In so many ways, the modern world is currently in a state of flux. As we enter the 21st century, among the other complex issues that must be addressed is the viability or lack thereof of what has been termed the 'War on Drugs' in the United States. This paper will discuss this war from several pivotal points of view, with compelling arguments reinforced by relevant research where indicated. Facts and History of the War on Drugs
An effort to curb the use of certain substances by making them illegal in America has ranged from the prohibition of alcoholic beverages by Constitutional amendment in the early 20th century to the “Just Say No” campaigns of Nancy and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The fact is, however, fore all of the good intentions over the years, the futility of the modern American War on Drugs can be seen in an example from 1989, when 20,000 U. S. troops invaded Panama, ostensibly in the interest of stemming the tide of illegal drugs entering the U. S.
, capturing dictator Manuel Noriega, at a cost of 1,000 innocent Panamanians killed (Lynch, 2000). This action was in total disregard of international law and policy. In 1990, the American people learned of a secret U. S. military plan to invade South America in an attempt to destroy the drug trade. Such an action could have led to the death of many innocent civilians, the economic destruction on South America, an increase of taxes and an increase of inflation in the U. S (Kay, 2002). Effectiveness of American Drug Policy Since its Inception
While a few glaring examples of flaws in American drug policy are striking, it is important to take a look at the policy as a whole since its inception. The fact of the matter is, when evaluating all of the data, American drug policy in its entirety has failed on a large scale, more specifically from a few points. First, the financial element of American drug policy is unrealistic; the billions upon billions of dollars that keeping all drugs illegal are costing could in fact be better used in other areas.
Meanwhile, the criminal justice system is overwhelmed with drug offenders who clog the courthouses and overcrowd the jails of the U. S. based upon criminal convictions on even the slightest of drug charges. While few would argue that all drugs should be legalized, a logical case can be made that some can realistically be legalized with little negative impact on the public good (Belenko, 2000). The Case for Legalized Marijuana
Based on the research which shows that drug prohibition is far from the perfect solution, as well as evidence that legalization can work if done properly, a logical person can hardly argue that the legalization of a beneficial, and non-addictive drug like Marijuana would be permissible, if for no other reason than the fact that making it illegal fails to curb supply and demand, nor does legal punishment prevent recidivism in any substantial way.
Theoretically, this could positively impact the war on drugs, as the funds that are now spent on law enforcement and imprisonment of Marijuana users could be funneled into improving lives, via social programs, infrastructure improvements, and so forth. Admittedly, there is a drawback in this idea, in that some will simply choose not to give up drugs, no matter what, which brings about the issue of the decriminalization of Marijuana in order to cut the crime rate.
First, the fact that Marijuana has many practical uses and is of value in many ways is important, as evidenced by the following passage from some relevant literature on the topic: “[M]arijuana, hemp, or cannabis is in fact a highly useful plant cultivated throughout recorded history and perhaps much earlier as well. There is only one species -- its scientific name is Cannabis sativa -- which yields both a potent drug and a strong fiber long used in the manufacture of fine linen as well as canvas and rope.
The seeds are valued as birdseed and the oil, which resembles linseed oil, is valuable because paints made with it dry quickly” (Belenko, 2000, p. 123). The utility of Marijuana, its redeeming social value, and the fact that no one has ever died as the result of a Marijuana overdose in the clinical definition of an overdose (Johns, 1992) makes a strong case for the decriminalization of the substance. Going along with the decriminalization issue are the interrelated issues of Drug Maintenance and Harm Reduction, which in fact represent a more effective and realistic alternative to haphazard decriminalization.
Through Drug Maintenance, the drug offender becomes a drug addicted patient in need of help, and if the criminal stigma were removed from the addiction, it is likely that the individual will seek treatment in far more cases than they would have if they also had to worry about being arrested for their drug issues. Likewise, Harm Reduction would make it possible to take away much of the criminal baggage so to speak that is linked with drug abuse, and allow for the more widespread implementation of treatment programs and assistance to those with drug problems (Holden-Rhodes, 1997).
A Comparison with Drug Policy in Other Parts of the World Currently, laws and policies in opposition to illegal drugs vary by nation from almost no punishment, to fines and imprisonment, to death (Holden-Rhodes, 1997). For all of these policies and all of their good intentions, however, policies have been ineffective. Granted, once a drug offender is executed their life of crime is over, but this is the rare exception to the rule, as the classic supply/demand scenario, addiction issues, and the like fuel the fire of recidivism in the illegal drug world, making virtually all current laws and policies ineffective (Kopp, 2003).
Again, the point does need to be repeated, however, that a total lack of drug policy is the equivalent of chaos. For the sake of illustration and argument, we will compare the drug policies of the U. S. to those of a more liberalized society like that of the Netherlands, or more precisely, a society that is believed to be more liberalized; a point which needs to be clarified.
While many people falsely believe that the Netherlands, for example, has no drug policy and no drug problems, the opposite is the actual fact; the Netherlands does have policy banning all drugs with the exception of cannabis-based drugs, like the aforementioned Marijuana (Barnard, 1998), and drug problems are still rampant. What this tells us are two important things that support the previous points made in the research: Marijuana does not need to be outlawed, but other, more dangerous drugs pose serious problems and do need to be regulated by drug policy, for better or for worse. War on Drugs and the War in Iraq
An additional perspective of the War on Drugs that few people pause to consider, but one that is both timely and highly important to realize, is the effect that the war in Iraq has on the War on Drugs and vice versa. What not many people understand is the fact that one of the main sources of money for terrorist activities around the world, such as those which are widespread in Iraq, is the sale of illegal drugs to all parts of the world, including, and perhaps most of all, the U. S. , meaning that terrorism can logically be seen as an advocate of illegal drug trafficking (Glassman, 2005).
Also, the base ingredient of opiate-based drugs, such as heroin, are produced from the flowers of the poppy plant, a plant which is grown in abundance in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq, making American military intervention in these nations even more critical, thereby fueling the Iraq war itself (The Journal, 2005). In some cases, the War on Drugs and the war in Iraq can be considered as one in the same when looking at the relevant literature on the topic; furthermore, terrorism, as it continues to try to grow and survive, will turn to more illegal drug activity for financing.
It is a vicious circle to be sure, one with no end in sight. Conclusion As has been seen in this paper, the War on Drugs, while not perfect, does need to continue in one form or another. Perhaps, in closing, the most effective way to handle the War on Drugs, and possibly decriminalize some drugs is not to simply throw open the floodgates and make drugs illegal without planning. Rather, if drugs were decriminalized with treatment programs, the reduction of harm, and the human factors taken into consideration, the "War on Drugs" could be won in a sensible, less costly fashion.
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