War on Drugs makes it more difficult for the system to function effectively since the arrests of low level offenders interferes with the arrests of high level offenders(Clegg & Branson, 2015). There has always been and there will always be a demand for drugs, it is time that policymakers started thinking outside of the prison cell.
Possible creative solution to the underlying problems facing War on Drugs
In the face of the failure of the War on Drugs, what is needed by the country and the world at large is a new, non-ideological thinking capable of producing fundamental reforms not in the U.S. drug control policies but also in the global policies of drug control. Strategies and policies grounded in health, security, human rights and science should replace drug policies that are driven by ideology. These policies should not only aim to legalize or decriminalize some drugs but most importantly to reduce harm caused by use of drugs. Health and treatment services should be provided with the implementation of syringe access among other measures of harm reduction. These policies should further aim to break the taboo on the debate and reforms on drug laws and stop the vindictive prosecution of young people and poor citizens. The policies should encourage the legal regulation of drugs by governments in order to safeguard not only the health of citizens but also their security, as it will disempower organized crime. Of critical priority would be to focus repressive action on violent criminal organizations as opposed to individuals while focusing law enforcement on harm reduction to individuals, communities, and national security.
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