There are many who have written more eloquently on this subject. From Debra J. Saunders "At least 4 good reasons to end the war on drugs". From Ethan Nadelmann "The Forty-Year Quagmire: An Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs". From Conor Fridersdorf "The War on Drugs Turns 40". From Russell Simmons "The 40-Year War On American Families: It's Time To End This Madness!".
George Schultz and Paul Volcker,
The effort to deal with drug abuse began with the best of intentions, I suppose. Nixon also said his aim was to, “tighten the noose around the necks of drug peddlers, and thereby loosen the noose around the necks of drug users". That almost sounds like a liberal position these days. Almost.
This liberal's position is that drug use is an issue worth our attention. The costs of abuse are high and addiction is treatable. In my opinion, the "War on Drugs" should be replaced with a policy of honest education, treatment, and serious reform of the nation's drug laws. Our prisons are overflowing. Now is the time to reevaluate who we are sending to those prisons and why. Rehabilitation can work. Incarceration has proven that it can't.
From NPR, Timeline: America's War on Drugs, some highlights:
July 14, 1969: In a special message to Congress, President Richard Nixon identifies drug abuse as "a serious national threat." Citing a dramatic jump in drug-related juvenile arrests and street crime between 1960 and 1967, Nixon calls for a national anti-drug policy at the state and federal level.
June 1971: Nixon officially declares a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1."
July 1973: Nixon creates the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to coordinate the efforts of all other agencies.
1984: Nancy Reagan launches her "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign.
October 1986: Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which appropriates $1.7 billion to fight the drug war. The bill also creates mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses, which are increasingly criticized for promoting significant racial disparities in the prison population because of the differences in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine. Possession of crack, which is cheaper, results in a harsher sentence; the majority of crack users are lower income.
I am a child of the 80s. I pretty much grew up with the "Just Say No" campaign. I was exactly the demographic to which the advertisements were targeted. To an impressionable mind, they had a real effect. Not a lasting effect, mind you, but an effect on the mind of this particular child.
The message began softly,
But slowly got louder,
The ads just kept coming, followed by movies of the week and very special episodes of popular sitcoms. The media flooded us with the message. "Just Say No".
As the 80s generation grew up, the slogans of the campaign turned into satirical, cynical catchphrases. The campaign, apparently didn't have the lasting effect that was hoped for. These are two of my particular favorite ads from the time.
As I grew up, so did the "War on Drugs". Crack cocaine hit the nation's conscience with full force. Those of us in the suburbs were regaled by stories of the epidemic. Crack became the bogeyman. I am not the first person to note that the penalties for crack dwarfed the penalties for powder cocaine.
Was this where the "War on Drugs" took a turn for the worse? Possibly. It was certainly a point when the government doubled down on the rhetoric. The Nixon administration used the bogeyman of addicted soldiers returning from Vietnam when he made his "public enemy number 1" speech. The Reagan administration used the bogeyman of crack addicts when he lobbied for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
1989: President George H.W. Bush creates the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and appoints William Bennett as his first "drug czar." Bennett aims to make drug abuse socially unacceptable.
The "War on Drugs" continued to escalate. There is now a whole generation that has not seen an administration without a drug czar. This same generation has seen the creation of so called "designer drugs" that were unthought of at the time of Nixon's speech. As the government waged its war, the drug problem grew worse, not better. I don't believe that anyone could argue that crystal methamphetamine was a dangerous invention. It is so addictive and so destructive that it warrants serious attention. I have seen firsthand the effects of this drug and I have recoiled in horror at what it has done to close friends of mine. I have also seen addicts fight their way back through hard work, many with the help of Narcotics Anonymous. I have seen firsthand that treatment can beat addiction.
May 1995: The U.S. Sentencing Commission releases a report that acknowledges the racial disparities for prison sentencing for cocaine versus crack. The commission suggests reducing the discrepancy, but Congress overrides its recommendation for the first time in history.
The Republican party is not the only group to blame for the growth of the "War on Drugs". Politicians of all stripes have used the rhetoric to get elected and reelected. The problem is systemic. Government policies are to blame. Anyone who has used the bogeyman of drug addiction to get elected is at fault. Any legislator who has not taken a stance against this failed "war" is also at fault.
The Root: Why Won't Obama End The War On Drugs?
Prohibition of alcohol failed in the twentieth century. It led to the rise of a criminal underworld. Prohibition of drugs has failed as well. It has also led to a criminal underworld. Worse yet it has created millions of casualties, those who have been caught up in the legal system for possession, those who have lost their lives, and those who have lost friends and family members to addiction. It is time to end the "War on Drugs" and look for solutions instead of scapegoats.
The Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution:
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Twenty-first Amendment to the US Constitution:
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
The Drug War Clock from DrugSense.org,
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