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War on Drugs Essay

Pages:13 (4034 words)



Topic:War On Drugs

Document Type:Essay


War on Drugs Futile Failing and Nefariously Linked to the War on Terror

Effectiveness of the War on Drugs


I. Introduction

A. History of drugs, cross-cultural perspective

1. Opium wars

2. Since Nixon, the modern “war on drugs”

3. History of drug use in different societies

B. History of government intervention in the private lives of individuals via drug policy.

C. Effects of the war on drugs

1. Is it effective? Quantify the deaths related to the WOD, as well as the social entropy in communities, families, and within individuals

2. Criminalization distracting attention from more central concerns linked to capitalism, psychological wellbeing, and healthcare.

3. National sovereignty issues and global perspective

II. Theoretical Discussion

A. Race, class, power perspectives

B. Government, public policy, global affairs

C. Criminalization, justice

D. Other sociological issues

1. Organized crime and terrorism

2. White collar crime (tobacco and pharmaceutical industries)

III. Literature Review

A. Balancing public health/safety with personal liberty/self-empowerment

B. Alternate strategies, pilot projects

1. Cannabis law reform

2. Psychedelics

IV. Discussion

V. Conclusions

A. The war on drugs is a human rights issue.

B. The war on drugs is illogical and empirically proven to be an illegitimate and ineffective strategy.

C. Drugs have been branded and arbitrarily classified as “socially acceptable” versus “criminal,” when drugs themselves are simply tools and can be considered useful.

D. Drug abuse is not a criminal issue.


People like drugs. Drugs derived from plants, from coca and tobacco to ibogaine and opium, have been popular throughout the world, as has fermented and distilled alcoholic beverages. Altering human brain and body, drugs have a wide range of effects including pain relief, stimulation, and relaxation. Drugs have also been traded on the global commodities market for centuries, with the most infamous being opium and tobacco: both of which became so lucrative they led to political and military skirmishes. Government intervention in the drug trade is a new phenomenon, traceable to the Opium Wars first and then to the initial controls placed on chemical compounds as scientific research into their uses expanded in the late 19th and early 20th century. The first drug policy on the books in the United States was the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act (“America is At War,” n.d.). It was followed by a cascade of similar legislation that is collectively referred to as the War on Drugs.

Prohibition of alcohol can be viewed as the only battle the government of the United States admits to have losing in the War on Drugs. In spite of the failure of prohibition to quell public fears about the abuse of alcohol and the violence exhibited by some intoxicated or addicted individuals, the War on Drugs continued. The War on Drugs has enabled the rise of a powerful military-industrial complex, and is intimately entwined with non-state actors including terrorist organizations and other organized crime syndicates worldwide. Perpetuating the War on Drugs has become fundamental to the political and economic stability of nations around the world, which is why drug policy reform proves particularly thorny in spite of the fact that no research can substantiate its effectiveness. Quite the opposite: the War on Drugs has led to more lives lost, more crime, and more economic and social instability, than drug abuse or addiction has ever caused.

Fear of addiction, and fear of drugs, have become the propaganda fueling the War on Drugs, duping the public into supporting drug policies. The first cracks in the mirage appeared when several states and a handful of countries decided to decriminalize or legalize cannabis. Alcohol is illegal in more than a handful of nations around the world, including Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh. Ironically, the United States views Muslim prohibitions on alcohol as being strident while enforcing an equally inhumane policy that criminally penalizes users of non-state-sanctioned drugs. Alcohol and opioids cause many more deaths—not to mention ruined lives—than the illegal drugs.

Literature Review

Scholarly databases contain over a million entries related to the war on drugs, covering perspectives linked to psychology, sociology, public health, history, and the law. Of these, none provide tangible support for the war on drugs or recommend its perpetuation as evidence-based or pragmatic policy. Almost without exception too, major research organizations and academic institutions decry the war on drugs and point out its failure in quantitative terms. Writing for Harvard Law Today, London (2005) mentions the more than 500,000 individuals serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Imprisonment as a response to drug-related offenses has led to a humanitarian crisis. An anonymously written article published on a Stanford University domain indicates why America—and the world—is losing the war on drugs by pointing out effects on the children of those who are serving time in prison and the reverberations within the global economy (“America is At War,” n.d.). Thus, the literature shows that the War on Drugs is more responsible for breaking apart families and communities than the drugs themselves. The Center for American Progress (Pearl, 2018) likewise refers to the “disastrous effects” of current drug policy, advocating for widespread reform of drug laws on human rights and social justice grounds (p. 1).

Major themes emerging in the scholarly literature include the deleterious effect of the War on Drugs on racial disparities including income disparity, criminal justice disparity, and also healthcare and political status disparities. Other themes include a loud and substantial cry from the healthcare industries, calling for the decriminalization of drugs and addiction in order to provide effective interventions and better educate the public. The literature also directly discusses the economics of the drug trade, and the financial implications of the war on drugs versus ending the war on drugs. A deeper historical and political analysis shows that the war on drugs is linked to the war on terror.

Racial disparity is one of the reasons why the war on drugs has become a far bigger problem than drug abuse ever was; another is the fact that the war on drugs deliberately, overtly, and disgustingly draws valuable financial resources away from effective healthcare, instead interjecting those funds into the criminal justice and military sectors. For those more fiscally attuned, Pearl (2018) points out the economic ramifications of the war on drugs: “Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion,” (p. 1). Researchers also take care to connect the war on drugs to the opioid epidemic in order to demonstrate that the legal status of a drug has zero effect on whether that drug will become abused, without even needing to mention the deleterious effects of other widely used legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. A review of literature also highlights some of the progressive interventions being used domestically and around the world to subvert, supplant, or supplement current drug policies. For instance, in Australia and New Zealand, research is being done on how to redefine drug-related offenses (Payne & Hutton, 2017). One eleven-nation meta-analysis of data reveals the need to…

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…it becomes more possible to envision a workable strategy. The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment covers the right to privacy, which can easily be shown to extend to areas previously taboo such as human sexuality and reproduction. Similarly, the Fourth Amendment prohibits unlawful penetrations of the government into the private affairs of individuals. If a person chooses to use drugs, without harming another person, then there is no legal justification to punish that person at all. Many drug users understand the risks involved with taking drugs, and educate themselves through the information found online or via word of mouth. Drug prohibition also precipitates another glaring public health problem, which is related to the safety of drugs. If drugs were legal, then recreational drug users would have no fear of fentanyl and other potentially deadly substances contaminating their supply. Legalized cocaine would empower Andean farmers to make a living wage without fear for their lives, just as legalized opium might enable the regrowth of localized economies throughout Central Asia. The notion may seem farfetched, even outlandish, to many people, but changing minds should not be overly difficult due to the unequivocal nature of the ample body of evidence supporting an end to prohibition.


When considering the future for drug policy reform, it may be important to consider the issue from a constitutional perspective to underscore the importance of privacy. After all, drug use is a private matter—a matter of choice, just like abortion. Drug policy can perhaps be better reframed so that government no longer intrudes on an individual’s lifestyle but instead promotes public health proactively through widespread public education and awareness campaigns that help individuals use drugs responsibly. The goal of drug policy has never been to eliminate mind-altering substances from the marketplace; if that were the case, there would be no 21st Amendment. Prohibition of all drugs would be the federal mandate, and the government of the United States would enforce such laws as fully as they are in places like Saudi Arabia. If the goal of drug policy is to achieve maximum public safety, then policymakers and taxpayers need to accept that some people will abuse drugs. Just as the public came to accept that alcohol and tobacco are substances that are potentially dangerous while still allowing them to be recreational and lucrative commodities, the public can also come to recognize the value of all other drugs and not just cannabis.

Drug policy reform also offers hope for global peace movements. Terrorist organizations and other organized crime syndicates fund themselves in part via the illegal drug trade—a market that those nefarious leaders control and manipulate. With liberal drug policy reform, the marketplace becomes freer, open to capitalists with a vested interest in keeping their customers healthy and alive. The government would also have a greater degree of control over how mental and physical health services are promoted and provided, and researchers would be able to invest in studies showing how to promote safety and judicious use. Economically, the legalization of cannabis has benefitted taxpayers in several American states and it is easy to see why legalizing all drugs could prove beneficial.

Criminal justice, in the meantime, would find that the resources liberated through drug policy reform are harnessed and used to prevent real crimes against humanity, from domestic violence and abuse to acts of terror to homicide. Taking the drug market out from under the chokehold of the black market would also weaken those syndicates and cartels, allowing federal law enforcement to focus on more serious problems like human trafficking, weapons trafficking, and cybercrime. The public…

Sample Source(s) Used


ACLU (2020). Against drug prohibition. Retrieved from:

“America is At War,” (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Bambauer, J. Y. (2012). How the war on drugs distorts privacy law. Stanford Law Review 62(2012). Retrieved from:

Benson, B.L., Kim., I., Rasmussen, D.W., et al. (1992, 2006). Is property crime caused by drug use or by drug enforcement policy? Applied Economics 24(7): 679-692.

Best, D., Irving, J. & Albertson, K. (2016). Recovery and desistance: what the emerging recovery movement in the alcohol and drug area can learn from models of desistance from offending. Addiction Research & Theory 25(1): 1-10.

Coomber, R., Moyle, L., Belackova, V., et al. (2018). The burgeoning recognition and accommodation of the social supply of drugs in international criminal justice systems: An eleven-nation comparative overview. International Journal of Drug Policy 58(2018): 98-103.

Coyne, C.J. & Hall, A. R. (2017). Four decades and counting. CATO Institute. Retrieved from:

Farabee, D., Prendergast, M. & Anglin, M.D. (1998). The effectiveness of coerced treatment for drug-abusing offenders. 62 Fed. Probation 3 (1998).

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