The War on Drugs Has Failed in America

The war on drugs is a campaign led by the U.S. federal government. In 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one and devoted millions of dollars to the war on drugs. I will examine drug control and policing policies from 1970 to present day.

Mandatory minimum sentencing has negatively affected millions of Americans and has subjected young, disadvantaged Americans, especially black Americans to cruel and unusual punishment.

The war on drugs is highly ineffective and needs to end immediately and a more comprehensive approach to drugs needs to take its place.

The justice system went from “protect and serve” to “lock them up” in 1968 when the Nixon administration decided to redouble efforts against the sale, distribution, and consumption of illicit drugs in the United States. This “war on drugs,” has done little to decrease the use of drugs while doing much to create confusion and hardship in families of color and urban communities (Moore, L. D., & Elkavich, A.

, 2008).

During his presidential term, Reagan’s administration used mass media and pushed the image of the violent and poor inner-city crack user and violent criminals on to the American public. In the early 1980’s American inner-cities were affected by a variety of issues. Rampant unemployment, and the emergence of crack-cocaine created a firestorm of problems plaguing communities. Employment was difficult to obtain so selling drugs was a way to earn an income, and in 1985, crack-cocaine appeared on the streets as a miracle drug. It was cheaper and more powerful than powder cocaine, so crack flooded the inner cities.

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The rate of drug related violence rose, and the selling and consuming of drugs became more popular. During this era, racial stereotypes spread through the media, ingraining this racialized images in the minds of millions. Instead of moving toward federally funded and widespread treatment and education options for drug offenders, the United States chose a more punitive response to the rise of drugs, Imprisonment(Alexander, M., 2010).

Various social groups attempted to address the underlying issues that lead to drug abuse later in life; one group was the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party, was an African American revolutionary party, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The party’s original purpose was to patrol African American neighborhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality. The Black Panther Party sought to prevent children from being exposed to drugs and later abusing or selling them by enacting a program called the Free Breakfast for Children Program. The Free Breakfast for Children program was especially significant because it served as a space for educating youth about the current condition of the Black community, and the actions that the Party was taking to address that condition. Through this program, the Party was able to influence young minds, and strengthen their ties to communities as well as gain widespread support for their ideologies. The Black Panther Party also created programs for free meal distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation (Bassett, Mary T., 2016).

Numerous individuals trust that the war on drugs started during the 1980s with Regan and Nixon yet this pointless and expensive war has continued for significantly longer. In 1930, the Treasury Department made the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry J. Anslinger was responsible for the office until 1962 and shaped The Federal Bureau of Narcotics using purposeful propaganda to shape America’s attitude towards drug use. Harry Anslinger was disparaging of judges for being too easy on drug dealers and called for longer minimum sentences. He established a punitive drug policy with a focus on drug law enforcement. (McWilliams, 1990).

In 1971, President Richard Nixon broadcasted his war on drugs and declared America’s public enemy number one as drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive, Nixon fought drug abuse on both the supply and demand fronts. Nixon opened the first government funded methadone maintenance program (Sharp, 1994). The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in 1973 and its first mission was Operation Intercept, which pressured Mexico to regulate its marijuana growers. The U S government spent hundreds of millions of dollars closing up the border. Trade between Mexico and the U S came to a virtual standstill. Mass amounts of Mexican crops headed for the U S rotted, while waiting in line at the border. In the end, Nixon achieved his goal of curtailing the supply of Mexican marijuana in America (Sharp, 1994). In 1977, President Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. Carter believed that the penalties against possession of the drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself. Although Carter endorsed lenient laws towards marijuana use, he was against legalization. Carter’s drug policy mission was most interested in interdiction and eradication programs (Rosenberger, 1996).

Focus on marijuana eradication gave way for another drug to take over in America. Carter’s presidency witnessed a sharp increase in cocaine use. From 1978 to 1984, cocaine consumption in America skyrocketed from between 19 and 25 tons to between 71 and 137 tons. The demand for cocaine increased as much as 700 percent in just six years (Collett, 1989).

This led to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Among other things, they changed the system of federal supervised release from a rehabilitative system into a punitive system. The 1986 Act also prohibited, controlled substance analogs. The bill enacted new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including marijuana. Along with the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the act substantially increased the number of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences. This act mandated a minimum sentence of 5 years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine while it mandated the same for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine (Reamer, F.G., 2005).

Examining racial differences shows that blacks are historically at higher risk for crack use due to crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparities. Compared to whites, racial minorities were at low risk for powder cocaine use, and Hispanics were at low risk for crack use. Research supports that blacks are in fact at higher risk for crack use and associated outcomes due to socioeconomic factors and racial disparities (Palamar, J. J., Davies, S., Ompad, D. C., Cleland, C. M., & Weitzman, M., 2015)..

In spite of featuring inventive drug policies, Clinton has continued the Republican’s supply sided drug policy. In the 1995 spending plan, Clinton reserved an additional $1 billion for both the demand and supply fronts of the administration’s medication strategy. Clinton pulled in the media’s consideration when he multiplied the spending for rehabilitative action programs. (Rosenberger, 1996).

Unfair drug policies branching from the war on drugs continue under stop and frisk laws. Stop-and-frisk is a crime prevention tactic that allows a police officer to stop a person based on “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity and frisk based on reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous, has been a contentious police practice since first approved by the Supreme Court in 1968. From January 2004 through June 2012, the New York City Police Department made 4.4 million pedestrian stops, of which over 80% were of African Americans or Latinos. More than half of those stopped were also subjected to a frisk (Rudovsky, David and Rosenthal, Lawrence, 2013). The Floyd court found that the number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of 686,000 in 2011. The 2011 figure represents approximately over eight percent of New York City’s 2011 population, estimated at 8.24 million people. Fifty- two percent of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons; although a weapon was only found in less than two percent of these frisks. Stop and frisk laws created a system of legal racial discrimination.

The analysis also revealed that, regardless of the racial composition of a geographic area, blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be stopped. Once stopped, blacks were thirty percent more likely than whites to be arrested as opposed to receiving a summons. Minorities were ten percent more likely to be subjected to the use of force. Most significantly, the hit rate for blacks, as measured by the issuance of a summons or an arrest, was 8% lower than for white suspects. This evidence demonstrates that minorities were targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of suspicion. (Rudovsky, et. Al., 2013)

The Obama administration changed U.S. Identity on drug control policy by replacing the War on Drugs with the New Strategy. The Obama administration aims to reduce drug consumption by balancing education and treatment with law enforcement towards drug users, potential users and dealers. In the international arena, its drug policy seeks to reduce the southbound flow of U.S. Weapons and cash empowering cartels (Martinez Valenzuela, C., 2013).

The New Strategy aims to create a healthcare environment in which care for substance abuse is adequately covered by public and private insurance programs is necessary. People with addictions will not be arrested, but will be required to take the responsibility to seek help and actively maintain their recovery. Patients undergoing treatment will abstain from drug use and live a full, healthy, and responsible life. The United States will provide healthcare creating a relationship of trust between the drug user and the United States, which could be termed as one of general reciprocity because it involves mutual expectations that a benefit granted now, should be repaid in the future. The United States gives healthcare and waits for the citizen’s recovery; and the citizen gives self-commitment and waits for a healthy life through the use of U.S. Healthcare (Martinez Valenzuela, C., 2013).

In the New Strategy, the United States protects its teenagers by means of education and prevention covered by family, society, and State institutions. U.S. Youth will be educated in order to prevent drug use, abuse and addiction. Certainly, high-quality schools can both reduce student drug and alcohol use and have a positive effect on academic achievement and school environments and climates (Martinez Valenzuela, C., 2013).

The U.S. The procedure towards drug dealers remains criminalized. Under the New Strategy, incarceration is appropriate for drug traffickers and drug dealers. For some lower-level offenders, however, intense supervision in the community can help prevent criminal careers while preserving scarce prison space for those offenders who should be behind bars. By complementing incarceration with alternative sentencing like community supervision, the New Strategy adds another State control mechanism. Thus, alternatives to absolute incarceration, the Obama administration established the difference signifiers lower-level offense (Martinez Valenzuela, C., 2013).

This policy is great, but has a couple of shortcomings. The policy requires the United States and Mexico to work together to prevent the supply of drugs from moving across countries. The the Merida Initiative, which provides Mexico with military equipment and training from U.S. Agencies, has had fewer funds from Fiscal Year 2010 to 2012. The money disbursed from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Programs and Foreign Military Financing went from $549.25 million in 2010 to $256.5 million in 2012 according to the State Department. At least in the short and medium run, the military option in Mexico will not be much supported with U.S. public resources (Martinez Valenzuela, C., 2013). This shows that America will not always be the financial backer and this may create tension causing the policy to fail.

The policy that America should implement should be the same as Portugal. Today, as overdoses soar everywhere throughout the U.S., drug abusers who require medical treatment may prevent them from receiving help to hide their drug use. If drugs became decriminalized, drug abusers could seek the help without fear of criminal persecution.

The Portuguese policy of decriminalization has developed a reputation across the globe as one of the most successful policies of its kind. Despite the initial fear that Portugal might turn into a drug hotspot, the consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances actually decreased. The number of cases of HIV and AIDS in drug users also reduced and the number of deaths by drug overdose also reduced. The number of deaths by drug overdose in Portugal is actually one of the lowest in all of the European Union and the number of drugs users seeking medical treatment increased. (Cabral, T. S., 2017). The Portuguese model supports that drug criminalization is not an effective deterrent to drug use.

America is taking a step in this direction with the Obama administration passing the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. This Act reduced the federal sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1 and eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine (Ryan Carlsen, 2010). Individual states in America have decriminalized or legalized the use of marijuana, allowing the government to focus time on focus on more serious issues.

This policy promotes social rights by preventing people of color from becoming labeled as drug abusers and criminals and becoming stripped of their rights. Drug legalization or decriminalization will prevent millions of Americans from serving prison time for nonviolent, drug-related offenses. Drug use in suburban or affluent areas goes unchecked and underreported, while people of color in poor communities are profiled in urban areas as potential drug users and dealers. Although the current rates of illicit drug use are roughly the same between black and white Americans, the number of White drug users is vastly greater than that of drug users of color because white Americans are a larger share of the population. Nationwide, African Americans are ten times more likely to serve prison time than white Americans (Moore, L. D., et al., 2008).

Once incarcerated, prisoners are exposed to rampant illness and diseases. Prison medical care is terrible and prison inmates suffer from high rates of preventable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Prisons are required to treat infectious diseases and other conditions, but do not provide support for condom distribution programs and needle exchanges for HIV and hepatitis C prevention. Prisons turn healthy people into sick people and that includes family members. Incarceration increases the risk of exposure to HIV and other preventable conditions and families and sexual partners reunited with their loved ones in find themselves at an increased risk of infection. Partners and children of incarcerated persons and the wider communities of color bear the burden of morbidity and mortality.

The use of mandatory minimum sentencing fueled by a highly inefficient war on drugs translates to a war on people of color in terms of their overall health and well-being. It is questionable that a person convicted of a drug crime will navigate through the criminal justice system and become a productive member of society once released. These consequences are the byproduct of a double standard that gives treatment to the rich and prison to the poor. They are also a result of the politics of fear, which compels politicians to fund prisons over schools and punishment over health (Moore, L. D., et al., 2008).

This is policy is inefficient when compared to the Portuguese model of decriminalization and legalization of drugs. the consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances actually decreased. The number of cases of HIV and AIDS in drug users also reduced and the number of deaths by drug overdose also reduced. The number of deaths by drug overdose in Portugal is actually one of the lowest in all of the European Union and the number of drugs users seeking medical treatment increased. (Cabral, T. S., 2017). The Portuguese model supports that drug criminalization is not an effective deterrent to drug use.

Social workers have an obligation to promote policies that fight to end mandatory minimum sentencing and treat addiction as a national health crisis instead of a criminal issue. Social workers can work on the micro level by working directly in the community and collaborating with local community groups to raise awareness for rehabilitative policies. Social workers can work directly with parents and community leaders through programs like the Boys and Club and DARE programs. On the macro level, social workers can advocate for a comprehensive drug reform policy by partnering with organizations that promote the end of mandatory minimum sentencing and decriminalization of drugs like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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The War on Drugs Has Failed in America. (2022, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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