While American drug prohibition was in motion via legislation as early as 1875 with the enactment of restrictions on opium, our modern day War on Drugs was officially ushered in by President Nixon on June 17th of 1971. On that day, Nixon declared drug abuse to be "public enemy number one in the United States," and two years later founded the Drug Enforcement Administration -- a law enforcement agency whose purpose was and is to combat the war on drugs ("Thirty"). It is in this two year span that we can rest the beginnings of the political anti-drug agenda we are familiar with today. This point, however, does not mark the birth of American substance prohibition, an effort which truly found its inception with the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s.
During the 1920s, America made an attempt at prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol. As many know, however, alcohol prohibition didn't stick, and, in the end, served only to bolster crime syndicates, endanger the lives of those who drank denatured alcohol sold as drinking alcohol, and divide the nation over a question of personal freedom. Our modern-day War on Drugs shares many of the same problems created by alcohol prohibition, and as far as many can tell, the prohibition era of the twenties is essentially a forgotten lesson.
This means that the War on Drugs is, quite simply, a demonstration in repeated folly. Like alcohol prohibition, our drug policy stands numerous criminal organizations on their feet by providing a means of funding via the sale of illicit drugs. Like alcohol prohibition, the War on Drugs is endangering the lives of American citizens who unknowingly consume dangerously adulterated substances -- and like alcohol prohibition, this issue is causing a disturbing schism among our own people. To paraphrase what Albert Einstein once said, insanity may be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results ("Quote").
Just as alcohol Prohibition was initiated by a vocal minority of moralist individuals -- namely those of the Temperance movement -- so too was the War on Drugs pushed by a similarly minded collection of people, likely intellectual and philosophical descendants of the aforementioned movement, with representative political powers such as Richard Nixon obviously among them. While it might be argued that these groups were not of the minority, as they were ultimately able to pass their agendas into public policy and even forge an 18th Amendment to the Constitution under a system where majority rules, if one looks to the actions of Americans at large over the course of either prohibition effort it becomes clear that the private will of at least part of the nation went unspoken. Indeed, modest historical estimates suggest that alcohol consumption at least remained steady from 1919 to 1933, while some even suggest that the drinking population actually increased (Peele). Likewise, the War on Drugs has hardly been effective in preventing Americans from obtaining and consuming their substances of choice, with some indication that the illegal status of illicit drugs actually attracts users who would otherwise avoid them altogether if not for the mystique of their forbidden nature. As admitted by the United States government in a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "112 million Americans age 12 or older (46% of the population) reported illicit drug use at least once in their lifetime" ("Drug Use").
We need not rely on the voluntary...