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Northern Oklahoma College

The Reality of the War on Drugs

Mac Ramsey
Sarah Hendrex
American National Government
April 27, 2017
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The Reality of the War on Drugs

The operation to prevent drug use, sale, and production started on June 18, 1971 after

President Richard Nixon sent a message to congress declaring drug abuse public enemy number

one of the American people. Today, this war has grown to a multi-billion dollar task with the

alleged purpose of protecting citizens and making the country safer and healthier. When

compared to countries that have deemed drug-abuse as a health concern, such as the Netherlands,

or countries that have completely decriminalized drug possession, such as Portugal, you can see

just how detrimental the process has been. Since 2001, when Portugal fully decriminalized drug

use, HIV rates have dropped in addition to an increase in people seeking treatment for drug abuse

has doubled (Szalavitz). The war on drugs in the United States is a failing and costly offensive

that negatively affects the American people by not allowing them to benefit off revenue

generated from legalization, unfairly targeting lower income areas and minorities, and causing

drug use to be viewed as a crime rather than an illness that can be treated.

Marijuana is one of the more controversial drugs targeted; it is an herb that has been

found to have few negative effects and some positive medical applications. The illegal status of

marijuana has caused many states to miss a market with huge potential for tax revenue and

economic advantages. According to Washington Post journalist Christopher Ingraham, the

marijuana industry in Colorado was a $700 million industry, with a roughly 50% split between

recreational and medical use. Of that $700 million, Colorado collected $63 million as tax

revenue for the state and an additional $13 million collected in fees such as licenses. Market

analysts have predicted that the industry as a whole can expect to see an exponential increase in
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size and profit generation in the coming years. States that have not yet legalized are only hurting

themselves and their citizens by not tapping into the potential millions in this rapidly growing


Legalization would also help to lower crime rates and bring a hidden economy into play

as well as creating a safer situation for consumers to purchase and use in. Citizens that are

looking to take part in marijuana consumption are subject to unregulated markets and dangerous

buying arrangements, with no federal oversight to monitor the safety of the drug being

distributed or the safe purchasing of such drug. By turning this industry into a legitimate

business that can benefit the economy with millions of dollars, the resulting regulation would cut

down on drug-related violent crime resulting from shady dealings or theft, improving the safety

and protection of both the distributors and consumers.

While drug use is not an issue faced solely by impoverished people, they are often used

as a coping mechanism for desperate situations. With the current justice system, being secure

financially gives one the ability to afford proper legal help when faced with charges relating to

drug use or possession. This is one-way Americas current stance on narcotics disadvantages

people living in poverty, which in turn unfairly targets blacks and other minorities. In her

documentary, 13th, Ava DuVernay discusses this in depth, with one of her arguments being the

drug cocaine. Cocaine is often used in one of two forms, powdered cocaine and crack cocaine,

with the latter being a cheaper alternative that was found to be used primarily in black and

impoverished communities in the 1980s. It was under Reagans administration at the time that

crack cocaine became a priority in the war in drugs over its powdered form, despite having
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nearly identical effects. This caused the imprisonment of a large number of blacks and other

minorities that used this drug, ravaging these communities for years to come and imprisoning

citizens at an alarming rate. All of this was done in the name of improving community safety and

health, while being the source of destruction and danger for the very communities they swore to


One of the most used lines of reasoning for enforcing the war on drugs was to label users

as criminals that threaten others and children, which worked using the fear the average American

had of criminals. This turned the focus into attacking and imprisoning users rather than

supplying them with any medical care needed in their battle with addiction. This evolution from

a metaphorical war to an actual one is hurting more citizens than it helps, by imprisoning

citizens and labeling them as felons, feeding the cycle of poverty, to drug use, and eventually

prison again. With our prison system designed to punish rather than rehabilitate, the anti-drug

offensives goal of improving the country is not possible. This is why drug-abuse should be a

public/mental-health issue rather than a criminal one, with rehabilitation being the focus rather

than punishment. Opponents of this will say that the cost of rehab will be even more expensive

than the current system. This is simply not true, with drug-abuse being found to cost society

around $193 billion in 2007 ($100 million of which came from drug related crime associated

with the criminal justice system) compared to the estimated $14 billion rehabilitation would cost

(National Institute on Drug Abuse). Ignoring this fact though, public health and safety should be

a priority in any government despite the cost, so even if rehabilitation had been the more

expensive option, it would still be the better one.

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As the leader of the free world and the sole superpower on the planet, The United States

should be setting examples for other countries and leading the fight to improve the lives of

citizens everywhere. While we do show our leadership in many areas such as science and

innovation, the country has fallen behind on social issues when compared to the more

progressive developed world. With many European nations already taking stances that are more

liberal on drug-use and seeing positive results from these changes, why can we not make these

same advances? The views imposed on us by our leadership are detrimental to the advancement

of the nation and the betterment of the lives of average citizens.

There have been attempts to advance policy towards drugs, with most of this

advancement coming at the state level, but these changes have not happened without facing

numerous opponents and obstacles. In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, which legalized

the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This came into conflict with federal law when Angel

Raich started growing marijuana at home for her own personal use in order to ease excruciating

pain that had failed to be treated by traditional medicine due to allergies. While the growth and

use of marijuana was allowed under state law, Federal law prohibited it under the Controlled

Substances Act, leading to DEA agents destroying Raichs plants. Raich sued and argued that

enforcing the Federal law would violate the states right to regulate trade within itself, as well as

infringing on her 5th, 9th, and 10th amendment rights. The case made it to the Supreme Court

where they ruled in a 6-3 decision that under the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, the

United States Congress had the right to ban the production and use of homegrown marijuana

despite the state allowing it for medical purposes. In the last decade though, California and a
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handful of other states have made great progress towards legalization, with Colorado reaching a

state of legalization for both medical and recreational use.

A local example of this is the recent state question proposed here in Oklahoma, allowing

marijuana possession to be treated as a misdemeanor rather than a felony (NORML). This

change is set to go in effect on July 1, 2017, but it is already seeing attempts to circumvent the

change. One attempt at this is to prohibit possession within 1,000 feet of either public or private

schools or university, public parks, and in the presence of a under the age of 12, with a violation

of this resulting in felony charges. This might sound like a reasonable change, but this provision

greatly limits the changes voted on by Oklahoma citizens in November by increasing the

difficulty of avoiding felony charges. While legislature is working to maintain the established

norms, the fact that this state question passed in the first place shows that Oklahomans attitudes

towards marijuana are changing towards a more progressive view.

While the national government is still dragging its feet on changing drug-abuse policy,

state governments around the country are starting to see the error in waging a war on drugs. With

nations around the world seeing both economic and societal progress following a change in

policy, it is hopeful that in the near future the U.S. as a whole will become more liberal with

their treatment of drug-abuse and consumption in general. If this change from a view of

criminality to one of public health can happen in this nation, we can all hope to see

improvements in the lives of citizens around the country from all economic classes.
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Works Cited

13th. Dir. Ava DuVernay. 2016. Documentary.

Borchardt, Debra. The Cannabis Market That Could Grow 700% By 2020. 12
December 2016. Web Artical. 21 April 2017.


COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. 29 November 2004. Syllabus.

Ingraham, Christopher. Colorados legal weed market: $700 million in sales last
year, $1 billion by 2016. 12 February 2015. Web Article. 20 April 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is providing drug abuse treatment to offenders

worth the financial investment? April 2014. 20 April 2017.

NORML. Oklahoma Laws & Penalties. n.d. 25 April 2017.

Szalavitz, Maia. Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? 26 April 2009. Web
Article. 27 April 2017.