In 1925, American journalist H. L. Mencken wrote, “Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished. ” Nearly 90 years later and this is still perfectly applicable today with the United States’ war on drugs.
In June of 1971, former president Richard Nixon would famously be the first to declare a national “war on drugs”, a campaign of prohibition for illegal drug use and trade, citing drug abuse as “.public enemy number one. ” Despite a 1972 commission led by former Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shaffer giving a unanimous recommendation to decriminalize marijuana, the Nixon administration ignored these suggestions, and continued the pursuit against drug-related crimes in America.By 1973, the Nixon administration had created a new federal drug control agency known as the Drug Enforcement Administration, which would play a critical role in making drug enforcement a criminal justice issue.
In the same year, Operation Intercept was initiated, a plan which would pressure Mexico to regulate its marijuana growers. This is the first time we would see that the war on drugs would come with a high price, with the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars tightening border regulations, which would cause trade between Mexico and America to come to a complete standstill.Throughout the Nixon and Carter administrations, spending on the war on drugs continued to rise, and incarceration rates began to climb dramatically.
But once Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election against incumbent Jimmy Carter, the war on drugs would reach a new level of federal spending. Just Say No, the powerful slogan championed by then-first lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign would teach children to stay away from drug use and unite Americans for the war on drugs. This became a iconic phrase associated with the 1980’s and 1990’s, and would bring the negative aspects of drug use to the forefront of homes.However, the 1980’s were also a decade where crack/cocaine peaked in popularity, becoming cheaper, more accessible, and significantly more common, despite a decade long effort to reduce drug use in the United States. From the time Reagan took office, the federal spending for the war on drugs was just under 2 billion dollars per year, and within Reagan’s 8 years as president, that number skyrocketed to being just over 5 billion dollars per year. (The Atlantic Wire, “A Chart That Says The War on Drugs Isn’t Working)Federal spending continued to increase exponentially as every new administration entered the White House, growing from 5 billion to 12 billion per year under George H. W. Bush, 12 billion to 18 billion per year under Bill Clinton, and 18 billion to over 20 billion per year under George W. Bush (The Atlantic Wire, “A Chart That Says The War on Drugs Isn’t Working), and with tax payers not only contributing to the outrageous spending on what seemed to be a fleeting war, incarcerations have also reached staggering heights.According to the Drug Policy Alliance, since 1980, the number of people behind bars for drug-related crimes has increased 1100% (Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug War Statistics), causing more of an economic burden to be placed on the American taxpayer. These statistics leave us with a few unanswered questions. Why do we continue fighting the war on drugs, what results have we drawn from the war on drugs, and what should be done about the future of the war on drugs?The reasons behind fighting the war are varied and debatable amongst both sides of the political spectrum, however one of the most frequently used points for the war on drugs are the health risks involved with drug use, and one of the more commonly used examples for this case are the dangerous of cannabis. In 1974, the Dr. Heath/Tulane University study is released, and California Governor Ronald Reagan announces, “The most reliable scientific sources say permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana. ” (Reagan, 1974 speech. ) Dr.Heath’s study had claimed to administer thirty joints of marijuana a day to Rhesus monkeys, and had begun to atrophy after only 90 days. Autopsies showed that these monkeys had lost brain cells, and had attributed this loss of brain cells to effects of marijuana. This study became the foundation of the governments claim that marijuana kills brain cells. But after six years of the National Organization of Marijuana Reform Laws (NORML) of requesting details on how these tests were conducted, and suing under the Freedom of Information Act, the details were finally revealed.Dr. Heath would administer a gas mask to his monkeys, and pump the equivalent of sixty-three joints into their lungs for 5 minutes a day for three months, meaning oxygen would be completely cut off from the monkeys brain, and they would be inhaling carbon monoxide along with the cannabis, achieving the desired results of dead brain cells under false pretenses. The results from this war have been overwhelmingly negative, but one of the most impactful results drawn from the war on drugs has been the shockingly high incarceration rates.Currently, America holds the highest incarceration rate in the world, 1 in every 99. 1 adults are in either federal, local or state prisons, totaling to 2,288,600 Americans (Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug War Statistics), each of which the taxpayer must account for. The National Policy Committee presented a paper to the American Society of Criminology in February of 2001 which cited the war on drugs as on of the largest contributing factors for the increase in incarceration, stating: A major reason for the dramatic increase in the U. S. rison population and associated increases in the number of Blacks, Hispanics and women, has been substantial increases in the numbers of persons sentenced to prison for drug crimes. Back in 1980 the number of prisoners convicted for a drug offense was only 19,000 or about 6 percent of the state prison population which numbered less than 300,000. By 1998 the numbers had increased by 237,000, or 21 percent of the state prison population. Furthermore, the average sentence for drug offenses had increased from 13 months in 1985 to 30 months by 1994.Many of these offenders are simple drug users who have no record of violence and who pose little danger to public safety. (Austin, James et al. “The Use of Incarceration in the United States”) The reason for the sharp incline of prison population due to drug related crimes in the United States in 1980 is attributed solely to mandatory sentencing, which came with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This would enact a different minimum sentence for every drug related offense, keeping any person of a drug crime in prison. (The costs of which is $28,323 per inmate, per year. )So finally we ask ourselves, what should be done about the war on drugs? With an almost consecutive record of failure, after four decades are we only now beginning to look at the war on drugs critically. The war on drugs being a total failure has become a shared sentiment by most, with 82% of Americans believing we are losing the war on drugs (Riggs, Mike. “Poll: 82 Percent of Americans Think the U. S. Is Losing The War on Drugs”), and the Global Commission on Drug Policy releasing the statement, “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. (Jahangir, Asma et al. , “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. ) Simply by ending our unavailing war, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates the United States would save 51 billion dollars per year (Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug War Statistics”), as well as gain revenue from taxed and regulated drug markets and keep many from incarceration due to nonviolent crime (Boesler, Lutz. “32 Reasons Why We Need To End The War On Drugs”). The war on drugs has proven to be a failure, and in the light of failure it makes no sense to ignore the issue and pretend it will go away.Rather, we must look at the past, the statistics and the truth and understand what effect this war really has on us. Higher spending and greater incarceration are not the answer America needs, and this is evident by the addiction rate staying at a nearly constant 1% throughout the war on drugs. (National Policy Committee, “The Use of Incarceration in the United States) After four decades and over one trillion dollars spent, all we have truly discovered is that prohibition did not work in the 1920’s and prohibition will certainly not work now.With countries around the world becoming more social liberal towards this issue, they’ve taken the steps America has yet to: understanding that regulation and taxation are the only real solutions to drug use. And in order to begin to take those steps, it falls on the Americans who’ve seen the war fail, who’ve lived through the reckless spending and the unjust imprisonments to do exactly what was done in 1933 to have prohibition repealed: to speak up and demand reform. Today, with a more critical analysis and understanding of the war on drugs, it seems as though these steps are only now beginning.With Colorado and Washington voting for decriminalization of marijuana in the 2012 election, and with the Obama administration’s refusal to use the term “war on drugs”, it seems as though a more progressive look is soon above the horizon. Richard Branson, famous CEO of Virgin Group, renowned businessman and multi-billionaire put the war on drugs in the simplest terms from an economic perspective when he said in a 2012 CNN article, “In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem.Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data. ” (Branson, “War on drugs a trillion-dollar failure”) Works Cited Branson, Richard. “War on drugs a trillion-dollar failure. ” CNN. com. 06 December 2012. Web. 27 April 2013. The Drug Policy Alliance. “Forty Years of Failure” DrugPolicy. org. Web. 12 May 2013. The Drug Policy Alliance. “Drug War Statistics” DrugPolicy. org. Web. 12 May 2013. Riggs, Mike. “Poll: 82 Percent of Americans Think the U. S. Is Losing The War on Drugs” Reason. com. 13 November 2012. Web. 3 May 2013. Austin, James et al. “The Use of Incarceration in the United States” ASC41. com. February 2011. Web. 13 May 2013. Boesler, Matthew and Ashley Lutz. “32 Reasons Why We Need To End The War On Drugs” BuisnessInsider. com. 12 July 2012. Web. 13 May 2013. Bibliography Breeding, Brian. “Does Marijuana Really Kill Brain Cells? ” Yahoo. com. 11 September 2009. Web. 4 May 2013. National Public Radio. “Timeline: America’s War on Drugs” NPR. org. 2 April 2007. Web. 12 May 2013. Herer, Jack. Hemp ;amp; the Marijuana Conspiracy: The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Newcastle upon Tyne: Green Planet, 1994. Print.