Since President Richard Nixon first declared a nationwide War on Drugs in June 1971, law enforcement and the U.S. government have operated under the idea that the best drug policy was to jail anyone using or selling drugs. Debate continues to rage about how effective this has been over the last 40 years.
Many believe that the War on Drugs has created more problems than it has solved, such as treating addicts like criminals instead of treating drug addiction as a medical condition. There are also the class issues involved with how drug abuse is punished, prison overcrowding, increasing violence and death connected to drug cartels, and finally a growing movement for legalization of drugs. These topics would serve as good research paper topics to explore for a range of classes from political science to sociology to criminal justice.
Time for a new approach
A recent academic report from the London School of Economics (LSE), authored by five Nobel prize-winning economists, Britain’s deputy prime minister and a former U.S. secretary of state, stated it is time for the world to figure out a new way to handle drug abuse. A May 7, 2014, article for Aljazeera.com, “Global drugs war a ‘billion-dollar failure’,” highlights the many ways that the current drug policy has failed people and governments around the world. The report cited the following as outcomes of the current War on Drugs:
- Mass drug-related incarceration in the U.S.
- Corruption and violence in developing countries
- An HIV epidemic in Russia
- Creation of a $300 billion black market
The Aljazeera article also quoted John Collins, coordinator of international drug policy at the LSE, who said, “Leaders need to recognise that toeing the line on current drug control strategies comes with extraordinary human and financial costs to their citizens and economies.”
An issue of class
While certainly prison overcrowding and the enormous black market for drugs are huge issues to be dealt with, the dangers of drug abuse and how poorly our current drug policy handles those with an addiction is also crucial.
In “The War on Drugs Becomes an Issue of Class” published on February 9, 2014, in the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) acknowledges how those with money are able to handle their drug addition in an altogether different manner than the poor. The article says that although billions have been spent in the War on Drugs, “the drugs are cheaper and easier to find than ever. The war enriches dealers by constricting the supply while turning addicts into criminals afraid to publicly confront their drug use.”
Meanwhile, the governor of Vermont, which is facing a major heroin crisis in that state, wants to treat drug addition as the disease it is. Other government officials are less understanding, with Republicans denying federal aid to any student with a drug offense through a last minute amendment to the Higher Education Act.
The future of the War on Drugs policy
Strides are being made to change how drug abuse and drug addiction are treated. Colorado and Washington have both voted as states on the legalization of drugs, in both cases marijuana for recreational use. But there are other ways that people are speaking out. The World Policy Blog posted “Cities Worldwide Protest the War on Drugs” by Marya Pasciuto on June 26, 2014, illustrated how grassroots movements are growing to change the way governments handle drug policy. Eighty cities around the globe participated in the day of protests.
Pasciuto cites three cities holding protests: Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City and London. A major issue in Kuala Lumpur is the “death penalties for drug possession in Malaysia’s justice system,” which Pasciuto wrote disproportionally affect the poor. In Mexico City the focus will be more on Mexico’s violent and dangerous drug cartels that are linked to “over 60,000 deaths and 20,000 disappearances … reported from 2006-2012.” The protest in London is centered more on the racism and cultural stigma the United Kingdom’s drug laws create. Pasciuto wrote, “Current drug laws in the UK allow for mass searches of certain communities, which allow for racist police practices.”
Whether it is prison overcrowding or drug cartels, the War on Drugs has not managed to eradicate drug abuse. Instead drug policy around the world has served to only exacerbate the problems, even creating additional issues.
Do you feel that the War on Drugs has been more of a problem or a solid solution? Let us know what you think in the comments.