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- Chirag Mehta
- English: 101
- Ms. Lisa Sisler
- 28 Nov. 2000
- Grade: A+
What this country needs is stricter action against drunk drivers. We need unrepealable Federal laws that put every drunk driver, even a first timer, behind bars forever. But why halt at mere imprisonment? These irresponsible scoundrels should be downright executed. Better yet, burnt alive on pyres at every crossroad. Furthermore, let us give the same treatment to shoplifters, jaywalkers, and those pesky little fifth graders who set off false fire alarms in schools.
A medieval Russian Czar would have wholeheartedly agreed with the above. After all, these are all crimes. What do you think? Death to a drunk driver? Brutal? Executing a shoplifter or jaywalker? Preposterous? Capital punishment for mischievous children? Outright outrageous? How about lifetime imprisonment without parole for possessing five grams of plant extract for personal use? Universally extolled! Why?
It is bewildering that "a person convicted of murder in the United States could expect a punishment of less than six years in prison" (Schlosser 1) while possession of five grams of cocaine base can result in up to $2 million fine and forty years of imprisonment without parole1. This is not justice.
Though human beings have consumed narcotics and intoxicants since ages, this dichotomy within the eyes of justice originated not more than a century ago.
History of Drug Use and Prohibition:
It is important to look at the history of drugs in order to understand how much the social and political outlook towards the same has changed within the past few millennia. In the ancient world, drugs like marijuana, hashish and heroin were consumed in good spirit at social gatherings (History of Marijuana). Today, they are considered illegal substances, possession of which often results in a beeline to prison. On the contrary, attitude towards adultery, theft, and murder has remained constant since the prehistoric times. Furthermore, alcohol and tobacco, which have been used since ages and have almost the same and in some cases even worse effects on the human body than drugs like marijuana and hashish (Marijuana Special Report 1), are still considered acceptable by today's society.
- Ancient Use: Tradition in India maintains that the Gods, aided by Demons, churned up the milk ocean to obtain Amrita or nectar. One of the resulting nectars was Cannabis. In China, a compendium of medicines compiled for the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in about 2727 BC is the earliest tangible record found so far of cannabis use. Cannabis extended early on into Africa from Asia (History of Marijuana).
- Spread into the New World: Hemp was first introduced to North America as a commercial crop. Hemp cultivation began in Canada in 1606, then in Virginia in 1611. The Pilgrims also took the crop to New England in 1632. However smoking of marijuana had still not begun till the early twentieth Century.
- Early twentieth Century: Mexican laborers introduced the smoking of marijuana into the U.S.A in the early part of the 20th Century and its use spread across the South. By the 1920's its use was established in New Orleans, confined mainly to the poor and minority groups. It was by the Harrison Act of 1914 that possession and sale of opiates became illegal. This first step towards prohibition of drugs was the result of racial and social chaos that reigned the day. Drugs were not illegalized because of the health hazards, but rather to dominate the lower stratum of denizen and alien laborers by making them guilty in the eyes of law for consuming the same (History of Marijuana). Apparently the battlefield on which the "War on Drugs" is being waged, propagates racial and social discrimination, rather than health awareness.
- War on Drugs: Ironically the same episode that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, gave birth of the "War on Drugs" --- Watergate (O'Toole). Fearing failure in the 1972 elections, Nixon sought to form his own espionage system at the end of 1960's. At the heart of Nixon's attempt to build a private security apparatus to extend his power beyond its democratic limits was the invention and manipulation of the understanding of the drugs problem. Consequently, he declared a "War on Drugs," under the pretense of which, the activities of his security agency continued for sometime. Eventually Nixon was caught and he resigned. His secret organization broke up. Yet strangely, the foundationless drug war continues till date.
- Present Day: Organizations from all over the world have joined the American drug war, with D.A.R.E. taking the lead. U.N.O. has sub-organizations, like UN International Drug Control Programme, that fight the so-called war and keep the torch burning. Despite the thirty year "War on Drugs," use of drugs today is higher than ever before (Marijuana Special Report 2). Illegal in almost every country in the world, with capital punishment in countries like Singapore, drugs is one of the biggest industries in the world today.
The Big Picture:
Let us look at the three decades of the drug war in retrospection. Towards the end of 1960's, Nixon starts a drug war to hide his illegal espionage activities. He gets kicked out of office but the war still wages on. New proponents jump in and declare drugs to be the root of every evil in our society. Drug use becomes the prime suspect in every crime committed anywhere on globe, with no regard to actual facts or data collected. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry who speaks out against drugs is applauded. With time, religious leaders, churches, and a plethora of non-profit organizations jump into the bandwagon to cash in on the hot potato. They all seek to gain public support and popularity for their respective organizations, once again under the shroud of the drug war. On January 3, 1973, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, gives a State of the State address demanding that every illegal-drug dealer be punished with a mandatory prison sentence of life without parole and within months the laws come into effect (Schlosser 2). Soon other states follow New York.
In the meantime, prisons get clogged up due to a geometrically increasing influx of drug users and sellers sentenced from five years to lifetime. New prisons are built all over the country every few weeks to house even more drug use victims. The Federal and state budgets to fight drugs ascend with the speed of light from $1 billion annually to $40 billion per year2, within two decades. Countries like Mexico, Columbia, and Peru suffer heavily from drug related crimes, as every other drug peddler fights to become a drug lord. Size of police force and border patrol increases dramatically and thus costs increase further. Attempts to seize drugs before they make it into the country are strengthened again and again, with unsatisfactory results.
And despite all this, drug use steadily increases. Evidently the "War on Drugs" has been lost.
Failure of the "War on Drugs":
By the government's own standards, the drug war has failed. Drugs are cheaper, purer, and more easily available today than they were when the drug war began. So what exactly has the drug war accomplished? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
- Availability: One of the aims of the drug war was to create a scarcity of drugs. Despite that, controlled drugs are readily available today. 88.9% of twelfth graders said drugs like marijuana were "very easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain in 1999. 47.6% of them found cocaine easily available3.
Price: Another mission of the war was to inflate the price of drugs, so that their use would decline. Illicit drugs are cheaper today, than they were two decades ago4.
Cost per gram of drugs : Street or Retail Value Drug - Year 1981 1998 Cocaine $191.35 $44.30 Heroine $1194.05 $317.97
- Treatment: 57% of Americans in need of drug treatment do not receive it5. Moreover, the scenario in the prisons is worse. Drug treatment is now available to just one in ten of the inmates who need it (Schlosser 2).
- Escalating Costs: In 2000, the National Drug Control budget exceeds $18 billion6 and the states will spend upwards of $20 billion more7. This is a dramatic increase since 1980, when federal spending was roughly $1 billion and state spending just a few times that8.
- "It is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states. We all agree on movement toward legalization." - National Review, 12th Feb 1996.
The truth is, man is but a child at heart. If you tell a child not to play in the rain, then that is the first thing he will do. But if you tell him that it is fine to go out in the rain, he probably will not seem very interested, since there no longer remains a "forbidden fruit."
Behind the scenes:
There is much more to the drug war than meets the eye. The drug war is still on, not because drugs pose health hazards or social threats, but because the war employs and heartily pays millions of pseudo-soldiers who actually do not have to fight any battle at all. The beneficiaries of the war are not the parents, children or law-abiding citizens, as the anti-drugs campaigners want us to believe, but rather the drug lords, politicians and the anti-drugs campaigners themselves, for now all of them hold high seats of influence and power, merely because of the on-going war. And where does this money come from? From the pockets of honest tax paying citizens. What these citizens have not been told is that even if there were no drug war, drug use would not escalate, or maybe even decline. Also, the common man has been kept in dark of the researches that prove that alcohol is worse than drugs, and not vice versa. So what keeps them from knowing the same? One guess would be the stifling activities of organizations like the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the UN International Drug Control Programme (Marijuana Special Report 1):
Health officials in Geneva have suppressed the publication of a politically sensitive analysis that confirms what aging drug users have known for decades: cannabis is safer than alcohol or tobacco.
According to a document leaked to New Scientist, the analysis concludes not only that the amount of dope smoked worldwide does less harm to public health than drink and cigarettes, but that the same is likely to hold true even if people consumed dope on the same scale as these legal substances.
The comparison was due to appear in a report on the harmful effects of cannabis published last December by the World Health Organization (WHO). But it was ditched at the last minute following a long and intense dispute between WHO officials, the cannabis experts who drafted the report and a group of external advisers.
As the WHO's first report on cannabis for 15 years, the document had been eagerly awaited by doctors and specialists in drug abuse. The official explanation for excluding the comparison of illegal drugs with legal substances is that "the reliability and public health significance of such comparisons are doubtful". However, insiders say the comparison was scientifically sound and that the WHO caved in to political pressure. It is understood that advisers from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the UN International Drug Control Programme warned the WHO that it would play into the hands of groups campaigning to legalize marijuana.
The report concludes, "in developed societies cannabis appears to play little role in injuries caused by violence, as does alcohol." - New Scientist. 21st Feb. 1998
The Best Viable Solution:
The best solution to the drug problem would be to vaporize every cannabis plant from the face of the planet. But that's not possible. The best alternative would be to introduce the concept of free market to this multibillion-dollar industry.
If drugs are legalized, crime will decline, black markets shall disappear, tertiary businesses like illegal ammunition and extortion would be wiped out, and of course prisons could be used to hold the real criminals. But let us not forget that we have on our shoulders, a Herculean task. Why? Because the only people who can legalize drugs, the politicians and the anti-drug campaigners, themselves benefit by keeping drugs illegal.
Drug prohibition is a short-term remedy. Legalizing drugs is the only long run solution.
Benefits of Drug Legalization:
Legalizing drugs will effect each and every sphere of life on earth. From the social atmosphere to the workplace, from law enforcement to the economy of the country, each realm will be varyingly affected by legitimizing drugs. And best of all, there will be only positive results - no ill effects.
Social Benefits: Drugs cause harm to the society. Agreed. So prohibiting drugs should be good. Agree? No way! The last few decades have not shown any promising results despite the ongoing drug war. How about legalizing them? The immediate social benefit would be the instant eradication of the maladies caused by prohibition, like neighborhood crime, drug peddling etc. Besides, if drugs were legally available in specialized stores at free market prices, there would be no black markets, smuggling, or illegal trade either. Isn't that good for the society?
We all know that no one is born a criminal. For most of them, it is the circumstances. Repeated prison sentences, subsequent association with the real criminals, and atrocities by the law enforcement agents, turn even the pettiest thief into the most dreaded serial killer. Who has not heard stories of how some honest man was jailed for small crimes, which he did not commit intentionally, and how the whole prison environment influenced him to come out of the jail and become a hard-boiled gang leader. Hollywood has made billions of dollars, making movies based on these stories. So are all of these stories themselves baseless? Definitely not.
Young men and women all over the world, lost, misguided, and aimless, enter the world of drugs, out of desperation and lack of money. And once they get caught in the drug net, they are trapped forever. Not because they want to, but because there is no escape. Legalizing drugs will prevent millions of honest people, who have to strive through misery and despair everyday, from becoming merciless criminals.
Family Atmosphere: Nearly two million minors have at least one parent behind bars in the U.S.9 60% to 80% of them (Schlosser 2) were imprisoned due to drug use and sale. Estimates put that 65% of these children will try drugs during their lifetime, as opposed to 24% of the children raised by two parents (Schlosser 2). Doesn't this seem to be a never-ending cycle; punishing every generation for doing things that they were not told were bad, simply because there was no one to tell them? Do you think the parents of all these two million children are evil devious criminals who deserve to be removed from the society?
People do drugs for a number of reasons. Primarily due to depression, which results from the lack of attention, family problems, divorce of parents at an early age, social banishment etc. Truth is we can take care of all these things without the government jumping in to arrest the parents of our country. If the parents take care of their children, making sure that they do not feel neglected, then there is no reason for the children to do drugs. And even if they experiment with drugs for a short time, they will soon realize the problems that drug use cause. Without government intervention, they would themselves get out of the Ring of Fire, before it does any more harm to them or their families. If the government steps in and sentences the person to life imprisonment, it is not even giving them a second chance. That is not a welfare state. That is dictatorship.
Economist's View: "Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement" (Friedman). Almost thirty years later, his words still hold true. In his 1998, New York Times article, "There's No Justice in the War on Drugs", Friedman discussed how legalizing drugs would depopulate the prisons, decrease the disproportionate imprisonment of blacks, and stop the harm to foreign countries.
The most important benefit would be the costs. The $40 billion, which are spent annually to stop the drugs from entering the country, could be used to do better things, like aiding people who want to quit drugs, treating the people recovering from long drug use, and best of all, teaching every child that drugs are harmful. Similar programs for deglamorizing cigarettes have worked with great success in the past. But that did not require cigarettes to be banned or smokers to be jailed.
According to the United Nations, drug trafficking is a $400 billion per year industry, equaling 8% of the world's trade10. If drugs are legalized and systematic tax policies come into effect immediately, revenues amounting to more than $50 billion can be collected annually, which otherwise would be going into the pockets of drug lords. Drugs can indeed become a legal industry, like tobacco and alcohol; and not remain a drain that merely sucks the taxpayers' hard-earned money.
Political Advantages: Once drugs are legalized in countries like U.S., other countries shall follow and legalize the same. Countries like Mexico, Peru and Columbia, which have been incinerated to opiate hotbeds, will benefit a great deal from drug decriminalization. Drug cartels will be exterminated and in place of that, legal institutions will take over the already booming illegal trade. That will be advantageous for everyone. How?
Everyone knows that no matter how much force is used to suppress any group, people, or country, sooner or later, there will be an up rise. If government becomes stricter, the people will revolt even sooner. The proof of this was well established in the 1920's alcohol prohibition. But once the gates of free trade were opened to alcohol, crime dropped everywhere, including the alcohol producing countries, international trade boomed and everyone benefited economically. Most of the drug producing countries today are underdeveloped and rather than improving the standard of living there, the money is used to limit drug production and sale. Once legalized, that money could be put to good use.
Health Issues: In Netherlands, where drugs were decriminalized in 1978, drug use actually declined11. Decline of drug use means decrease in the health risks. Moreover, studies have proven that marijuana is actually less hazardous than tobacco in many cases (Marijuana Special Report 1). So why penalize the drug user more than the average smoker?
Many fear that health costs will skyrocket if drugs are legalized. But that would only happen if drug use escalates. History has shown time and again that legalization, even after a long period of prohibition, does not increase the use of a previously illegal substance, e.g. alcohol in 1920's US and marijuana in Netherlands in 1980's. Besides, once drugs are decriminalized, more people would be willing to come out in the open to accept the fact that they used drugs and now wish to quit. That too would decrease the health costs, since more people would be willing to stop drug use before it becomes too late.
Long Run Results: Most important of all, would be the long run advantages derived from drug legalization. Rather than drug lords, there will be drug companies. Instead of drug peddlers, there will be drug stores. Now at a first glance, this may seem very scary indeed; looking at it in a different perspective, however, will show both the scenarios in true color. Drugs have forever been used and people will do drugs even in the future. And unless we impart education to every child about the ill effects of drugs, we cannot stop the use drugs. However, what is more harmful? A twenty-something creeping out in the middle of the night to buy a few grams of impure crack from some unknown peddler or the same person, buying the same drug of better and less harmful quality from a government approved drug store?
After a few decades, drug use will decline. Who knows drugs might disappear within the next century itself, except, of course, for medicinal use.
The drug saga is but a simple one. Effecting almost every man on earth, the fight for drug legalization shall continue till the day we rid ourselves of demoralized politicians and corrupt bureaucrats. However, drug legalization will not solve all the problems that we have today. It will only solve the problems that have plagued the world because of its prohibition, that is, black markets, neighborhood crime, racial discrimination, smuggling, extortion etc. It cannot solve the world hunger problem. And neither can it stop children from trying drugs. It is our duty to tell the next generation that drugs are unhealthy. We need to portray drugs as ‘uncool' and unwanted. This is the duty of the parents, teachers, and society, not the government.
Legalizing drugs is freedom, freeing the drug-related criminals is justice, and encouraging the younger generation to ‘Just say no' to drugs is social responsibility.
- 1. Federal Trafficking Penalties: US Department of Justice.
- 2. State and Local Spending on Drug Control Activities, Page 3, Office of National Drug Control Policy, October 1993.
- 3. Monitoring the Future 1999, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 1999.
- 4. Drug Data Summary, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Page 4, April 1999.
- 5. National Drug Control Strategy: 2000 Annual Report, Page 140, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2000.
- 6. National Drug Control Strategy FY 2001 Budget Summary, Page 2, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2000.
- 7. State and Local Spending on Drug Control Activities, Page 3, Office of National Drug Control Policy, October 1993.
- 8. Federal Strategy for Prevention of Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking 1982, Page 73, Drug Abuse Policy Office, 1982.
- 9. Women Offenders, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Page 8, December 1999.
- 10. Associated Press, "U.N. Estimates Drug Business Equal to 8 Percent of World Trade," 1997, June 26.
- 11. Kevin Zeese, No More Drug War; National Law Journal, July 7, 1986.
- Friedman, Milton. "Prohibition and Drugs." Newsweek. 1st May 1972
- "History of Marijuana." Marijuana.nl. 27th Nov. 2000
- "Marijuana Special Report 1." New Scientist. 21st Feb. 1998
- "Marijuana Special Report 2." New Scientist. 21st Feb. 1998
- O'Toole, Fintan. "Drug war invented by Nixon to extend his power." The Irish Times. 13th Aug. 1999
- Schlosser, Eric (1). "More Reefer Madness." The Atlantic Monthly Apr. 1997: 90-102.
- Schlosser, Eric (2). "The Prison-Industrial Complex." The Atlantic Monthly Dec. 1998: 51-77.