In 2010, the U.S. spent 15 billion dollars on the ‘War On Drugs’. That works out to around $500.00 per second. The US is a little different in our approach to problems. We usually ‘throw’ money at it, and let the private sectors handle it, and in most cases, this works very well. Where it fails to achieve it’s goal is when the government (hereafter refereed to as “the Feds”) throws money at itself, in the hopes of dealing with the issues. So, after spending 15 billion dollars of our hard-earned tax money, in the middle of a massive financial crisis for most people, are we any safer? Are we winning the ‘War’ on drugs?
It depends on who you ask. To understand the mechanics, you need a little background. At the turn of the century, drugs were not regulated at all. Medical remedies were freely available, many containing heroin and cocaine, over-the-counter, with no prescriptions required. Consumers were simply cautioned to use them as directed, and if you became addicted, or died, it was you’re own fault. The Supreme Court (aka: the Supremes) had ruled in 1886 that states could not regulate interstate trade, and Federal law enforcement target most counterfeiting. The invention of the automobile made interstate drug transport, and interstate law enforcement investigations much easier, so the stakes were raised. In 1906, due to public pressure, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed. This was meant to target toxic substances, requiring warnings on potentially dangerous substances. After many unsuccessful attempts to find ways to tax cocaine, and heroin, the Harrison Tax Act of 1914 was passed, effectively making the use or possession of heroin and cocaine illegal in the U.S. By 1933, the Prohibition debacle had ended, and the U.S. had a huge surplus of agents with nothing to do. The federal government never fires anyone, so they simply created a new organization (2, actually, one for drugs and one for firearms), the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. They placed it under the U.S. Treasury Department to avoid having to follow any Constitutional restrictions that the Justice Department had to follow. As long as they kept the appearance of it being simply a tax issue, they had a free hand in enforcement tactics. They did the same with firearms to circumvent the 2nd Amendment. The U.S. Constitution gives the federal a lot of freedom in creating, collecting and enforcing taxes.
Now that politicians had a federal organization unfettered by any constitutional restraints, who’s primary function in reality was regulating and attacking both drug trade and use, all at their beck and call, they quickly began to use them to get elected to office by manufacturing crisis after crisis involving the ‘drug epidemic’, that up until now, no one knew about. The first shot was fired in 1937. At that time, the American public’s attitudes towards minorities such as African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Asian-Americans wasn’t that great. They were not allowed in most bars, and in some states, were banned by law from possessing or consuming alcohol completely. So many of them turned to marijuana as an inexpensive and relatively harmless temporary escape from their woes. Oppressing minorities was a great way to get elected at that time, so politicians quickly seized the moment. Posters were circulated, and propaganda movie shorts were created showing that African-American and Mexican men would get high on ‘Mary Jane’, and seek out white women to engage in debauchery with. Of course, this had the desired effect of creating a panic among white voters. They quickly voted for the ‘saviors of female honor’, and the politicians passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, in an attempt to tax the herb into non-existence. Even though all medical studies showed that marijuana was relatively harmless , the propaganda was circulated that it was a ‘gateway’ to using other drugs, and other such nonsense.
The Justice department was missing out on a lot of the money being allotted for enforcing the tax laws, so the Boggs Act of 1951, and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 were passed requiring mandatory sentencing, and other provisions, allowing the Justice Department to receive a much larger share of the federal budget money. President Eisenhower didn’t want to be left out, so he created the U.S. Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics, which was mainly just a place for him to appoint his friends and cronies to federal jobs and paychecks. They actually did very little, and the entire organization was symbolic, at best.
Moving forward to the 1970s, President Nixon had several scandals brewing and desperately needed something to re-direct attention from them. He used his clout to get the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 passed. This greatly expanded the Feds budget, and authority to enforce drug laws. In 1971, Nixon stated that drugs were “Public Enemy #1”, declared a ‘War On Drugs’, and used celebrities like Elvis Presley (great example…..) to send the message that drug use was unacceptable.
In 1973, the Feds dropped all pretense of not having a standing army with the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with draconian power and authority. Their agents use military equipment, have military-style uniforms, use military tactics, and have much more power to violate the U.S. Constitution than a normal police officer. In 1983, the slogan aimed at children, “Just say no” was aggressively propagated, so that a perceived threat to children would allow for more drug legislation (and it’s associated money) with little or no public outcry.
The war on drugs took an unexpected turn in the mid 1980s. Cocaine had become the most popular drug of the upper-class and well-off voters, many of which were directly responsible for political funding and getting politicians elected. People of lesser means preferred the new, inexpensive smoke-able cocaine, called ‘crack’. In their zeal to capture more federal dollars, they inadvertently placed their most important assets at risk for prosecution. They quickly circulated propaganda characterizing crack as the drug of choice for sinister black urban addicts, selling it to children in the ‘projects’, and focusing attention away from the upper-class cocaine users. They passed the Anti Drug Act of 1986, which stipulated that 5000 grams of ‘yuppie’ cocaine would get you a mere 10 years in prison, but just 50 grams of crack would get you the same. And of course, the convictions for crack were more aggressively pursued than standard cocaine.
In the insuring years, the Feds have been able to do pretty much anything they want with impunity. And all because of the precedents of the ‘War on Drugs’. It has been used as an excuse for countless Civil Rights violations, and continues to be a major tool of oppression. For example, the Constitution prohibits the Feds from taking your property without Due Process of Law, but if they accuse you of drug possession, they can take you car, and other personal belongings before you ever go to court. If a doctor causes you to become addicted to a pain-killer like Vicodin, you will be prosecuted just like a heroin addict, even though it was not all your fault. California legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996, yet the Feds continue to arrest and prosecute California Medical Marijuana Distributors, citing Federal precedence over state laws. So far, the Obama Administration has kept things the way they are. There does not appear to be any plans for an ‘exit strategy’ or reform on the issue.
Aside from the obvious fallacy in the War On Drugs, in that it is not possible to wage war against an inanimate object, a social issue, moods, or any other abstractions, are we any better off because of this ‘War on Drugs”? So far, the human costs are that 55% of federal prisoners, and 22% of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. This works out to over 500,000 people in prison for drug offenses, not counting people in jail awaiting trial, or people on probation, or parole. This is equivalent to the entire population of Las Vegas, or any other medium sized city in America, locked up for laws, most of which did not even exist before the 1970s. If they had just been born 40 or so years earlier, they would not be prisoners. This also has the effect of creating an under-class of citizens in this country who, in theory, can be denied any rights because of a minor mistake made decades earlier. And many of these are people who inadvertently became addicted to a prescription drug because of the rash of doctors over-prescribing drugs. And the numbers are growing.
The emotional costs are incalculable. Non-violent people who merely used an illegal drug are housed behind bars with killers, rapists, pedophiles, and the like, and gang violence is a direct result of the drug laws and prohibitions, and effect large numbers of people who have nothing to to with drugs at all.
Financially, the War On Drugs costs the U.S. Taxpayer over 20-50 billion dollars yearly, with little tangible results. This does not include the billions of dollars given to countries like Columbia to ‘help’ them curb the drug trade, or U.S. interventions in other countries, such as spraying people and crops with deadly Round-Up, a very dangerous herbicide that replaced Agent Orange some time back. If we had fought all of our past wars this way, we would still be a British colony.
So, after all this, are we winning the War on Drugs? It depends on who you ask. The government says we are, because they manipulate the numbers to show the results they want. When it comes time to ask for money from Congress, they inflate the figure by using all the numbers they can get, including people waiting to go to court for drug charges, and people in drug treatment programs who are not even under indictment. When they have to show that drug use is down, they do not include people on probation, parole or waiting for trial. Typical politics. If you ask any experts in the field of medicine, counseling, and most Law Enforcement officers, they will tell you it is a dismal failure, a waste of good prison-space, law enforcement resources, and court time.
The obvious solution is to realize that drug use is a medical and social problem, not a law enforcement one. Money should be spent on treatment programs, counseling, and education, rather than incarceration. The way to stop drug trafficking is to dry up the demand for the product. It’s time for the citizens of our country to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to quit allowing our elected officials to waste our tax money and resources on wild-goose chases, and hold them responsible for what they do in office. If you don’t vote, then you are part of the problem. It costs nothing but a little time to register. Get off the fence, and help us save our country. Get involved, knowledgeable, and most of all, vote. They’re your rights…..Use ’em, or lose ’em……