War On Drugs Essay, Research Paper
Have we lost the War on Drugs?
The War on Drugs officially started in 1972 with President Nixon declaring that drug law enforcement was not strict enough. To enforce the laws of the original Harrison Act, a new and intensified plan was to be enacted. The war reached its peak during the Reagan and Bush administrations, in which $67 billion was spent in enforcement of drug laws. The plan had worked relatively well until near the end of the Bush administration and drug use overall was down. But the Clinton administration has not been as effective and it is time to determine what our next course of action will be regarding drug enforcement. Prisons are becoming increasingly overcrowded and many people are being labeled as ?hard criminals? as a result of experimentation with soft drugs. There are many possible courses of action to take, but the best one is not very clear-cut.
America has always had a tremendous demand for illegal drugs. And simple economic principles will show that when there is a large demand for a product someone will supply it. It is just like any other precious commodity and follows the same theory of ?buy low, sell high?. Foreign sources have historically supplied this great demand. Latin America?s drug lords have always been a very big problem for the United States. It can be virtually impossible to catch them in a position to make an arrest. The power and support that these drug lords receive can almost overwhelm authorities trying to stop them (Burdge 2).
One of the largest ever drug traffickers was Pablo Escobar Gaviria, he was so large and powerful, not even the court system could punish him when he was arrested and detained. The arresting officers were killed and nine different judges would not try the case due to threats on their lives. Then the official records disappeared from the courthouse and there could not be a trial. His net worth grew to almost $2 billion and he was helping the people of his native Colombia by building hospitals and public housing to gain public support. After nearly 20 years and at least 60 tons of imported Cocaine, he was finally stopped in a shootout at his house (Escobar 1).
Cocaine and marijuana usually come from the Caribbean and Latin America. Heroin has historically come from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But now we have a greater problem than stopping imports, we must stop domestic production as well. Marijuana, Methamphetamines, and LSD are becoming more popular and can be produced in America as well as foreign countries. It is estimated that one third to one half of all Americas marijuana consumption comes from domestic sources (Falco 145).
Drugs in the United States have been a problem for the last 100 years. It is currently estimated that at least 77 million Americans have used and elicit drug at least once in their life (Department of Health 17). The United States? government has always tried to cut off the primary supply from other countries. They have tried various different methods, which include ?diplomacy, economic assistance, coercion, and military force? (Falco 146). Initially this course of action showed great promise. The most effective time for the drug war was during the late 1980s, after combating the tremendous cocaine use in the early 80s, the new strategies adopted by President Reagan were very effective. By following Ronald Reagan?s precedent for harsh treatment of drug offenders President George Bush had cut Cocaine use by 80% from 1985 to 1992 when he left office (Bennett 140).
Ronald Reagan made combating drug use one of his most important issues. He said that drug abuse was “one of the gravest problems facing [America].” And he said, ?winning the war against drug abuse is one of the most important, the most urgent issues confronting us today? (NBC News). And as soon as his second term began he made a great effort to fulfill his promises. January 21st of 1984 marked the first day that changes were made in the Reagan administration regarding drugs. He essentially gave the FBI with DEA jurisdiction to enforce drug laws and investigate drug cases. He also made the FBI responsible for reporting what progress they had made during investigations, so they would be somewhat accountable for increasing or decreasing drug use. Reagan described it “giving the drug problem the kind of focus it needs.” Also during Ronald Reagan?s term a ?Office of Director of National and International Drug Operations and Policy? was formed by congress to further combat the drug problem. Two laws were passed in 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Act and the Narcotics Act of 1984. Congress also established a drug policy board ?because it found that drug trafficking was estimated to be an $80 billion a year industry; only 5 to 15 percent of the drugs imported into the country were interdicted; and controlling the supply of drugs was thought to be a key to reducing the drug-related crime epidemic? (America?s Habit 2).
Congress and the Reagan administration did not stop there, in 1984 they continued to pass legislation pertaining to illegal drugs. They passed the Aviation Drug-Trafficking Control Act. Which would require Federal Aviation Association (FAA) administers to revoke any Air Certificates and Aircraft Registrations for anyone convicted of a drug-related crime. Some of the most important legislation that was passes was under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. This contained one of the most controversial narcotic related laws in history, which was the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984. This law revised previous criminal forfeiture acts. ?Today few in the Congress or the law enforcement community fail to recognize that the traditional criminal sanctions of fine and imprisonment are inadequate to deter or punish the enormously profitable trade in dangerous drugs . . . Clearly, if law enforcement efforts to combat racketeering and drug trafficking are to be successful, they must include an attack on the economic aspects of these crimes. Forfeiture is the mechanism through which such an attack may be made?(America?s Habit 2). This law has been the source of many legal battles and led people to accuse the government of unlawfully confiscating their property and in many cases the people that lost property may not even be charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one (Bauman 34).
As 1984 continued more and more legislation was sent through congress. The Controlled Substance Registrant Act of 1984 was passed. This made it illegal to steal any amount of a controlled substance from a registrant. It also included the prohibition of certain prescription drugs, as a result of their limited medical use and their abuse on the streets. Another law called the Controlled Substances Penalties Act of 1984 was also passed; this made penalties stiffer, in particular, allowing up to 20 years and $250,000 fine for large amounts of certain drugs, such as LSD or PCP. It also allowed for the penalty to double for any person within 1000 feet of a school when caught distributing.
1986 brought about another very controversial drug related law. It was the enactment of mandatory minimums. Which has had many people furious about it since its enactment. Mandatory minimums mean that if a person is convicted of a certain crime they will have a minimum sentence to serve, with no exceptions. As a result many people feel they have been sentenced to harsh, where as their crime was not as severe as someone before them but they received the same sentence. This law also basically takes the power away from the judges and places it into the hands of the prosecutors, as they control what the defendant will be charged with and whether to accept a plea bargain or not. This somewhat defeats the purpose of a trial in many cases because if the defendant is found guilty the judge and jury have no part in determining how severe the defendant?s crime was, and they cannot set a sentence accordingly. The government claims that these laws will instill fear in many criminals, and they claim that the crime rates will go down as a result, but this theory has yet to hold up (Caulkins, 24).
Ronald Reagan ended his presidency in 1988 as one of the most effective drug fighters in history. He made great efforts and spent tremendous amounts of money on the drug war; he had successfully passed large amounts of legislation through congress, which had helped to crack down on drug smuggling and drug use, somewhat. His wife had started the DARE program, to try and get young kids to never start using drugs (Goodwin 1).
President George Bush had many of the same ideas as Ronald Reagan (he was his vice president for eight years). George Bush?s version of the Drug War started on September 5, 1989, when he made his own effort to stopping drug abuse. His plan called for 7.9 Billion dollars from congress in order to pay for increased law enforcement ($6.3 billion) and more money for prisons ($1.6 Billion). Bush?s main effort was to attack the drug demand, and not really target the supply, prevention and treatment. The logic was that if the demand could be greatly decreased the other things would not be as important. He made the states comply and threatened to cut their funding if they did not (Check 2). George Bush did make a very important decision with regard to the stopping of drugs being imported from South America. He made the decision to invade Panama, and arrest Manuel Noriega, a notorious General that was helping to aid drug trafficking from South America. American troops surrounded Noriega and he surrendered, he was arrested and brought to trial in the United States where he was convicted of a variety of charges (?George Bush? 4). Which include ?cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, marking the first time in history that a U.S. jury had convicted a foreign head of state of criminal charges? (Noriega 1).
George Bush?s plan to fight drugs was also somewhat effective. Cocaine use was down 21% over his administration (Check 2) and down 80% overall from 1985 until the end of the Bush administration (Bennett 140). Bush took a good stand on drugs, and achieved results. He had successfully curbed drug use and successfully arrested one of the largest drug suppliers in the world. Overall the Bush administration had been relatively successful with regards to stopping drug abuse, despite spending large amounts of money to combat the problem.
As the Clinton Administration started in 1992 drug use began to rise again. He did continue the tradition of spending large amounts of money on controlling illicit drugs in the United States. But unlike his predecessors Ronald Reagan and George Bush, he did not attain nearly the results that they did. Drug use was up almost across the board, in 1993 about 13% of all eighth graders had smoke marijuana. This was over double the percentage that had on two years earlier in 1991 under George Bush. A Michigan investigator described it as ?a problem that is getting worse at a fairly rapid pace.? Under the Clinton Administration Cocaine, Heroin, and Marijuana had all reached new levels of use (Bennett 140).
Many more people are being convicted of drug related crimes, which seems like the policies are working but this is not necessarily the case. Today approximately 93% of all inmates have a drug related charge. The legal system with regard to drugs can be racially biased as well. The penalties for possessing ?crack? cocaine are much stiffer than for powder cocaine, even though the two substances are chemically identical. ?Crack? cocaine is more of a street drug than powder, and ?crack? is generally much cheaper. As a result, many poor, minority communities are caught with crack instead of the powder kind of cocaine. This makes them susceptible to much stiffer penalties and mandatory minimum sentences. This coupled with the fact that many minorities cannot usually afford good legal council usually puts them in a situation where they have to plea bargain and will definitely get jail time (Burdge 3). ?Since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget increased by more than 1,350%, from $220 million in 1986 to about $3.19 billion in 1997 (Bureau of Justice Statistics 20).
Overcrowding in prisons is one of the biggest problems with the modern day justice system. It takes massive amounts of resources to run them and there are too many inmates that probably should not even be in jail in the first place. ?In 1998, the United States imprisoned more than 1,185,000 people for nonviolent offenses at an annual cost of more than $24 billion? (Irwin 7). The amount of taxpayer money that is being wasted in prisons is very alarming; it seems as though alternative methods should be reached. ?Assuming recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 20 Americans (5%) can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime. For African-American men, the number is greater than 1 in 4 (28.5%)? (Bonczar 1).
In 1997 the total inmate population was estimated at 1.36 million adults. The total cost for ?Corrections, judicial, legal and police costs: $71,465 per inmate? (Bureau of Justice Statistics 4). These statistics are startling, and these are not the only problems with the modern day drug war.
It appears that too many basic American values have been undermined in the name of the drug war (?Is Truth the Casualty?? 3). Police and other authorities in many cases are abusing power and defying certain civil and human rights provided by the United States Constitution. ?In 1996, 71% of all wire taps were authorized for state and federal narcotics enforcement. To contrast, only 2.8% were for kidnapping, extortion, larceny, theft, loansharking, usury and bribery, combined? (Maguire 418). These numbers show that the government appears to be putting too much effort into drug enforcement, the government is giving drug enforcers too much freedom to investigate anyway they please. Regardless if there is a drug problem or not, taking civil liberties and violating the constitution is not what the American public had in mind for a drug free America.
The United States government and its drug policies have become so strict and the people in charge have become so stubborn, that they refuse to view anything differently. And they refuse to see that the war has been lost. From 1994 to 1995 cocaine production had increased by 20 tons and cocaine seizures had dropped by 73 tons. As a result approximately 33% or 93 more tons of cocaine were on the street than in 1994. In 1995 32 tons of heroin was seized, the government estimates that only 11 tons of heroin will supply the nation. Even drug Czar Barry McCaffrey said, ?[arrests] will not solve the drug problem.? He suggests that people coming to their senses and to stop using it will be the only hope for a drug free America. One of the biggest problems in drug prevention strategies has been the failure to innovate. The government has used the same methods for the last 20 years and children simply tune them out by now. Most teenagers have not seen drugs destroy lives as they have been advertised to do. And most parents from the 60s and 70s that used drugs feel uncomfortable telling their kids not to use them, because they did themselves (Witkin 60).
It?s obvious that the ?drug war? as Ronald Reagan intended it has not gone according to plan. Since Clinton?s administration began, results have gone downhill, and continuing this ?war? is becoming very costly. There are a couple of possible solutions; many people feel that legalizing certain drugs would be the best solution. This seems as though it would just become a plague on society, similar to tobacco and alcohol. It would also be very difficult to enforce many of the existing laws. Some politicians feel like that by rehabilitating drug users it will be cheaper and more effective than putting them in prison. At the same time some politicians feel that we should just be harder on drug users. There is not really much more we can do in terms of making laws tougher on drug users. They are already very tough and are not working and are consuming massive amounts of money for enforcement. Rehabilitation seems like it would work, and much more cost effective than harsh treatment. Mandatory treatment for drug users seems like it would be a solution at least worth trying on a national scale. This has been tried in Arizona, where non-violent users and sellers are being sent to rehab instead of jail. This policy appears to be getting results and may be ready for a try on the national level (Beals 25).
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