The war on drugs has lasted for over a century, and has escalated to the point where the American public is ready for it to stop. Though not a referendum, on the war on drugs as a whole, this is being realized with marijuana legalization. According to a Pew Research Poll, 62 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Since many people know friends and family who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs (overdoses, infections, prison-time, gang-violence) I would assume that this number would be lower for the rest of drugs, but also higher than expected. However, public opinion has no bearing on truth, it is simply interesting to see how it is shifting.
Many presidents have been at the war on drugs for over the past century. It mainly started with the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Rather than using real stories, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics used propaganda to attempt to scare the American Public. Under president Nixon, operation intercept in 1973 attempted to stop the supply of Marijuana coming from Mexico, but instead it started to come from Columbia. President Clinton was one of the only modern presidents who attempted to focus on education, prevention, and rehabilitation but only 50 million dollars ended up going to this cause. Over 50 billion dollars a year is spent by the federal government attempting to stop drugs, but according to the Drug Enforcement agency, only 10 percent of illicit drugs are seized.
Perhaps most importantly, millions of Americans have gotten criminal records and been jailed for non-violent drug offenses, typically possession. In fact, 59 percent of United States prisoners are arrested on drug charges. Unfortunately, The War on drugs has also disproportionately harmed minorities. According to the Huffington Post, “African men are arrested at 13 times the rate of white men on drug charges.” This is costing our prison system, and also maybe not deterring use.
Many drugs present public health issues that have been ignored in the United States. For instance, Tobacco is legal on the federal level, but is addictive and causes 400,000 deaths per year, but Marijuana while shown to have some medicinal benefits and not addictive, is illegal on the federal level. 64,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016. Overdoses are a huge issue with hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, but also a major issue is the spread of HIV/AIDS caused by the sharing of needles. These issues have largely been overlooked in the United States.
In the early 1900’s when the negative effects of opioids became known, the U.S. began to turn to this unsuccessful drug war. Like Portugal, the United States ought to decriminalize all drugs, and treat drug use as a health issue, rather than a crime. After Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001, it’s drug induced death rate is 5 times lower than in the European Union. The reason for this is that Portugal is focused on helping its citizens rather than shaming its citizens. There are 2 clear solutions. The first is to allow citizens to exchange for clean needles, like done with Portugal’s national needle and syringe program. HIV infection in Portugal went down from 104.2 per million in 2000 to 4.2 per million in 2015. Second is to use a drug called naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. People will be empowered to get help, and not be afraid of being thrown in jail. Through creative solutions like these, Freedom can be expanded, and public health helped.