Of all wars to have been conducted by the USA, the war on drugs is the least promising, with government and law enforcement agencies fighting it in a losing battle. When American authorities got it going some 4 decades ago, it was doomed to be a losing war for a number of reasons, of which one is a historic precedent never taken into consideration. It is well-documented that the only lesson we ever learn from history is that we do not learn any lessons from it at all. However, what America should learn is that conventional tools of mandatory bans and restrictions imposed in the course of the Prohibition from the early first half of the 20th century did not yield desirable results. Interestingly, both campaigns share a number of common characteristics.
The war on alcohol was expected to have put a stop to an illicit substance abuse, smuggling, and undercover consumption, as is the war on drugs; however, the former never did. The authorities were so clueless as to come to lift the bans that only stimulated the abuse. The top line of command of today seems to be coming close to legalizing substances, with prohibition tools backfiring. What they are doing presently is placing drug dealers, distributors, and separate bosses behind the bars at best, as they did almost a hundred years ago, but the issue remains to be tackled. Law enforcement agencies, such as the DEA, do enjoy a series of successful detainments and interceptions, but quaere, have they done a lot to eliminate the problem. With the roots of the problem not handled, the Al Capones of the drug underworld will keep appearing. For as long as it is profitable, gangsters and mobsters of all tiers will be taking calculated risk by trading.
The illegal status of substances simply plays into the hand of drug mafia, and the reason roots in human mentality, to be precisely, in the innate aspiration to whatever is prohibited. Hence, the forbidden-fruit-is-sweet way of thinking is the reason why people fall dependent on abuse. What cause people to fall to abusing are failures and life mishaps due to the lack of opportunities to be achieved on a competitive basis, family issues, and low salaries, to name but a few. There appears the question of why not work towards improving these. More than that, if the USA are to overcome drug distribution and abuse, they would better deal with the corruptibility of law enforcement agencies, and that rapidly, that is the case to some extent. Late 1920s and early 1930s saw police silence bought with alcohol money, and separate police and DEA officers of today are no different. The lack of cooperation between two rivaling agencies, such as the CIA and the FBI is a poor contributor to the success of the war. Finally, if it were not for cinematographic popularization of drug trade and abuse, the youth would not probably be this dependent.
According to Henry Mencken, an outstanding American journalist, far from being an efficient tool of battling alcohol problem, the war on abuse proved disastrous by creating a plethora of social issues. Rather, it jump-started criminal activities and human abuse as well as producing additional costs covered by the government. Worse, people’s respect to American laws arguably hit an all-time low. The country was having hard liquor consumption, production and distribution activities, and anger at the federal government increasing for close to 2 decades. What started in the late 1910s, which is anti-alcohol campaign, went on well into 1920s and slightly beyond, without yielding any positive result. As it stands today, the drug war conducted since 1971 and embarked on by Richard Nixon has already cost upwards of 1 trillion dollars. It has been for more than 4 decades since the war began, and the better part of the world’s largest prison population of 2.3 million prisoners are indicted on drug-related charges, serving their term as of now. The country needs key systematic solutions identified, which is what holds the war back (Branson, n.p.). Lacking for a sound coherent plan, the country needs to strategize and distribute tasks fairly among law enforcement agencies and governmental institutions.
Another reason for the US to lose battle after battle is the economic might of drug trade, which should lead experts to believe that the only way to deal with it is to knock an economic ground out of the feet of drug traffickers and dealers. According to Branson (n.p.), drug production capacities should put global drug trade 8th in the list of world top economies, if it should be graded as such. An estimated 320 billion dollars was the worth of illegal substance trade in 2005 (Branson n.p.). With such a vivid argument must the journalist hint at the economic strength of drug trade, which enables criminals to buy their way to the top power or manipulate corrupt politicians, legislators, and law enforcement members. Branson (n.p.) goes on to note that drugs would generate some 46-plus billion in tax revenue, were the illicit substances taxable. Besides bringing more money to the budget, according to a Cato Institute study, drug legalization will most likely save 41 billion dollars in drug enforcement efforts. Such are the financial potential of drug trade that, on the one hand, vindicates the economic reasons of drug war failure while, on the other, shows a more peaceful and economically sound alternative to it in the shape of legalization.
According to Branson (2005), there were as many as 230 million substance users worldwide in 2005; however, experts did not consider 90% of these problematic. Here comes another reason, which is the underestimation of the problem. The understatement of rates will reduce the problem on paper only, eliminating it other than literally. Sometimes political functionaries tend to distort figures to make their political verbal rhetoric look appealing in the eyes of electorate or it may be officials of all levels who would like to hide professional incompetence behind fake data. Branson (n.p.) admits that, rather than rendering the Americans abstentious, the Prohibition lowered law abidance. For now, the USA is the world’s largest drug consumer. It is worth noting that the population of drug prisoners has increased more than 12-fold since 1980 from 40.000 to 500.000 inmates (Branson n.p.). What is it if not an ultimate disrespect to law that simply does not work? It is not that it is the social protest of people who are willing to violate laws only to end up in jail. It is that legal miscalculations and sometimes miscarriages of rigid justice force people into living criminal lives. According to Branson (n.p.), the inmate population snowballs due to people’s being jailed for minor drug crimes and being given long jail terms to serve. Under the disguise of drug policy, racial discrimination is under way. The rate of the blacks’ arrests for the breach of drug law was 2.8 to 5.5 times as high as that of the whites (Branson n.p.).
Judging by this argument, all the American anti-drug legislation does is ruin the lives of even those first-time offenders who commit minor crimes and who may be reclaimed from the lives of crime before correctional facilities and wardens do their job. Prisons where rape and physical assault are no rarity will more likely than not bare their criminal instincts. More importantly than that, all ex-prisoners have hard times reintegrating into society, not being granted social benefits, subsidies, high salaries, and working opportunities on a competitive basis. Like beautism for less appealing, jail term hallmark is a rough criterion that may leave prisoners unemployed, which, in turn, puts them one step closer to returning to profitable criminal activities. While rigid punishment for drug offenders is supposed to deter individuals from committing crimes, it only stimulates criminal activities. All points counted, it is obvious the American legislature and court system are to blame for drug crimes and subsequent drug war failure. Becker and Murphy (n.p.) suggest that the inability to find decent employment causes ex-criminals, who were caught either selling or using drugs and indicted on respective charges, to return to their illegal activities and hone skills at crimes.
According to Branson (n.p.), drug reform is needed, which is achievable via joining the Global Commission on Drug Policy. In doing so, the country will have experts do what is called a fact-based research and introduce alternative approaches. Hence, the lack of reforms is another reason why the war on substances will end in a fiasco sometime in the future. Reforms should also apply to the way intelligence services collect and classify information on drug activities. According to, an ex-intelligence officer and Treasury Department special agent, John Cassara (n.p.), disastrous is federal, international, and state record on dirty money laundering, illicit profits, and drug trafficking. For the record, no military operation has ever succeeded without proper reconnaissance, or intelligence, neither will the war on drugs. Apart from sorely lacking for precision, governmental data is clearly wanting. Other factors that make the war a waste of time and money are that the USA has a very sizeable economy with plenty of money laundering potential and a huge appetite for drugs on the part of population. As per the most conservative estimates, American spent as much as 65 billion dollars on illicit substances, other sources citing 100 billion US dollars. National law enforcement agencies drug money seizure is estimated at 1 billion dollars, which composes mere 1.5% rate of success (Cassara n.p.). With that in mind, economy large proportions and inefficient economic tools of intercepting the flow of dirty drug money let trafficking go largely unpunished.
Cassara (n.p.) notes that the UN office reports suggest that under 1% of drug fiscal flows are sequestrated and frozen. Out of every 100 billion dollars smuggled across the southern border, only 25% are intercepted by law enforcement agencies, which obvious incompetence leads drug cartels to flourish by receiving tens of billions of smuggled dollars. According to, philosophy doctor, Mathieu Deflem (93), this may be in part due to police corruptibility, which is the case among frontier guards who are supposed to be a legal filter that intercepts the flow of illicit drugs and dirty money travelling across the border of the USA. Justice and legality are usually what suffer from police corruptibility. The relationship of inequality and dependency in US-Mexico police partnership is a case in point that shows the failures of the war on drugs, with both agencies being unable to perform duties on an independent and equal basis (Deflem 93). Speaking of money laundering, the efforts to fine banks are considered insufficient because they apply to anyone but individuals laundering money in financial establishments such as these. To put an example, HSBC, a large commercial bank, was fined something close to 2 billion dollars for its failure to comply with money laundering policy. However, who will incur the expenses is shareholders, not drug traffickers, with no one to be prosecuted (Cassara n.p.). Money freezing measures fall short of punishing drug traffickers. This is where the drug war fails miserably, which is at identifying drug money launderers to bring to justice.
According to Cassara (n.p.), there have been a number of countermeasures developed by US officials. The National Money Laundering Strategy is a good roadmap signed into law by the secretaries of the Homeland Security, Treasury, and Justice Departments, acknowledging dangers and actions plans; still, no major headway in fighting illicit drugs has been made thus far. Additionally, international money laundering efforts lack for criminal investigators. If increased in number, the investigators will less likely increase the efficiency of anti-drug campaign as the better application of data and technology will. Law enforcement agencies are in need of predictive analysis, data warehousing, social network analytics, and financial fraud frameworks will be instrumental in helping agents gather intelligence (Cassara n.p.). The lack of these approaches deduct from campaign effectiveness while the improvement of such will most likely remedy current issues.
According to Becker and Murphy (n.p.), the biggest paradox is that the stricter anti-drug measures the government introduces, the higher the substance prices become in attempts to make up for greater risks taken by drug law offenders. It is safe to deduce from the argument that measures enhancement only leads to drug trade becoming more lucrative in terms of profitability regardless of the possibility of demand declining. In tightening up preventive measures, the American authorities dispose of minor drug dealers, without inflicting much needed damage on big-scale drug organizations, such as Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, and other cartels. Besides receiving high profits, drug dealers may retaliate against the authorities with countermeasures that involve violence and corruption, which will only add to overall expenses. Drug dealers may go all the way to grafting and browbeating politicians, police officers, and military officials who conduct the war on drugs. Those who refuse are sure to experience intimidation and threatening to such a degree that they end up fearing lest their families should be harmed (Becker & Murphy n.p.). With that in mind, it is because they are bullied that law enforcement officials leak information to drug dealers and gangs bosses. Apart from the well-documented lack of cooperation between enforcement agencies impairing the efficiency of drug campaign due to the shortage of information exchange and internal rivalry between the agencies, these organizations seem to be cooperating with drug traffickers and dealers.
Becker and Murphy (n.p.) opine that drug preventive measures being toughened results in higher addiction levels and abuse re-aggravation. An individual strongly addicted to heavy drugs, such as heroin or crack, may be loath to resort to “drug anonymous” help groups, seeing that there is the fear of being reported to the police. Based on that logic, addicts go find consolation among their fellows-in-addiction. In the war on drugs, there is more to it than that. While adults may be unwilling to spend extra cash on drugs, which price skyrockets due to countermeasures, the youth may become involved in drug selling and consumption activities to spite police, which may be explained in terms of their rebellious asocial nature of breaking social prohibitions and restrictions (Becker & Murphy n.p.). Amy Roderick admits that adolescents and young adults between the ages of 17 and 29 are ranked as new users and drug dealers (Graca n.p.). This piece of statistics proves that the issue of drug abuse rejuvenates in part due to campaign by-effects. Another fallout may come in the shape of people’s resorting to cheaper drugs, such as the so-called “krokodil”, which a Russia-based highly toxic flesh-eating drug that was imported from overseas years ago. The drug may get addicts’ skin eroded and sore, with life expectancy of regular users not exceeding 2 years. In short, alternative drugs used over the war-induced price increase may prove more disastrous for addicts, than recreational substances would ever do.
Plenty of allegations have it that the CIA does some logrolling collaborating with drug dealers and ignoring their criminal activities in exchange for valuable intelligence. Newman (n.p.) claims CIA officers to collude with drug dealers since the former do not want the reason of them getting their job eliminated. With no drug dealers in the country, there will be no one to detain, which means the CIA may grow irrelevant at some point in the future. How is the war on illicit substances supposed to be efficient if the soldiers are themselves uninterested in overcoming drug trade? The New York Times featured an outrageous scandal unfolding around CIA anti-drug unit dispatching a ton of cocaine to the USA back in 1990 (Newman n.p.).
The CIA Inspector General, Frederick Hitz was coerced into conceding to a congressional committee that the agency had colluded with drug traffickers. The Department of Justice allegedly granted the CIA a waiver that allowed hiding its contractors’ illegal dealings. An earthshattering revelation made by Gary Webb, an investigative reporter, linked the CIA with illicit drug shipment, which supposedly was meant to fund covert and unconstitutional activities overseas, such as the financial support of armed groups. The dossier was resounding of power, garnering an unpleasant public response while the reporter himself went on to perish aged 49. He was found shot to death in what came to be described as a suicide attempt, with 2 bullets lodged in the back of his head (Newman n.p.). That being said, drugs appear to be an income item in the shadow economy of the CIA, a law enforcement agency that is supposed to be in the vanguard of the American army fighting abuse and its proliferation.
Another reason for the war on drugs to be a losing war is its losses at the ideological front, so to speak. The problem is that American anti-drug ideological machine has lugged in some ungrounded and far-fetched tales about drugs. It was by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that propaganda was created. Fabricated tales had marijuana causing terrific crimes, being at the roots of bizarre cases of murder, insanity, and sex felonies. McWilliams (70) claims that marijuana addicted individuals would allegedly go as far as to fly into an animalistic, delirious, and frenzied rage only to commit terrific criminal perpetrations (qtd. in The United States War on Drugs n.p.) The propaganda, which was launched in 1940s and continued through 1950s, caused people to disbelieve and ignore propagandistic warnings. Thus, it is a must-admit fact that American anti-drug propaganda led to diametrically opposite results, people growing negligent of the danger.
Lastly and most importantly, who induce the youth to start doing drugs are celebrities and mass media highlighting the drug abuse of movie stars and singers. Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Philip Hoffman, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston all partly perished from drug abuse or overdose. What is more, a galaxy of Hollywood stars who managed to stay alive had a well-documented history or a troubling past of substance abuse, which is actively featured in the yellow press that contributes to the gravity of the problem. Most of these celebrities are icons worshipped by the legions of fans who are keen to live the lives of their idols. Besides partying and squandering money, drug abuse is yet another item on the list of their icons’ lifestyle.
Movies also render the campaign against drugs nearly futile, since it is exactly in movies that the above-mentioned icons do drugs and avoid incarceration; however, they do not necessarily have to abuse substances. Instead, they may be “tough” drug dealers with the reputation of double-dyed law offenders. Adolescents who have their mental outlook and life attitude mature may develop a deviant behavior culminating in asocial activities by the time they turn 18 years old. While young and naïve, children watch adventuresome action heroes consume substances and develop a fallacious perception of abuse and dependence. Cocaine and heroin are featured to some extent in three sequels of The Godfather, Scarface, Once upon a Time in America, Lethal Weapon, Taxi 3, Miami Vice, and a number of other movies, with protagonists and antagonists committing all kinds of felonies from drug trafficking to consumption. Celebrities, who the youth worship, just set the wrong example to follow.
Overall, the USA is currently losing the war on drugs for a number of logical reasons. When analyzing the failures of the war on drugs, it is safe to draw analogy with the Prohibition that never yielded positive outcomes. The prohibition of substances leads to those same results, with people’s consuming illicit drugs undercover, drug trade flourishing, and drug offenders’ capitalizing on bans and restrictions. The problem is that preventive measures being tightened up results in drug prices increase and subsequent drug offenders’ enrichment. To spite police, the youth may come to abuse or sell drugs while those already addicted may avoid consulting qualified specialist for fear of being reported to police. Some individuals may switch to more toxic, albeit less expensive substances; however, the bizarre impact of their toxicity and health impairment speak in favor of recreational drugs that will not be introduced by the authorities of the better part of American states.
Law enforcement agencies collaboration with drug dealers for fear of them losing jobs in law enforcement agencies and the shadow bookkeeping of the CIA that is known for having facilitated drug delivery to the USA for money are unprecedented and hard-hitting for the anti-drug campaign. All the American propaganda has done is make people grow indifferent about the issue because of hyperbolized and far-fetched facts about drug abuse. Lastly, celebrities who are to be heard consume illicit drugs and prescribed substances set the wrong example for the youth to follow. Since children hold them in ultimate respect and attempt to imitate their lifestyle, they end up doing drugs just the same way as their icons do on a regular basis. Moviemaking industry is no longer elitist or oriented to a highly intellectual audience. Apart from violence, obscene words, and undisguised sexual content, movies display drug abuse, with protagonists either being addicted to substances or distributing them and avoiding being caught by police and intelligence agencies. Young people think such misdemeanor worth reproducing, as they dream of becoming the Al Pacino-like godfather, running the illegal business of drugs. Here is where the war on substances comes to naught. Propagandistic campaign that is all about clampdown and arm-twisting measures cannot vie with the all-mighty Hollywood for human minds dominated by movie heroes, doing drugs and avoid arrests in such a “tough” manner.
Becker, Gary, S., & Kevin, M. Murphy. “Have We Lost the War on Drugs?” The Saturday Essay. 4 January 2013. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
Branson, Richard. “War on Drugs a Trillion-dollar failure.” CNN Opinion. 7 December 2012. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
Cassara, John, A. “Analysis: Losing the War on Drugs.” GovExec.com. 20 February 2013. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
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Graca, Eduardo. “Despite Drug War, Heroin use is growing in the U.S.” Pravda.ru. 14 May 2013. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
Newman, Alex. “CIA Manages Drug Trade, Mexican Official Says.” New American. 28 July 2012. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
“The United States War on Drugs.” Stanford.edu. n.d. n.p. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.