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Sweeney 1 Dan Sweeney 2/30/12 POLS 490

The War on Drugs: The Failed Policy that Endures

There has been an enduring belief in the United States since the turn of the 20th century that social and health woes believed to be linked to harmful drugs could be eradicated with strict prohibition of these substances. The early 1900s saw the rise of a powerful movement to make alcohol illegal. During this time legislation was also passed that effectively outlawed opiates, cocaine, and marijuana (Mares, 122). Despite all this, drugs largely remained off the national political agenda, and out of the spotlight (Mares, 123). This all changed when Richard Nixon took office in 1969. Nixon was the first to officially declare a war on drugs proclaiming drug abuse as public enemy No. 1 (FRONTLINE). Although his administration viewed drugs as a criminal issue, there was still a focus on harm reduction goals (Mares, 121). Nixons successor Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter followed suit with an even bigger emphasis on harm reduction strategies, including the decriminalization of marijuana (Mares, 121). The election of Ronald Reagan, however, marked a dramatic shift in drug policy. Reagan viewed the drug problem as strictly criminal in nature. This resulted in a significant increase in law enforcement (supply reduction), and a decrease in treatment (demand reduction) (Mares, 132). This shift to a more law and order type model was reciprocated at the state level as well (Mares, 133). It is now 2012 and the policies regarding drugs have remained largely unchanged. The problem is that these strategies have been ineffective over the years. Drugs are still widely available, and the amount of users is still high (RotGCODP, 2). This had led the Report of the Global Commission

Sweeney 2 on Drug Policy to declare: The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world (RotGCODP, 2). This paper will give a brief history of drug policies in the United States, and will be followed by an analysis of why the current policies do not work, with a focus on the domestic level. After this there will be an analysis on why, despite their ineffectiveness, these policies have not changed. In 1919 the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, was officially ratified. This was caused by a strong national movement led by groups such as the Womens Christian Temperance Union, as well as the Anti-Saloon League (Scarcelli). In addition to these two groups there was also support from Marxists and business owners, as well as whites and blacks. It was a very strange mixed coalition, and each group had its own reason for wanting prohibition. Womens groups wanted to put an end to domestic abuse; Marxists viewed alcohol as a way to keep the lower class at bay; business owners believed a sober workforce would be more productive; southern whites feared retaliation by drunken blacks, and blacks feared angry white mobs that were emboldened by the influence of alcohol (Scarcelli). Others believed that Prohibition would reform the morality of users, improve families, and reduce crime. Each group had different goals, but they had one thing in common: they all believed alcohol was responsible for these various social problems, and that banning it would put an end to them. This is important because the belief that the removal of a harmful substance from society will cure social ailments is still very prevalent to this day, and is at the heart of the war on drugs. Although Prohibition would be officially repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment, several other drugs were banned around this time period, and would remain that way. The Harrison Act, which outlawed opiates (including heroin) and cocaine was passed in 1914.

Sweeney 3 Unlike Prohibition, this law was passed largely in response to an international movement to ban these substances, rather than a national one (Mares, 122). Marijuana was essentially made illegal with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (Mares, 122). Although this did not ban the substance outright, it imposed a heavy tax on it which drove it out of the market (Mares, 122). After these laws were passed, drugs appeared to be taken care of, and would remain out of the national political spotlight for decades (Mares, 123). This all changed when Richard Nixon took office. During this time the hippie counterculture movement as well as the Vietnam War (where many American troops were exposed to heroin) had put drugs back on the political map (Mares, 121). Campaigning as a law and order type candidate, Nixon considered drug abuse a serious national threat and would later go on to coin the famous phrase war on drugs (FRONTLINE). The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was passed in 1970, which placed narcotics and other illegal drugs under federal jurisdiction (Mares, 124). Although the Nixon administration viewed illegal drugs as a serious crime problem, it also had harm reduction goals. In June of 1971 Nixon created the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP) (Mares, 125-126). This is significant because many of the Presidents close advisors on the drug issue had a medical background. In fact both his Drug chief and the head of the SAODAP were psychiatrists (Mares, 126). Focusing on heroin addiction, the administration created a methadone program which was largely successful (Mares, 121). During his time in office crime fell dramatically: the national rate dropped by 3%, with a 27% drop in Washington DC, which was considered the drug capital of the country at the time. Arrests and crime fell, while treatment numbers rose (Mares, 125126). On the international front, Nixon worked with several other nations including Turkey, Mexico, and several European countries with goals of eradicating the drugs at the source, as well

Sweeney 4 as interdicting them before they crossed into the United States (Mares, 126). In 1973 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was created to merge the various law enforcement branches responsible for drugs into a single agency (FRONTLINE). Despite this increase in enforcement, two-thirds of the federal budget allocated for drugs went towards reducing demand (Mares, 127). Even though Nixons strategies regarding drugs were effective, other prominent politicians such as New York Governor Nelson D. Rockefeller called for even tougher measures. Mandatory minimum sentencing for drug dealers was one such measure (Mares, 127). Politicians such as Rockefeller could gain a lot of political capital by advocating for strict measures regarding drug enforcement. It helped them gain reputations as being tough on crime, and set a trend that continues to this day. The administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter followed the blueprint set forth by Nixon regarding drugs. Fords primary focus was the treatment of heroin addicts (Mares, 127). He did not embrace the war on drugs mentality that Nixon did, saying about drugs: an enemy we can control, not as one that we could defeat (Mares, 127). The money Fords administration spent on enforcement equaled that spent on treatment and prevention (Mares, 128). Carter, like his predecessors, also focused demand reduction strategies such as treatment and rehabilitation for drug users (Mares, 121). He was also an advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana, something that several states had already begun to do (Mares, 128). In 1978 Carter signed into law a bill which made assets purchased with drug money subject to forfeiture. The owner of the forfeited property would have to prove the legitimacy of the funds used to make the purchase (Mares, 129).

Sweeney 5 Towards the end of Carters term a new national movement started to gain momentum. This social movement was led by concerned parents who feared the growing prevalence of drugs in the country. The group distrusted healthcare professionals when it came to making governmental policies, and preferred individuals more concerned with the moral issues of drugs (Mares, 130). As this movement gained traction, politicians took notice and began, like Rockefeller, to call for stricter criminal penalties for drug users and distributors. This movement coupled with several other important political events (most notably the Iran Hostage Crisis) spelled disaster for the Carter administration, and resulted in a landslide victory for former California Governor Ronald Reagan (Mares, 132). Immediately upon being elected, Reagan began promoting deterrence rather than treatment. As a result, money spent on law enforcement rose 20% while that spent on treatment fell 25% (Mares, 132). During a speech in June of 1982, Reagan gave a speech in which he summed up his mentality regarding drugs: Were taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. Were running up a battle flag (Mares, 132). Over the course of 5 years during the Reagan administration, the Pentagon budget went from $1 million to $196 million. This marked the first time the armed forces began playing a serious role in drug enforcement (Mares, 133). One such example was the South Florida Task Force which was created in 1982 to interdict drugs coming into the United States. The operation was overseen by the U.S. Navy (Mares, 132). Even the First Lady got involved with her famous Just Say No campaign intended to deter children and teenagers from experimenting with illegal drugs (Mares, 132). It was clear that public opinion was mostly in favor of the strict policies of the Reagan administration, and because of this the Legislature went along with it. Even the Supreme Court began easing restrictions on law enforcement officers and weakening some protections of the

Sweeney 6 accused (Mares, 133). Drug enforcement at the state level was increased as well, with a great deal of funding from the federal government (Mares, 133). Policies from the Reagan administration are still used today. Although the term war on drugs is not used there is still an emphasis on supply reduction strategies of interdiction, domestic apprehension, and eradication, rather than demand reduction. Certain education programs such as DARE are used, and there are also rehabilitation programs, but it is still viewed as a crime problem, rather than a health issue. Those in favor of current policies will point to statistics showing that drug use rates of many illegal drugs did drop off consistently until about 1992, and remained lower than they were before some of the stricter policies were implemented. Unfortunately the use of other drugs such as ecstasy, oxycontin, and methamphetamines has risen significantly over the years (Mares, 133). In addition there has been a dramatic increase in the prison population at both the state and federal level (Mares, 133). Why has the war on drugs failed? There are a number of factors, but the root of the problem is that it both fails to reduce the supply and the demand of illegal drugs (RotGCODP, 2) The Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, published in June 2011, has come up with several principles and recommendations to guide both national and international drug policy. These ideas give an insight into the core problems of the war on drugs. Several of the reports principles will be discussed, as well as one of its recommendations. The first principle of the drug commission is that Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security, and welfare of individuals and society (RotGCODP, 5). The first part of this principle highlights a serious flaw in the way information on drugs has been

Sweeney 7 dispersed to the public. Correlation and causation are often used interchangeably in drugs studies, and this is problematic. The Nixon administration, for example, found that there was correlation between crime and heroin use (Mares, 125-126). This led the administration to conclude that cracking down on heroin use would reduce crime. Unfortunately it is not that simple. It is fairly common knowledge that crime is often linked to poverty (again, poverty does not necessarily cause crime, but it is correlated). Those growing up in impoverished neighborhoods tend to be more likely to engage in criminal activities. Those growing up in impoverished neighborhoods are also more likely to be exposed to heroin, and heroin addicts, since that is where it is usually sold and used. If one is more likely to be exposed to the drug, it seems fairly logical that one is more likely to use it. The point of all this is to show that simply saying heroin causes crime is misleading at best; there are other factors at play. Another example is the linking of marijuana and schizophrenia. Studies have often found a link between the two, and this has led some to conclude that smoking marijuana causes schizophrenia. Again, this mixing up of correlation and causation is flawed. A simple explanation for this is that people that already have schizophrenia tend to smoke more marijuana. Despite the steady increase of marijuana consumption over the years, the rates of schizophrenia in the United States have remained the same, and possibly even declined (TIME). These studies which equate correlation with causation are not only flawed at a basic scholarly level, they are incredibly misleading and damaging to the education of the population at large. The second part of the principle talks about what the goals of drug policy should be. The Preamble to the United States Constitution says one of the foundations of government is to promote the general Welfare It seems government has moved away from this core principle when it comes to dealing with drugs. As the commission points out the measure of success on the war on drugs has become

Sweeney 8 statistics; namely the number of arrests, the amount of drugs seized, and the harshness of the punishments (RotGCODP, 5). Reducing crime is an important goal of government, but it is not the only thing. Promoting the welfare of the nation also includes other things like health, economic, and social concerns which have all been hindered by the war on drugs. The second principle of the commission states that Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower levels of cultivation, production, and distribution, and treat people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals (RotGCODP, 5). This principle highlights one of the major problems in the war on drugs: low level dealers and users are viewed, almost universally, as criminals, rather than victims of the drug culture. In some regards, these people are actually blamed for the ills of society. Drug dealers are viewed as despicable people; corrupting the youth because they are greedy, or too lazy to get a real job. These problems, however, are often systemic and go deeper than that. The average drug dealer on an inner city corner probably grew up in the drug culture. They are likely uneducated, and have a criminal background which makes finding respectable employment difficult. In short they have been immersed in the drug culture; that is all they know. This is not to say that people growing up disadvantaged cannot overcome these things and lead honest lives, but it is harder than society makes it out to be. Likewise, viewing drug users as criminals is counter-productive. Drug addicts are some of the most vulnerable people in society. The ones that are poor and jobless with little family support are especially vulnerable. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the weakest members of society, since on a theoretical (Hobbesian) level, that is what government was created to do in the first place. Instead the focus of current drug policies remain law and order driven, rather than treatment driven.

Sweeney 9 Another principle of the commission states: Drug policies must be pursued in a comprehensive manner, involving families, schools, public health specialists, development practitioners, and civil society leaders, in partnership with law enforcement agencies and other relevant governmental bodies (RotGCODP, 9). Law enforcement should not be the only institution involved in combating the drug problem. What is often forgotten about the neighborhoods that are consumed by the drug culture is that the individuals involved often come from broken homes and receive a subpar education, if any at all. These things are all connected; law enforcement is just one tool in solving this issue. All the law enforcement in the world will not solve this problem because it is systemic in nature. An inner city kid who comes from a single-parent home, receives a poor education because of the failure of the school system, and becomes involved in the drug trade at a young age because that is all he knows, is going to have a tough time assimilating into everyday society. A larger and stricter police force is not going to help matters either. These are tough issues; how exactly does one go about implementing policies which can improve the family life in the inner city? How does one reform the education system without significantly raising the budget (which is often not an option for poorer cities)? These are very difficult questions and are outside of the scope of this paper. The point, though, is that these things need to be looked at. Throwing more money at law enforcement is simply an easier thing to do, but it has shown to be an ineffective solution. One of the recommendations of the commission states: Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them (RotGCODP, 10). This recommendation challenges the traditional position of deterrence which was especially promoted by the Reagan administration. One of the ways this administration believed it could eliminate the demand for illegal drugs was by creating harsh

Sweeney 10 punishments for those convicted of using them. On some levels this seems to make sense; if the punishment for consuming illegal drugs is severe, more people will stop using them. Unfortunately this simply is not the case. Many countries with harsh punishments for users and low level dealers still have the highest rates of drug use and related issues in the world (RotGCODP, 10). In contrast to this, several countries, such as Portugal, which have decriminalized the use of illicit drugs, have actually noticed a decrease in the level of problematic use, not to mention the amount of resources saved by lowering enforcement (RotGCODP, 10). As discussed in the description portion of this paper, these policies have not only been ineffective in lowering the supply or the use of drugs, they have put a tremendous strain on both state and federal prisons. Paying for all these prisoners is the burden of the taxpayer. The problem with this is that many of these criminals who are sentenced to jail for using drugs are non-violent people. Why do people who have not harmed anyone else except possibly themselves need to be isolated from the rest of society, at the taxpayers expense? If deterrence was truly an effective strategy, an argument could be made here, but as stated earlier, it has been shown that countries that have adopted the harshest penalties for drug users still have high user rates. Health and treatment services, which are cheaper than imprisoning someone, and actually attack the problem of addiction at its root, seem like an obvious course of action. Why have changes to these policies not been made, despite the fact that they have failed to address the problem for decades? The biggest and most important reason why the war on drugs has continued for decades despite its ineffectiveness is because there is no political gain for a politician to oppose it. To condemn the war on drugs is essentially political suicide: it leaves one vulnerable to the dreaded label of soft on crime. Politicians, especially governors and presidents, are usually extremely

Sweeney 11 careful to maintain a record that suggests they are tough on crime. Opposing strict criminal penalties for those involved in the drug trade is simply not worth the risk, even if it is the best course of action. Adding to this is the idea that many politicians stay in one office or another throughout their entire career. A career politician cannot afford to permanently damage his reputation by sticking his neck on the line for a change in policy which would not be very helpful politically anyway. At the end of the day, a politicians goal is to get elected, and unless a large amount of a politicians constituents support a change in drug policy, the issue will be avoided, and will continue to operate the same way. Related to this idea that opposing the drug war is politically unfeasible is who the drug war actually affects. The war on drugs takes place in the inner city, and this is a very important point: the majority of people are completely unaffected by it. The people whose neighborhoods are ravaged by the drug trade are poor, and oftentimes minorities; the least powerful members of society. If the drug trade were ruining middle class white neighborhoods it seems fairly likely there would have been some kind of change by now. Instead the majority of Americans are content to maintain the status quo so long as the negative consequences of the illicit drug industry does not spill over into their lives. To put it bluntly, many Americans are fine with the drug trade and the violence that accompanies it as long as the individuals involved stay in their neighborhoods and only kill each other. Another reason the war on drugs continues to occur is the stat game. Statistics drive the war on drugs. Think about it, what is one of the major ways a politician can claim they are tough on crime? They usually point to statistics like the crime rate, the amount of drugs seized, or the number of criminals locked up. A governor, mayor, police commissioner, etc, can point to a lower crime rate, and a high rate of drugs seizures and incarcerations as proof that he or she is

Sweeney 12 doing an adequate job, and it works. Bragging about increasing the treatment opportunities for drug addicts or promoting educational programs that spread drug awareness just does not have the same ring to it. There is a reason why politicians will always find time to attend a news conference of a major drug bust; it is simply very politically viable to remain strict on drug enforcement. The final reason for the continuance of the drug war is that bureaucratic institutions tend to be resistant to change, as well as reactionary in nature. A narcotics division at a police station can illustrate this point fairly well. As described in the earlier portion of this paper, law enforcement as it related to drugs underwent a substantial change during the latter half of the 20th century. Drug busts became the number one priority of the narcotics department. In a real sense, meaningful police work, which hinges on gathering intelligence/evidence, and building a case took a backseat to simply going around from drug corner to drug corner making arrests and confiscating drugs (Simon). This idea behind this was simple and goes back to the stat game mentioned above: making dozens of drug arrests per day looks better than solving a single rape or murder case (Simon). Officers that made all these drug arrests were also more likely to be given a promotion over officers who made far less arrests, not to mention all the hours of overtime granted for sitting in court. This fundamental change in the way police operate still continues to this day. New narcotics officers are still trained and programmed to operate in this fashion, and this can be attributed to bureaucratic institutions and their tendency to resist change. The reactionary nature of governmental institutions explains why a war on drugs is preferable to demand reduction strategies. Governmental institutions tend to function in a systematic fashion, with specific rules and guidelines on how to solve various dilemmas that are likely to arise during the course of duty. Because of this, proactive measures for reducing crime, such as

Sweeney 13 education and an emphasis on treatment are not usually preferable methods. Not only do these methods not produce as desirable statistics as enforcement strategies, they are not as certain. Locking an individual up and sending them to prison just seems like a surer way to fight the problem. Education and treatment strategies just seem a bit more abstract and imprecise. To conclude, the war on drugs has failed. The methods employed have neither reduced the supply nor the use of illegal drugs. Some flaws include the use of erroneous studies that confuse correlation with causation to justify the strict criminalization of drugs, an insistence on viewing those involved in the drug trade as only criminals, rather than victims, and an inability to look at other institutions such as schools, or families, as helpful solutions to the drug problem. There are several reasons why, despite the drug wars ineffectiveness, it has remained unchanged, but the most compelling one is that it is politically unfeasible to oppose it for fear of appearing soft on crime. Until the public becomes more aware of the problem and starts to actively support a change in drug policy, it is likely that the war on drugs will continue.

Sweeney 14 Works Cited

Mares, David R. Drug Wars and Coffee Houses: The Political Economy of the International Drug Trade. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2005. Print. Open Society Institute (OSI), War on Drugs: Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy , 24 June 2011, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e3250d32.html Scarcelli, Marc. "Prohibition." Ohio University. 19 Jan. 2012. Lecture. Simon, David. "Bill Moyer's Journal: The Conversation Continue." Interview by Bill Moyer. PBS. Apr. 2011. Television. Szalavitz, Maia. "The Link Between Marijuana and Schizophrenia." Time. Time, 21 July 2010. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2005559,00.html>. "Thirty Years Of America's Drug War: A Chronology." PBS. PBS. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/cron/>.