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America’s War on Drugs: Policy and Problems
In this paper I will evaluate America’s War on Drugs. More specifically, I will outline our nation’s general drug history and look critically at how Congress has influenced our current ineffective drug policy. Through this analysis I hope to show that drug prohibition policies in the United States, for the most part, have failed. Additionally, I will highlight and evaluate the influences acting on individual legislators’ decisions to continue support for these ineffective policies as a more general demonstration of Congress’ role in the formation of our nation’s drug policy strategy. Finally, I will conclude this analysis by outlining the changes I feel necessary for future progress to be made. Primary among these changes are a general promotion of drug education and the elimination of our current system’s many de-legitimating hypocrisies.
However, before the specific outcomes of Congressional influence and policy impact can be evaluated it becomes important to first review the general history and current situation of drugs today. Our present drug laws were first enacted at the beginning of the century. At the time, recreational use of narcotics was not a major social issue. The first regulatory legislation was for the purpose of standardizing the manufacturing and purity of pharmaceutical products. Shortly after, the first criminal laws were enacted which addressed opium products and cocaine. Although some states had prohibited the recreational use of marijuana, there was no federal criminal legislation until 1937. By contrast, the use of alcohol and its legality was a major social issue in United States in the early 20th century. This temperance movement culminated in the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. Recreational drug use, particularly heroin, became more prevalent among the urban poor during the early ?60s. Because of the high cost of heroin and its uncertain purity, its use was associated with crime and frequent overdoses.
A drug subculture involving the use of marijuana and other hallucinogenic drugs began to emerge in mainstream American society in the late ?60s and was loosely associated with an overall atmosphere of political protest concerning the Vietnam War and civil rights. Drug use, including heroin use, was prevalent among soldiers during the Vietnam War and many of them returned addicted. Since that time, the recreational use of drugs, particularly marijuana, has been a constant aspect of youth culture in all social classes. In the ?70s cocaine began to emerge as a fashionable new drug among professionals. Its high cost and allure fueled a major drug trafficking link between the United States and Latin America. Its popularity diminished when its addictive properties became more understood but a cheaper and more addictive form of cocaine, ?crack? cocaine, began its scourge of America?s poor neighborhoods in the ?80s.
President Reagan launched the first official ?War on Drugs? in 1982. A national office under the direction of the President was created to coordinate efforts to address the illegal drug problem. The budget has steadily increased since that time to its present level of 19.8 billion. Most of the effort is directed toward supporting stricter drug enforcement aimed at stopping the importation and sale of drugs. The effort is primarily based on targeting the drug supply through aggressive law enforcement. However, other programs have addressed the ?demand? side: treatment, prevention and education. As will be discussed in following section the War on Drugs has been structured through five basic goals.
Where is the Money Going?
It is my contention that the War on Drugs has been a failure of the most expensive kind. According to Barry Mcaffrey?s report: ?Reducing Drug Use and its Consequences in America,? the policies of the War on Drugs have five main goals. These goals include keeping young people off of drugs, reducing drug-related violence, reducing health, welfare and crime costs related to drugs, shielding America?s borders from drugs entering the country and stopping drugs at the domestic and international sources. (1996, 3). It is my belief that these policies have only achieved limited success on some of these goals while others have gone completely unmet.