Most people’s only experience with Shakespeare is their freshman English
Few subjects strike up as much ongoing controversy as the War on Drugs in the United States. This war has raged forth for many decades without a discernible end in sight. Here are some facts on this very complex subject.
1. Origins: In 1914, Congress approved the Harrison Narcotics Tax act, which taxed and regulated the production, distribution, and importation of Opiates and byproducts of Coca. Courts interpreted the act to allow a doctor to distribute cocaine “in the course of his professional practice only” but not to supply opiates to addicts.
2. Further developments: In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked states to adopt the Uniform State Drug Act, but only 9 states complied. In 1937, the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act drew controversy for threatening hemp production in favor of paper products. In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act created 5 categories of controlled substances based upon their safety, medicinal purposes, and potential for abuse.
3. Popularization: In 1971, President Nixon popularized the term “war on drugs” when he called a press conference to declare drug abuse “public enemy number one.” Nixon dramatically increased the amount of federal resources devoted to the cause.
4. The DEA: In 1973, Congress created the Drug Enforcement Administration as a single federal agency to enforce federal drug laws. The DEA is the lead agency for domestic enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act; it also maintains sole responsibility for orchestrating U.S. drug investigations that possess international connections.
5. Anti-drug media campaigns: In 1980, Nancy Reagan created the “just say no” program to educate youth and bring awareness to dangers through Drug Abuse and Resistance Education (DARE). In 1988, the Office of National Drug Control Policy was created. In 1989, the director of the ONDCP (the “drug czar”) was implemented in by George H.W. Bush.
6. The trend continues: In 1993, Bill Clinton raised the drug czar to cabinet-level position. He previously advocated for treatment in lieu of imprisonment for drug offenders. However, Clinton rejected a U.S. Sentencing Commission proposal to end the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. Clinton also rejected a proposal to end the federal ban on syringe access program funding — despite the rapid spread of HIV in the drug-using community. The syringe funding ban was briefly lifted later and reinstated in 2011.
7. Failure? In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report alleging, “The War On Drugs Has Failed.”
8. Revision: In 2012, the U.S. government updated its Drug Policy to distance itself from the “War on Drugs.” This new policy discourages legalization as a “silver bullet” solution. It also discourages defining success by the number of drug arrests. The revisions look towards a “third way” of drug control, which shall be based upon ongoing research into substance abuse as a disease.
9. Amount spent: The United States spends $51 billion annually on the war on drugs.
10. Imprisonment costs: Critics argue that the cost of putting low-ranking, street-corner drug dealers is disproportionate. A $200 drug deal bust can turn into a $100,000 bill for taxpayers to carry out a 3-year prison sentence.
11. Arrest data: In 2012, 1.55 million people were arrested on nonviolent drug charges. Roughly half of those arrests were for marijuana charges. Of those arrests, 88% of the arrests were for possession only (without intent to distribute).
12. Legalization of marijuana: To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have approved the medical use of marijuana. 4 states (Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska) now legally tax and regulate the drug.
13. Tax revenues: Not all states are on the decriminalization bandwagon, but some analysts say $3 billion in tax revenues would be the state of universal marijuana legalization. California alone would rake in $519 million annually.
14. Sentencing disparities: In 2010, Congress approved a measure to end the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and its powdered counterpart.
15. Racial disparities: Crime statistics suggest that minorities are much more likely to be arrested and/or prosecuted for drug offenses than whites. Indeed, black and Hispanic offenders are incarcerated at a disproportionally higher rate than whites (although the groups use and sell drugs at a nearly identical rate).
16. Double penalty for students: Federal drug laws not only dole out punishment for drug offenses, but they carry a lasting ban that affects young people’s futures. Any person with a drug conviction loses federal financial aid eligibility, including loans.
17. Prison not a deterrent: Those who enter prison on drug offenses almost universally become repeat offenders. This effect can be traced to blighted employment prospects. Many researchers believe that an emphasis on addiction treatment could result in lower recurrence for drug offenders.