The War on Drugs began under President Nixon in 1971. The “War on Drugs” concept was that drugs were bad, and that they should be difficult to obtain, thus making it more of a war on the supply of drugs. As a result of the war on drugs, local law enforcement, federal agencies, and the United States military expanded their efforts and authority to combat illicit drugs.
I, by no means, disagree with the initial idea that drugs are bad for people and that there is a drug problem. However, I do not agree with the idea of the war on supply. To curtail any problem, you must look at it backwards. By this I mean look at the drug abusers first. By fixing the problem from the bottom up you will eventually curtail the supply because nobody will want to use the drugs. This idea was evident with the “Just say no” program initiated in the 1980’s.
The war on supply was a goal that was too big to successfully implement. Global drug production and the drug trade is very difficult to accurately measure. A study published in 2013 found that despite efforts to limit the supply of drugs, prices have fallen and the purity has increased (Chabaldi). Between 1990 and 2007, the average price of heroin fell by 81%, the average price of cocaine fell by 80% and the average price of marijuana fell by 86%. This idea in itself shows a failure in the war on supply.
According to a 2011 report by Global Financial Integrity, illicit global drug activities are worth an estimated $320 billion dollars a year. The first failure in the war on drugs is the
The Failure on the War on Drugs
monetary cost incurred by the United States. The war on drugs started 47 years ago. In that time the U.S. has spent over one trillion dollars on interdiction and an average annual cost of $51 billion dollars.
The second failure of the war on drugs is the increase in arrestees. Some may view this as a positive direction for the war on drugs campaign but we must remember that it is a war on supply, not a war on abusers. This idea proves again that we must start from the bottom up and offer treatment. In 1980 there were 500,000 people incarcerated in America. By 2010 that number increased to 2.3 million with almost 51% of federal inmates incarcerated for drug offenses (Li). In 2016 there were 1.5 million people arrested for drug law violations with 84% of those being for possession. We must also remember that very few prisons offer drug rehabilitation treatment.
During this time the drug violation laws also had a greater penalty. These penalties have had a long-term effect on lot of people. Along with incarceration time for a drug crime, a person also gets penalized for the rest of their lives. If you have ever filled out an application for financial aid or for a job then you know what I mean. Every year approximately 60,000 students get denied financial aid services due to a drug conviction (Lederman). Also, many employers, public and private will not hire you if you have had a prior drug offense conviction.
Another failure of the war on drugs that we must look at is the global impact that it has created. Since 2006, 85,000 people in Mexico have been killed due to the rise of cartels from the drug trade. This is due to the increased United States pressure on the Mexican government to stop the supply of drugs coming from Colombia to Mexico and then across the border to the United States. Between 2008 and 2014 the United States gave Mexico $2.4 billion dollars for
The Failure on the War on Drugs
this effort. The United States also gave the governments of Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Brazil almost $1 billion dollars because the drugs that entered through the Mexican border had some point travelled through their borders. The United States also gave 15 Caribbean nations $400 million dollars and West Africa $60 million dollars to reduce drug trafficking to the U.S.
Another failed attempt on the war on drugs was in Afghanistan. The United States Department of Defense has spent billions of dollars fighting the war on drugs in Afghanistan due to its funding of terrorism. In the beginning the United States supported the idea of prohibition of opium, but also supported the drug warlords who were helping fight the Taliban. Then the United States began to actively combat the trafficking of opium inside the country. To this date the United States continues to provide financial assistance for the eradication of Afghanistan opium. Despite the efforts of the United States military, the cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan has tripled between the years of 2002 and 2013. Afghanistan officials used this money and began to eradicate the smaller opium farms and left the bigger ones intact. The Taliban began to realize this and became heavily involved in the funding of poppy fields. They were later involved in the cultivation and export the heroin. The Taliban would also offer protection to the smaller poppy farmers. The United States attempt to destroy the opium trade in Afghanistan eventually led to the resurgence of the Taliban enabling them to generate between $200 million and $400 million per year. The United States pushed for the criminalization of growing poppy. The illegal drug trade employs approximately 500,000 Afghan citizens due to the financial gains. “The criminalization of thousands of Afghan citizens jeopardizes the very aims of U.S. counterterrorism policy. By labeling these individuals as criminals, and putting their livelihoods
The Failure on the War on Drugs
at risk, prohibition breeds disaffected citizens more likely to sympathize with terrorists” (Hall). The United States involvement in the eradication of opium in Afghanistan has created two issues. First, with 500,000 citizens involved in some form of the drug trade, where they earn their primary income, has made the citizens depend more on the Taliban for protection. This creates a sense of alliance with the citizens and the Taliban making it harder for the United States to fight terrorism. Second, without the support of the citizens it is very difficult to establish a new government for the regions.
Lastly, the reason that the war on drugs failed is because of a shift of public attitude. In 1990, 73% of Americans belied in a mandatory death sentence for major drug traffickers (Hall). 57% of people also thought that police should be allowed to search the houses of drug dealers without a search warrant. In 2014 The Pew Research Center found that only 26% of the population agreed that prosecution should be the focus of the war on drugs and 67% felt that the government should implement drug treatment policies.
The public perception of drugs has changed since the inception of the war on drugs. According to the polling company, Rasmussen, only 4% of the American people believe that the government is winning the war on drugs. To today’s date, 29 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana to include the District of Columbia. 22 states have also removed jail time for simple possession of marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that roughly 10% of all drugs coming into this country are seized. As stated earlier the U.S. spends over $50 billion dollars a year on interdiction efforts to stop drugs from entering this country. That means that $50 billion dollars is spent stopping only 10% of the drugs. The money would be more effectively spent removing the customers versus removing the supply. The only things that the war on drugs has done was put more people in jail, decreased civil rights and create more violent criminal organizations.