Friday, July 4, 2008

What If There Wasn't a War on Drugs?

I'll admit, this is a crappy "what if?" due to poor planning and procrastination lol. However, I think the first half, the background and the premise is educational. So, basically discard the "what if?" for now.

In the 1960s, recreational drug use had reached an all time high among Americans. Drug abuse was and still is considered a grave danger in American society; and during this tumultuous time period adolescents found a distinct pleasure in intoxicating themselves as a form of rebellion and escape. The youth’s opponents: parents, teachers, basically all forms of authority viewed this behavior as a severe threat to traditional morals and attitudes, but more importantly the very future of America. The big question became: how do we stop our citizens, children especially, from doing drugs? Some said more treatment and rehabilitation programs. Others wanted stricter law enforcement. At the time, many thought problems with dangerous drugs was a new issue. In fact, it was the contrary. Drug use and its prohibition had been a prevalent issue in the United States for over a century.
Prohibitionist laws first sprouted up towards the end of the nineteenth century. These early laws were at the local and state levels. They did not completely prohibit the use of any modern, illicit drugs; however they did place restrictions on the commerce of marijuana, opium, and cocaine. According to Southern California Judge James P. Gray, they were “…fundamentally racist laws aimed at perceived threats to white women from drug usage by black, Mexican, and Chinese men, respectively.” These laws implied that under the influence of illicit substances, these minorities would attack women.
The first real prohibitionist law to tackle illicit drugs was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. During this time period cocaine and morphine were used in patent medicines, substances made to cure practically every ailment a person had. As a result, drug addiction became widespread. The Pure Food and Drug Act did not criminalize any of the aforementioned drugs, but now every medication on the market was accompanied by a label describing its contents. Following the act, amendments were released, stating that the labels must inform the consumer about the power of the substances. Subsequently, less people purchased these products. The Pure Food and Drug Act clearly prevented consumers from taking certain dangerous drugs and becoming addicts. However, there were still a large amount of people who were already addicts. 1919’s Webb v. United States the Supreme Court made matters worse for addicts. Judge James P. Gray claims, “…that it was illegal for doctors to dispense prescription drugs to alleviate the symptoms of narcotics withdrawal…” Gray believes this is the beginning of the Drug Prohibition that still exists today. Following the decision, people (mostly addicts) committed crimes to get a hold of the drugs, because they could no longer be prescribed them. As a result, a black market emerged, which meant that drugs were more expensive and more harmful than ever before.
Perhaps the biggest prohibition was the prohibition of alcohol by the Eighteenth Amendment on January 16, 1920. It lasted until 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment repealed it. During this era, crime skyrocketed in the United States. In these years, there was an increase of over ten million dollars in federal spending on law enforcement and an increase in federal prison inmates by 9,000. Two-thirds of these inmates were arrested for mere alcohol and drug offenses. Another important prohibition was the prohibition of Marijuana. Just like the earlier drug laws, this was heavily associated with racism. In the 1920s, America was witnessing countless Mexicans immigrate into the country. With them came horror stories of violent outbursts due to marijuana consumption. These tales were untrue and created a great racial stereotype of Mexicans.
Harry J. Angslinger, commissioner of the United States Bureau of Narcotics, was an adamant crusader for the prohibition of Marijuana. Anslinger should be held responsible for people being uneducated about drugs. His Bureau of Narcotics was closely associated with the production of the 1936 film Reefer Madness, which popularized ridiculous urban legends about Marijuana and its users. For example, an infamous line from the film states, “one puff of pot can lead clean-cut teenagers down the road to insanity, criminality, and death.” Unfortunately, these tactics actually worked. Numerous states passed laws prohibiting marijuana. This eventually culminated with Congress’ passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This piece of legislation did not actually prohibit the drug. Instead, it required those who prescribe, sell, grow, import, or manufacture it to pay a licensing fee. However, this essentially wiped out its market. There was a tax of $100 per ounce for any unlicensed transactions with the drug.
In the decades that followed, the presidents of the United States passed “get tough” laws, which only had detrimental effects on society. With these laws, all illegal substances were placed in the same category and there were unsurprisingly little to no positive results. Subsequently, Congress passed even stricter laws. For example, the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 increased the sentencing for any illicit drug offense. During the 1960s, Marijuana use became more acceptable, and as a result an increasing amount of adolescents began using the substance, amongst other illicit substances such as LSD, which also became widely popular during this decade. President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon made it his mission to end drug abuse amongst Americans, particularly the youth. He called this ambitious plan the War on Drugs, becoming the first and only U.S. president to formally wage a “War on Drugs.” Now, we are over thirty years into this Drug War and the big question is: has it been successful? Drug abuse and trafficking still exist; people still commit petty crimes to attain drugs and billions of dollars are spent each year on this war. If the War on Drugs had never been created, millions of non-violent drug users could walk freely, billions of tax dollars would not be flushed down the drain, there would be less crime, therefore less prisons, and overall America would be freer.
On June 17, 1971, United States President Richard M. Nixon, at a press conference, declared drug abuse as “public enemy number one.” This was the official beginning of the current War on Drugs. Soon, the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP) was created. It was headed by Dr. Jerome Jaffe, a leading Methadone treatment Specialist. It should be noted that from the beginning of the drug war up until the present, only during Nixon’s presidency was the funding for treatment greater than the funding for law enforcement. In July of 1973, Nixon formed his “super agency” the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA was created to effectively solve every aspect of the drug issue. It was made up of members of the CIA, BNDD, and the ODALE. Despite the DEA’s great efforts, drug abuse remained a constant problem in America.
Along with drug use increasing, so did federal prisons to incarcerate the drug offenders. Many critics of the drug war call this a “Prison-Industrial Complex.” Justice William A. Newsom made the following comments:
“One result of the attempt to control drug use with heavy penalties is, of course, an increase in the price of drugs, which assures an increase in crime both random and organized. Viewed in this context, the war on drugs, besides being laughably inept and already visibly lost, is in fact the driving force behind serious crime.
From shoplifting to prostitution, through burglary and armed robbery on up the scale to murder, the great majority of serious crimes in California are drug-related; that is to say caused not by the perpetrator’s ingestion of drugs, but by his or her need to obtain the large amounts of money necessary to purchase drugs on the street for personal use.”

In 1973, the same year of the formation of the DEA, The United States contained 330,400 state and federal prisons. In ten years that number doubled; in twenty years it had more than doubled again, reaching 1,408,685 prisons. According to Judge James P. Gray, “By June 30, 1996, the number of men and women incarcerated in the United States in both the state and federal systems was 1,630,940, and by the end of 1998 the number was 1.8 million.” Strangely, during this time period, crime had decreased and yet drug arrests had increased. Many of these incarcerations could be attributed to the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences.
On October 27, 1986, United States President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Under this act, $1.7 billion was spent to combat the drug epidemic, $87 million for the construction of more prisons, $200 million for drug education, and $241 million for treatment. However, the act’s most controversial and certainly most substantial portion was the formation of mandatory minimum sentences. This severely increased the penalties for drug offenses, often just for the simple possession of illicit drugs. For example, if one was arrested for possession of five kilograms of cocaine or just one kilogram of heroin, he or she received at least ten years imprisonment. At the time, the crack epidemic had just surfaced, and as a result laws against the drug were far more stringent. For example, if a person was arrested for selling five grams of crack they automatically received five years in prison as a mandatory sentence. These mandatory minimum sentences received harsh criticism because the sentences for crack were far greater than those for cocaine. Critics say this causes a massive racial disparity in the prison population. In fact, in May of 1995 a report was released by The United States Sentencing Commission, stating that there was a racial disparity between crack and cocaine sentencing. The Commission wanted to erase the discrepancy as much as possible; unfortunately Congress did not agree and for the first time in history they overrode the Commission’s proposal. 1988’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act brought even stricter law enforcement for drugs. According to Judge James P. Gray, “… [it] further expanded federal offenses to include the distribution of drugs within one hundred feet of playgrounds, parks, youth centers, swimming pools, and video arcades.”
In 1989, President George Bush created the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Bush made William Bennett the leader of the ONDCP. As “Drug Czar” he created a plan of “denormaliztaion.” Essentially his mission was to make drug use socially taboo. Under Bennett’s leadership, federal spending for law enforcement and treatment increased greatly. Unsurprisingly, treatment was less than one-third of the total budget. One year later, Bush added $1.2 billion to the War on Drugs’ budget, which included a 50% rise in military spending. The ONDCP’s budget has always been an issue amongst drug war critics. Judge Gray claims,
“As of fiscal year 1999, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, by itself, was overseeing a federal drug control budget of $17.8 billion ( in nine separate appropriations bills), plus an additional $1 billion for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, $143.5 million for the Drug-Free Communities Program, and $184 million for the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. That budget was increased again to $19.2 billion for fiscal year 2000….It is up to us as caring citizens, taxpayers, and voters to make the government move forward to a more rational, workable, and as good fortune would have it, vastly less expensive national drug policy.”

The 1990s brought even stricter laws for drug offenses. Some major examples include the Crime Bill of 1994, which in some cases instituted capital punishment for drug dealing; mandatory sentences ranged from twenty years to life. 1998’s Higher Education Act determined that those convicted of marijuana possession automatically lose federal aid for college. What it is even more disturbing, is the fact that this form of ineligibility does not exist for worse offenses, such as rape, robbery, or manslaughter. It is apparent that under our current drug policy we are creating overcrowded prisons. Judge Gray makes this excellent point:
“…about 18 million Americans used marijuana at least once during the year 1997…During that same year, the United States had about 1.7 million people behind bars under badly overcrowded conditions. Since it is immediately obvious that we cannot put 18 million people in jail, even if we were to agree that this was a good idea, why are we following this course? Yet people who did nothing but smoke some marijuana are sent to state prison every day to serve years of time. How can that happen?”

In short, the War on Drugs has been a massive failure on various levels. Unfortunately, it still exists today, and in fact costs more than it ever has: over twenty-two billion dollars, just this year alone. Is it really worth that much money? Can this war be won? Well, the answers to those questions are not facts, of course. Although, if one observes the drug war from its inception in 1971 up until the present, it is clear that the goals President Richard Nixon sent out to achieve have not been won and the overall drug problem in America has steadily become worse. With each decade, stricter laws have been made, more prisons have been built, and drugs have always been available. With sufficient education, any reasonable person should be able to see why our drug policy deeply needs reformation. If this War on Drugs had never existed the United States would be a much better place; there would be less criminals, less prisoners, less taxes, and even less drug use.
Supposedly, the War on Drugs’ primary aim was ending drug use in America. Unfortunately, over the years we have realized there is little to no chance that this will occur. However, we can always reduce the amount of people taking drugs. Instead of focusing our energy on locking up drug offenders (mostly non-violent drug users) we could spend the money on better treatment and education. People would be more informed about the dangers of drugs and this most likely would prevent some from using them. If there was no prohibition of drugs, the money the federal government spends on law enforcement could be used to fund more rehabilitation and more education. As a result, there would be less Americans arrested each year. One of the biggest criticisms of the drug war is the rise of prisons being built to house millions of drug offenders. Overtime, the amount of prisons increased and of course this increased federal government spending, therefore, increasing taxes. This would no longer be an issue, because the amount of prisoners would decrease, therefore the amount of prisons would also decrease.
Without the War on Drugs many pieces of legislation that strengthened law enforcement would no longer exist. A major example is the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which created the extremely detrimental mandatory minimum sentences. To this day these sentences are applied to many incarcerations for drug offenses. If this act had never been passed and as a result these mandatory minimum sentences did not exist, then countless drug sentences would be severely reduced. It should also be noted that the racial disparity in the prison population would vanish, because there would be no difference in the sentencing for crack and cocaine. Another example is the Higher Education Act of 1998, which disqualified youths from getting federal aid for college if they were convicted of marijuana possession. Perhaps, if this act had not been passed, then more youths could attend college and receive a higher education.
In conclusion, the War on Drugs, like every form of prohibition does not work. There are countless problems with our drug policy in America. Once again the main flaws are the imprisonment of non-violent drug users, the overcrowding of prisons, and the overall expense of the drug war’s budget. There are very little positive effects of this system, but there are obviously many negative effects. Drug use has not decreased, crime has not been prevented, in fact the opposite, the drug war secures organized crime. As long as these substances are illegal, there will always be a black market available. Essentially, the United States would be a far greater place if there was not a drug war. Americans need to realize how costly this war is, both financially and emotionally. It is evident, that many of our citizens, mainly parents, are in favor of the drug war because they do not want their children taking drugs. Well, we are thirty-seven years into this war and more drugs are available than ever before; a change is long overdue.

Everything got screwed up when I tried to copy the resources, so I just decided not to include them. If anybody wants to know what they are just ask me. I used Judge James P. Gray's Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It for the most part.


  1. Can I suck your anti-drug war cock?

  2. The drug war is the modern day version of alcohol prohibition, and we all know how well that went. All these illegal drugs should be gradually legalized, starting with pot, moving on to the heavier stuff. Then, sell them for a price and a tax. Sure, they're dangerous, but there's already dangerous drugs that are easy to abuse in your medicine cabinet.

  3. Chris, Chris, Chris,
    Has the war on drugs really failed? I hardly know where to start on listing the positive things that have come out of the 102 year(by my reckoning). How many government jobs have been created through this century old prohibition? The politicians make their bones using the WAR ON DRUGS as a fear getting out the vote tool. The judges, the lawyers, court house personnel, the cops, the prison guards, the prison suppliers, prison builders, etc. The list goes on and on of all the folks that have, and are still making, their living off trying to suppress drugs use of any kind. They pay their bills, feed their kids,get old and retire.
    On the other side of the WOD economy are the ones selling drugs. From the drug kingpins to the guy selling joints on the corner, everybody makes something. The profits can be huge mainly because the penalties can be so severe. Dealing drugs has help support millions of people.
    So, how can any one call the WOD a failure? It has created millions and millions of jobs in the last 5 generations on both sides of the issue.
    Picture this--no WOD--millions of fucking lawyers out of work. That is scary. Thank you very much.

  4. I appreciate your politeness; however your arguments are extremely poor. Just because the standard of living is fantastic doesn't mean it can justify atrocities. For example, there was massive profiting and job opportunities in slavery and the holocaust, does this mean that's ok now? Of course not. The idea of failures and successes is subjective, so we can sit here and argue whether the drug war is either all day. In my opinion, the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. The massive reduction of freedom in particular. The government has no business telling individuals what they can put in their body. It is only when that freedom infringes upon other's freedoms, that law enforcement should be used. You are saying people's lives are merely a tool for big business and employment. Here's a video from some guys, who are much greater anti-drug war activists than myself. Based on your views, you should be shocked by who the people are. Thank you very much. Enjoy!

  5. Also, I don't remember Richard Nixon, the president who initiated this "War on Drugs," making speeches about how we need more judges, more lawyers, more cops, more prisons, more profit, etc. Those weren't the goals. Nixon's main "goal," even though it's pretty clear this wasn't serious, was to end or at least strongly reduce drug use amongst Americans, particularly the youth. Since this has not been accomplished, it is a failure. You know, when you don't achieve your goal(s) over thirty-seven years, generally it is considered a failure. In short, allegedly the drug war was created for reducing drug use/availability, not for profit, job opportunities, etc. But, as you have masterfully shown it WAS created for said prosperities and advantages. So, you know what, I half agree with you here. You're right the DW has been a success for those who benefit from it; however it is a massive failure for everyone else. A monetary success v. A moral failure. Hmmm, if your heart is bigger than your wallet, then you should agree with me that the drug war must be ended.


Your comments are valued greatly. Please adhere to the decorum on the "First time here?" page. Comments that are in violation of any of the rules will be deleted without notice.

3/11 Update - No Moderation

*Non-anonymous commenting is preferred to avoid mix-ups. Anonymous comments are, at the behest of management, more likely to be deleted than non-anonymous comments.