The Failure Of The War On Drugs - A Summary Of The West

When he launched the War on Drugs in 1971, President Richard Nixon made substance abuse "the number 1 public enemy".Since then, war has been raging and, in many respects, has become less and less effective. Why has it become so useless and what damage has it caused in the world?

To understand the impact - and failure - of the War on Drugs, it is essential to understand the changing relationship of the United States with psychotropic substances. To do this, it is useful to separate history into two highly unequal halves: before the 1st World War and after the 1st World War.

Many of the native tribes of America had sacred relationships with local plants, including psychotropic substances such as cannabis, peyote, and fungi. These plants have played - and continue to play - key roles in spiritual and social ceremonies as well as in everyday life.

After colonization and during the 1800s, opinion was progressive about drugs. While substances like opium were understood for their recreational power, heroin was used to treat respiratory problems, cocaine was an ingredient in Coca-Cola, and morphine was regularly prescribed by doctors to relieve pain.


The second half of the American relationship with drugs has less to do with WWI itself, and more to do with the impact of the Temperance and Prohibition movement.

At the turn of the 20th century, states began to introduce drug taxes or to restrict them to an exclusively medicinal field. So while the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act of 1909 prohibited smoking opium, it was still available for medicinal purposes.

In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Act to regulate and tax the production, import, and distribution of cocaine and opiates. In 1917, alcohol prohibition quickly followed with the passage by Congress of the 18th Amendment and the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act).


From 1917 until 1933, Prohibition was strictly applied while introducing a religious and moral contempt for drugs. All of this was reinforced by the fact that many of the soldiers returning from WWI were being treated with morphine for their injuries, which led to a terrible increase in addictions.

The founding of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 and the adoption of the Uniform State Narcotic Drugs Act introduced other attempts to regulate and tax the diversion of narcotics, with the official aim of helping to combat addiction. All of this was reinforced by the first US cannabis law, adopted in 1937. The Marihuana Tax Act imposed a tax on the sale of cannabis, hemp, and marijuana, without criminalizing the possession or consumption of cannabis.

So how has the United States moved from relatively lax drug laws to the current environment of oppressive and punitive laws? One man is to blame for all of this: President Richard Nixon.


Inducted in 1969, Nixon became president while the United States was in the midst of an extended Vietnam War. The country was still in shock from the assassination of JFK in 1963 and the assassination of his brother Robert in 1968. It was a period of widespread social unrest in the country.

Nixon won the election with a particularly small lead and was seeking re-election in 1972. In 1971, Nixon presented the problem of drug addiction as a national emergency. By presenting the problem as a "War" on drugs, he could ask for $ 84 million for "emergency measures". However, the truth is that the War on Drugs was about more than addiction.

In fact, it was a useful political tool. Recreational substance use was particularly popular within two specific demographic segments: the pacifist left and blacks. Neither of these groups supported Nixon as president, and the War on Drugs allowed the president to punish his political enemies while seeking to actively discredit them.

This is not a smokey conspiracy theory. In a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum, Nixon's chief domestic policy officer John Ehrlichman made explicit the reasons why the administration needed coverage of the War on Drugs.

"We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either pacifist or black, but by pushing public opinion to associate Hippies with cannabis and Blacks with heroin, and by strongly criminalizing both, we could disrupt these communities. We could arrest their leaders, search their homes, interrupt their rallies, and vilify them night after night with national news. Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course, we knew it. "

The result? Nixon won the 1972 election in an overwhelming victory.


Nixon's drug policy introduced strict laws, harsh punishments for recreational use, and the creation of specialized government agencies. This shaped not only US domestic drug policy but also how the United States would influence foreign countries.


The Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, was applied in 1970 and was used to classify substances into five separate categories. These categories separated substances according to criteria such as their possible medical application as well as their potential for abuse.

The highest class, Class I, was reserved for the substances considered to be the most addictive, with the least medical benefit. Among Class I substances are heroin, LSD, MDMA, and cannabis. The lowest class, or Class V, includes substances like codeine cough syrup.

In June 1971, Nixon greatly increased the number of federal funds allocated to drug control agencies. Tougher punishments have come into effects, such as mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes and the training of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. In 1973, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agency.

Through the 1980s and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, the attitude of condemnation of drug use and heavy punishment for offenders continued. Reagan's Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 effectively stopped widespread recreational use of cannabis while introducing minimum prison terms and seizure of property. From 1980 to 1984, the operating budget of the FBI's drug units exploded from $ 8 to $ 95 million.

The ONDCP, or Office of National Drug Control Policy, was founded in 1988 and launched in 1989 the youth media campaign National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Supported by Presidents Bush and Clinton, the ONDCP directorate was introduced and then promoted to cabinet-level status. The funds for the department came with the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 1998.


While Nixon claimed to limit US involvement in foreign conflicts, the very notion of a "War on Drugs" served as a useful cover for US military and paramilitary operations. American involvement in foreign countries under the pretext of a war on drugs has led to a huge influence on foreign policy in the form of aid funds, equipment, training, and troops while preventing revolutions. from the left.

The CIA has also been charged with drug trafficking. It has been suggested that the agency is responsible for drug trafficking from the early 1960s to the 21st century. This includes suspicion of heroin trafficking in the Golden Triangle and trafficking in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela.


The War on Drugs has caused irreparable damage to the United States, both in the country and in terms of scientific progress.


Nixon's attempt to target specific demographic segments resulted in a large socio-economic imbalance. This phenomenon continued during the 1990s when drug crackdowns disproportionately affected the black community as well as low-income groups.

The political effect of the contagion of mandatory prison terms has resulted in the incarceration and deprivation of the voting rights of an increasing number of young Americans from visible minorities. Depending on the state, this can result in permanent loss of the right to vote, educational opportunities, employment, and a home for groups that are already underrepresented.


A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron claims that if the War on Drugs were abandoned, a total of $ 41.3 billion would be saved by the United States. Comparing the cost of law enforcement and prisons, as well as the benefits of taxing legal drugs, Miron concluded that tax revenues could increase by $ 46.7 billion.


Internationally, American attempts to avoid the importation or consumption of drugs have had a strong impact on the lives of peasants. For example, in South America, the coca leaf was traditionally consumed for spiritual, medicinal, and nutritional purposes. And yet, the policy of eradicating coca by the United States was implemented without proposing alternative crops, while being applied by the American army. All this deprived the peasants of food, income, and opportunities.


The ineffectiveness of drug prohibition is obvious and the ramifications in many different societies are very profound. In fact, the prohibitive approach has had little impact on the global supply of drugs, while negatively impacting human rights, international security, national development, and public health.

To put it simply: the War on Drugs is a complete failure. It offers no health and safety benefits for society: it only makes things worse.

Basically, this failure is the result of an inappropriate focus on addiction and racism. By spending the majority of funds on law enforcement and enforcement, the federal government has failed to take positive action in the form of addiction treatment facilities, or even to make a real effort to reduce drug use.

However, in Europe, we are starting to return to common sense. By focusing on responsible drug use and emphasizing harm reduction methods, the negative impacts of drug use can be drastically reduced.

In the Netherlands, drug use is not considered a legal problem. Instead of prioritizing law enforcement, the Dutch government has opened centers for drug addicts to use in clean and safe environments. The net result is a reduction in mortality and contamination with viruses like HIV and hepatitis C. Countries like Germany, Spain, Canada and Norway have launched similar projects, which signals a change in political opinion about drugs.

Rather than spending billions of dollars on interest-free punishments, it is very clear that it is time to call for an end to the War on Drugs and to focus instead on a future of responsible, conscious and peaceful consumption of these substances.

Read more: Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs

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