Since the turn of the 20th century, US governments have tried to control the use of drugs through the application of different policies that have mainly focused on the economic aspects of distribution at the expense of other policies. The federal, state and local governments have spent billions of dollars in their effort to ensure that America is free from drugs. However, these efforts seems to have come to naught since it is cheaper and easier than ever before to obtain drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs. The war on drugs has failed since it has only resulted in putting millions of people behind bars at a very high cost. The government spends almost $ 45 billion dollars annually to fight the supply illicit drugs (Caldwell, 2009).
The fight against illicit drugs goes back to almost hundred years ago when opium was outlawed. The fight went a notch higher during the 1930’s when there was a witnessed increase in the number of Mexican immigrants in the Southern states. The depression only made things worse when national hysteria was stirred against the immigrants for the competition they brought to the shrinking job markets (Judy, 2007). The passage of the Marijuana Tax Act by congress was done more out of the need to tame the Mexicans who were the major consumers of marijuana. The fight was taken a notch higher when Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs in 1971 through a hard-line prohibition policy that was adopted by successive presidents (Rosenthal, 1977). However, almost 40 years later these policies seem to have achieved nothing much and there has been growing calls in the United States and other Latin American countries for adoption of other different methods to deal with the drug menace. Some insist that legalization of drugs, especially marijuana will achieve far much better outcomes than prohibition.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration was established in 1973 with the key aim of confronting the drug issue. The agency claims that it has made tremendous progress in its fight against drug use and trafficking in the United States. According to the agency, the country has witnessed a one third drop in drug use in the last two decades with the largest drop being witness in cocaine which stands at 65%. The DEA further says that drugs especially marijuana needs to be prohibited because of the available statistics on its harmful effects. They cite statistics showing that almost a quarter a million of Americans were enrolled into rehabilitation for drug dependence, with marijuana and heroin being the leading culprits.
Nevertheless, many civil society organizations and individuals believe that the war against illegal drugs has failed. A survey done in 2009 showed that seventy percent of the public believes that the war against drug trafficking and abuse has not succeeded. Those mandated to fight drug abuse are becoming increasingly out of touch with many citizens. With the events proceeding September 11, the DEA is accused of use the war against terrorism as a justification to continue carrying out an inappropriate war against drugs to survive in a changing political environment. Additionally, millions of non-violent drug offenders continue to be arrested across the country with 1.5 million people being arrested in 2009 alone (Caldwell, 2009). A compromised public health and undermining of fundamental human rights and civil liberties has become the end result of the war on drug abuse. People continue suffering through arrests while those sick from debilitating diseases like cancer and AIDS are denied access to medicine. In the face of changing national priorities to focus more on actual security problems bedeviling the country, bureaucrats in charge of the drug war machinery are wary of the waning support from the public and want to maintain the large budgetary allocation from the federal government.
Thanks to the war against drug abuse, a bloody war is raging in Mexico and has spilled to American cities across the border which previously experienced low crime levels. Communities are living in fear with people from different spheres, whether politicians, journalists and law enforcement bearing the brunt of violence resulting from prohibition. This has led to suggestions from residents living in border towns for the need to legalize drugs in the US to help curb the increasing causalities from the drug war in Mexico and US border towns. When it comes to matters dealing with the economy, it has been argued the drug war is not only ineffective, but is also becoming increasingly expensive. Many states are facing budget deficits running into billions of dollars and are cutting spending on key sectors like health care and education. Therefore, instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars jailing non-violent offenders, it would be more prudent if the money was channeled into treatment programmes and reforming of the laws on drug abuse. Furthermore, the campaign carried out by the DEA to fight drug abuse seems to be misplaced, misleading and use massive amounts of public resources. The government is spending millions of dollars to carry out ad campaigns in the media whereas majority of people who need treatment for drugs are unable to access it. The ads also do very little in educating the American children on health risks associated with drug use or stimulate real dialogue among parents and children, but instead they misleadingly link the war on drug abuse to that on terrorism in a frantic effort to maintain budgets channeled to fight drug abuse.
In conclusion, the war against drug abuse in America has failed to reduce drug abuse and trafficking. It is therefore necessary for the current laws and policies be reexamined to assess their effectiveness and also come up with alternative strategies to deal with increasingly complex drug problem in the country.
Caldwell, J. (2009, March 5). Failed states and failed policies How to stop the drug wars Prohibition has failed; legalization is the least bad solution. The Economist, 172 (3), 1-5
Judy, M. (2007, October, 17). Money Spent on Drug War Could Be Put to Better Use, Washington Post, 2
Rosenthal, M (1977). The legislative response to marihuana: When the shoe pinches enough." Journal of Drug Issues. 7(1): 61-77.