The War on Drugs has been a long ongoing policy that has put millions of people behind bars. The War on Drugs started with president Richard Nixon in June 1971. Of course, there were anti-drug laws for things such as opium and cocaine as early as the late 1800s and early 1900s and the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), regulating all aspects of drugs, was passed in 1970. However, with Nixon’s declaration of a war on drugs the presence and size of federal drug control agencies dramatically increased including the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1972. Nixon even made marijuana a Schedule I drug, which is the most restrictive category, for a while. He pushed things like no-knock warrants and mandatory sentencing. Ronald Reagan expanded the war on drugs effort with his presidency and the help of his wife Nancy Reagan and her “Just Say No” campaign. The number of nonviolent drug law offenses behind bars increased from just 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1997. Following Nany’s campaign, the DARE education program was and promoted a zero tolerance policy.
In the late 1980s, Congress and state legislatures passed strict penalties for drugs which led to a big increase in prison populations. Even with the recent legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana, there are still around 700,000 people in America being arrested for marijuana offenses each year and 500,000 people behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation. Studies and research have been done that prove sending addicts to treatment instead of prison is actually cheaper and better for society. The study stated that if only 10% of drug-addicted offenders got drug treatment instead of jail time, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion compared to current costs. If 40% of addicted offenders received rehabilitation instead of jail time, the savings would be $12.9 billion. Over the last 46 years, there has been sufficient time to notice some pros and cons of this effort.
Pros of the War on Drugs:
There are people who believe that the war on drugs has helped and implemented good things in their communities and the overall society. Deterrence and lessening of drug related crimes: since the production of, selling of, and consumption of drugs is highly prohibited the number of drug-related crimes would decrease over time Drug-Free Communities: if all the drugs, drug abusers, dealers, and manufacturers are behind bars there will be no one else there to bring drugs into the area.
Cons of the War on Drugs:
There is a growing number of people who do not see the benefit of a war on drugs, especially with addiction affecting all races and classes, family members and friends. It is no longer a far away problem, it is something that directly affects us whether we are the one addicted or know someone who is. The more time that passes the more people learn and understand addiction. Addiction used to have a negative stigma associated with it and at the time when drugs were first criminalized they were direct racial targets and because of the war, using drugs made you a criminal. When in fact, someone who abuses and is addicted to substances needs help and treatment just as any other ill person. Substance addiction is now looked at more commonly as an illness that people suffer from instead of a choice they make to be criminals. Currently, the cons of the war on drugs outweigh the pros.
Corruption: the same people who are supposed to be stopping the drug trade may be using it for their own profits or using the war on drug fundings for themselves or things other than the war. Increased racial tension: many of the arrests made for drug-related crimes are of African Americans and Latin Americans.The U.S. Department of Justice said that drug offense arrests rose 126% from 1995 to 2000, 27% of the total growth was among African American inmates and 7% of total growth was among Hispanic inmates. Hides the real problem behind drug abuse and distribution: the majority of people who deal and use drugs are within or below the poverty line. When they do not have the means to go to school, college, and get a well-paying job the easiest and most profitable thing that they can find is drug dealing and can also fund their own habits. When a mother or father cannot feed their children because they don’t make enough money, a quick drug sale may seem like a quick and easy fix, until they are locked up as a criminal for the next ten years. Those who are addicted to substances are ill and need medical help for their condition. You cannot expect someone who is extremely sick to just get better on their own, they need medical attention and treatments to help them recover and become healthy again.
Never-ending cycle: many people who are behind bars for drug-related charges have children of their own and studies show that most likely they are in a similar if not the same situation as their parent and most likely step into the place of their parent. If the father sold drugs to pay for bills and food, children may feel this is the only way to keep paying for those things. Then the cycle continues. Increases risk for policeman and military: the men and women on the front lines of the drug war face armies of drug lords in other countries, thousands of known and unknown gang members running drugs, and even junkies who are crashing or so high they do not particularly know they are putting someone else’s life in danger. Every day the mission against these people get worse. Despite spending around $1 Trillion in the past 46 years on this war, drugs coming into the United States continues to increase.
Disparity in sentencing: people complain that sentencing in drug-related crimes has major flaws. As well as racially discriminatory as minorities tend to use certain drugs over others and carry a bigger penalty. What do you think about the War on Drugs and its effectiveness?