Policymakers often use the law as a way of controlling the selling, manufacturing, and consumption of specific goods. The Eighteenth Amendment, which deemed the selling and consumption of alcohol illegal, was passed (and later overturned) in the early twentieth century due to its failures. This serves as a great example of how criminalization is not the best route to go when dealing with drug abuse, users, and sellers. Nevertheless, it was the first example we have, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
The War on Drugs, begun under president Richard Nixon, continues to permeate America’s fight against drug use, addiction, and subsequent drug-related crime. While it has probably become clear to the powers that be that the War on Drugs is simply not working, they do not agree with the radical belief that all drugs should be legalized. At least they don’t agree with what would be the most progressive method, which would be to establish the free market for all drugs related to the industry that currently exist, not unlike we have done with alcohol and cigarettes. They argue that the legalization of drugs would only produce more street and violent crime and heighten accounts of drug addiction. But countries that have taken a different approach have proved this argument to be categorically untrue. While the U.S. cracked down on illicit drugs and their users, spending billions of dollars, Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and instead decided to frame it as a public health issue.
The result after 15 years has been that “only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began. The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 percent before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe ” one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark ” and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S” (Kristof 2017).
Portugal is the poster child of how to combat rampant drug use and has proven that if, and when, national policy objectives shift from “ stamping out drug use ” to the reduction of the damaging consequences of recreational drug usage, development is normally evident and dramatic. America’s version of how to combat this issue has been nothing more than a disheartening effort to disable and disappear the members of society that it has long hated and deemed unamerican for some reason or another. John Ehrlichman, who was a Watergate co-conspirator alongside Richard Nixon, has said himself that The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. If the true intent behind the war on drugs was to incarcerate as many unwanted and disliked members of society as possible, then it was a huge success under this intention, because it has done exactly that.
The plague of imprisonment that we see in America currently is irreparably racialized because it was built this way with the help of the war on drugs. It’s no simple coincidence that more than five times as many African Americans are jailed as whites. Or that, despite same degrees of drug usage, whites are multiple times less probable than Africans to be arrested on drug charges. Or that this so-called “war on Drugs ” has coincided with large increases in incarceration rates, especially among dark and brown people. Despite these blatantly obvious ill intentions behind the war on drugs, our politicians and policymakers continue to live in a world where this is simply untrue and where the war on drugs continues to be a success in their eyes. It has been proven and seen time and time again that keeping able-minded, free-willed adults from having access to recreational drugs has done much more harm than good. I think decriminalizing drugs is something that needs to be explored and considered as a serious option as we continue on. This is not because drugs are a good thing, they aren’t if they are used incorrectly, but because the “war on drugs” has been and is an utter failure.
Not unlike what we saw with prohibition, making drugs completely illegal has financed the creation of a huge criminal underworld and helps subsidize the enormous drug cartels south of our borders and even the Taliban profits from the drug trade. The same way that alcohol and tobacco have been legalized and regulated is the same thing that needs to happen with drug use because people have proven they’re going to purchase and use drugs no matter what. The selling and use of drugs have almost destroyed inner-city neighborhoods and fueled gang warfare. I truly believe this was the intention when the war on drugs began, but I also believe we have proven to progress in our views of others’ differences since then. So while this war started on disgustingly immoral intentions, we still have a chance to turn it over to a nobler one, and the war on drugs as it stands, based on how it was created, is not our answer for the future of decreasing drug use in America.
Decriminalization is and has proven to be (in other countries of course) the answer. The tax money that would result from the sale of regulated drugs could go into the development of social programs that can begin healing these neighborhoods, eliminate wealthy drug dealers who act as a role model for younger children and create jobs within a new drug industry. While it is unsettling for most to think about a world in which the illegal drugs we hear about ruining people’s lives being made legal, when you look at the statistics and the ways in which it would cause more help than harm, it is our most viable and logical option. But it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
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