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America is at war. We have been fighting drug abuse for almost a century. Four Presidents have personally waged war on drugs. Unfortunately, it is a war that we are losing. Drug abusers continue to fill our courts, hospitals, and prisons. The drug trade causes violent crime that ravages our neighborhoods. Children of drug abusers are neglected, abused, and even abandoned. The only beneficiaries of this war are organized crime members and drug dealers.
The United States has been engaged in a “war” for nearly 25 years. A war in which there is a great deal of confusion as to why we are engaged in it, and if we are in the war for the right reasons. The resolution of the war is curtailed by varying opinions and subjective statistical proof. The war which has been a continuing struggle, is the “war on drugs” At the heart of this war is a fundamental question: Is this a battle the United States can win? It is likely everyone will agree drugs are harmful, they have serious medical side-effects. Drugs are addictive; can ruin a family, a job, a life. I agree that drugs have very negative side effects, but is the solution to fight a very costly and ineffective battle to eradicate drugs entirely? Is this even a possibility? I am not so sure, and this paper will show that the war on drugs has likely caused much more harm than good. Further, it will explain why not all drugs are the same, explore some options, and look at the future of the United States, and of the world We spend $50 billion per year trying to eradicate drugs from this country. According to DEA estimates we capture less than 10 percent of all illicit drugs. In this regard, I have a two part question 1) How much do you think it will cost to stop the other ninety percent? Too much. 2) Does $50 billion a year for a 90% failure rate seem like a good investment to you? I am sure the answer is no. Has the cost of the War on Drugs in terms of billions of dollars, blighted lives, jammed prisons, intensified racism, needless deaths, loss of freedom etc., produced any significant change in drug availability or perceived patterns of drug use? Unfortunately not. Abraham Lincoln said "Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and make crime out of things that are not crimes." It is estimated that 45 million U.S. citizens have tried an illicit drug at least once. How many of the 45 million drug users do you feel we must incarcerate in order to win the war on drugs? Why does the FDA stand up for the right of adults to smoke tobacco, which is highly addictive and causes over 400,000 deaths per year, while decreeing that adults have no right to smoke marijuana, which is non-addictive and kills no one? Alcohol costs thousands of lives, and alcoholism is an accredited disease, but anyone age 21 or older can go to the liquor store and buy alcohol. Drug use is an acknowledged fact of life in every prison in the country. If we can't stop prisoner use of drugs, how can we rationally expect to stop average free citizens from using them? Despite signatures from 85 prominent groups and individuals, why has the Hoover Resolution (a call for an independent panel to review existing drug policies) not been considered, accepted, or initiated? What lessons from alcohol prohibition lead you to believe that the current drug war will end in victory? At a time when working people are being asked to tighten our belts in order to help balance the budget, how do you justify increasing the funding to the drug law enforcement bureaucracy? Explain why supporting a failed policy of drug law enforcement has a greater priority than student loans or drug education programs. There are so many questions, with so few answers. Now we must consider the solutions. First one must understand what we are dealing with. Certain drugs are much more serious than others. LSD was originally produced as an elephant tranquilizer and can obviously cause very violent and serious effects. There have been incidents of people, high on LSD, ripping their hands out of hand-cuffs, by breaking every bone in their hands. The scary things is these people didn’t even feel it. Cocaine and crack are much more prevalent, very addictive, and can kill you the very first time you try them. Many will remember the great promise of basketball player Len Bias, whose life was taken after one night of experimentation with Cocaine. Heroin use is very addictive, leaves its users feeling and looking empty, and the spread of AIDS is proliferated by the sharing of needles for this drug. So all these drugs can be lumped into the “very serious/addictive” category, with obvious varying extremes. Should Marijuana fit into this category? A scientific study funded by the White House says no. The study showed, “Marijuana’s active ingredients seem to have many medical benefits including pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation. The study also rejected the notion that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” Many experts believed that using Marijuana is a stepping stone and once people can’t get a high from pot, they will move on to more serious drugs. The study gave no proof that this gateway phenomenon existed, and seemed to point in the direction of at least reconsidering our current position on Marijuana. It is clear to me that Marijuana does not belong in the same category as the other drugs, and the proposition of legalization should be seriously considered.
What do we have to enjoy from legalizing Marijuana, and possibly other drugs, or at least regulating there use? Consider the experiences of Holland a country where drugs fall under the jurisdiction of health agencies, not law enforcement, which has seen a decline in chronic use of hard drugs and casual use of soft drugs since decriminalization. If illegal drugs are so obviously harmful to people's health, why is it necessary to put so many American adults in prison to prevent them from using these drugs? If people want to take drugs, people are going to find a way to get drugs. The problem is the war on drugs is not attacking the right people. The people being hurt are the recreational users who get busted for having $50 worth of pot or cocaine in their pockets. These people aren’t drug dealers, they aren’t gang-bangers, they are people with families that use drugs, and are put away for decades. Consider some simple figures: “The number of federal prisoners who are drug offenders is 55, 624, and 50% of whom are non-violent first time offenders. 59% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug chargers, compared to only 2.5% incarcerated for violent crimes. 717, 720 Americans were arrested in 1997 for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (combined), while 695,200 were arrested for marijuana offenses alone. I feel the last figures are the most telling. It just seems like the purpose of the war on drugs has been lost, and as a result of the powers that be not accepting an alternative, other battles are being lost as well. Jimmy Carter once said, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Currently this is not the case, and this is just another example of a need for change.
Another major problem with our current situation is money. Not only is it expensive to prosecute drug offenders, it is expensive to detain them. Currently, more money is being put into building prisons than into building schools. In 1998, 16 billion dollars were spent in federal funding for the war on drugs. That is an astronomical number, and it seems as if the results don’t go along with the effort. If all this time and money is being spent on education, and prevention, and treatment, and the numbers continue to rise, then an alternative must be sought. As immoral and ridiculous as legalization may seem to some, all the facts seem to show that it, at the very least, deserves consideration. Without a solution to the current situation, the U.S. will remain in a vicious circle with no hope of coming out of it.
Where do we go from here? Clearly major steps need to be taken. I believe the first step is an admission by the administration that our current system doesn’t work. The next step must be to find out what the opinion is on the streets and in the schools. Do the education and awareness efforts work? What makes someone decide to try drugs? What is the biggest influence on the child? Maybe by taking note of what other countries have done, for example Holland which was mentioned earlier, the U.S. can get ideas for some sort of compromise. It seems to me that the U.S. is set in its ways that drugs will not be tolerated and that this is a battle we must win. What must be realized is that changing our policies is not an admission of defeat. This shouldn’t be a matter of egos or overly conservative opinions. The bottom line is that drug use needs to be reduced, the murders must be brought down, and the number of people incarcerated must be decreased.
The modern drug war began in the 1960s, and for thirty five years it has failed to produce and real success. Which is better for America during the next 35 years, prohibition with the continuing costs and ineffectiveness, or reform policies that approach the problem from a different angle. Instead of spending so much money on imprisoning drug offenders and preaching why drugs are bad, why not spend the money on schools, and school programs? The idea is to keep kids from using drugs, and this will in turn reduce the numbers of adults that use drugs. The same goal is present in alcohol and cigarettes, and it is handled much differently. Why not treat at least Marijuana just like cigarettes and alcohol. Don’t make it illegal, just take steps to discourage people from using it.Education is a must, but prosecuting small time offenders is pointless. The facts just don’t do much to support the war on drugs. Consider some facts and costs that this country has undertaken as a result of attempting to make drug use illegal. I will end this report with some outlined problems with keeping drugs illegal. There is a need for change, and this must be realized soon:
The war on drugs has failed. By making drugs illegal, this country has:
1) Put half a million people in prison: $10 Billion a year
2) Spent billions annually for expanded law enforcement
3) Fomented violence and death (in gang turf wars, overdoses from uncontrolled drug potency & shared needles/AIDS)
4) Eroded civil rights (property can be confiscated from you BEFORE you are found guilty; search and wiretap authority has expanded.)
5) Enriched criminal organizations.
The street price of a single ounce of pure cocaine is several thousands of dollars, yet the cost to produce the drug is less than $20. The difference is the amount we are willing to pay to criminals for the privilege of keeping the drug illegal. Not only that, but such a high markup is strong incentive for people to enter into the sales and trafficking of these drugs. The stiff penalties we assess against drug dealers only makes the price higher and the criminals more desperate to escape capture, more determined to protect their market from encroachment. If drugs were legalized, the price would drop by to a tiny fraction of their current street values and the incentive to push drugs would vanish.
Recall that during prohibition, bootleggers and police used to shoot it out over black market 'shine. Illegal speakeasies did a booming trade, the profits of which went to organized crime. With the end of prohibition, alcohol has been taxed and provides a revenue stream to the State. Would drug use go up? Maybe. But it might well go down, since there would be no profit in getting new users to try drugs. Protecting drug users against themselves costs the rest of us too much: in dollars, in safety and in freedom. The Final thought is simply this: The drug war is not working, and if alternatives are not considered now, a solution may never be possible.

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