Is the War on Drugs Firing Blanks

Is the War on Drugs Firing Blanks?

When the Americans think of the phrase, “America’s War on Drugs”, they may be imagining a government in action trying to save their innocent children from an illicit drug trade. However, upon closer examination many of the policies implemented it appears to be merely a facade put in place to placate the American people instead of a real solution meant to actually solve the problem. In spite of its stated intentions, the War on Drugs is perhaps aptly named. For, only in a war do those in most in need often get forgotten while misinformation continues to propagate their situation. In this war, unfortunately, the winners and the losers are not so readily defined.

It is long overdue that the American people demand that the Federal Government explicitly state what winning this war means.These definitions must be clearly outlined for the American public, the and the drug abusers themselves. According to statistics, prison sentences for both those with drug addictions and those facilitating the abuse has never been effective at addressing the problem. Other countries such as Holland, however, who have been treating the people in their countries with drug addictions with compassion, have been much more successful. They have lowered drug use across the board within their borders, reduced demand and as a result, unsurprisingly, drug imports have dropped significantly

The illicit drug business is entirely about maintaining customers and profits, like any other enterprise. When you take away the consumers, you eliminate the base structures keeping it alive. Putting the customers in prison does not bar them from accessing the distributors when the same system imprisons the marketers who have access to the substances keeping the consumers addicted in the first place. Whether they are in or out, they are continuously in contact with the people keeping them tied to the one thing that perpetuates the very machine that the government is supposedly trying to put an end to. Alternatively, if the addiction were treated like an illness and decriminalized, the customer and seller would finally be separated from one another so the addict could be treated properly. Detoxification would be possible, as well as drug, education or employment counseling. The concept of rehabilitation would cease to be a word with no meaning in the correctional system and become a reasonable achievement. 

Removing non-violent offenders who are only guilty of having a drug addiction would significantly lowering the current prison population. This would have an undeniable positive effect on the prison system at large.The funding needed to feed, house, medically treat and guard the existing violent criminals would be significantly reduced. There would also be the ability to reallocate resources that are currently being inefficiently met or ignored because of a lack of sufficient funding and resources. This also provides a greater capacity for violent criminals to be imprisoned.

The largest problem with the current policies is that they simply aren’t working. In spite of the government’s declaration that we are winning this war and in spite of the increasing amounts of federal dollars being thrown at it, the drugs are coming in faster and the drug users are getting younger. A survey was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2001. According to this random survey of US households, 15.9 million Americans ages 12 and older told surveyors that they had used an illegal drug within the month. Over 26.9 million reported they had used during the past year and 93.4 million reported they had used at least once in their lifetime. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the year 2000, citizens in the US spent an estimated 64.8 billion dollars on illegal substances, over 273.3 metric tons in cocaine and heroine alone.

The estimated costs to society have jumped 60 million dollars in health care and productivity losses from 1992 to 2000. Federal drug seizers in the United States have risen by 1,570,022 lbs from 1989 to 2001. These estimates incorporate those seizures made within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard as well as the FBI and DEA all incorporated with in the Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS). These statistics are on the rise at an alarming rate in spite of the estimated 40 billion dollars spent from 1998 to 2001 by the Federal Government for the purposes of Drug treatment, prevention, research, as well as Domestic and International Law Enforcement. From 2002 to 2004 that dollar amount doubled as more and more funds were allocated to attempt to reign in this rising problem. Why, with all the funds allotted to this growing epidemic of drug use, is the problem only worsening?         

According to the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report(INCSR) we could be more effective in this war if we could only keep other countries from making the drugs in the first place. In fact, instead of treating our own citizens, they believe that the War on Drugs would be much more successful if they were able to achieve their goals in just one of three areas: stopping drug production in other countries, stopping drugs at the borders, or stopping the sale of drugs within the United States. Effectively creating a drug treatment program for the victims of this drug war suspiciously absent from this list. 

Yet, they know that according to Shaffer Drug Fact Sheet, “By the US Federal Government’s own estimates, the entire United States consumption of illegal drugs could be supplied by approximately one percent of the world-wide crop. In their best year, US Drug Enforcement Agents working together with foreign governments seized about one percent of world-wide drug crop leaving ninety-nine left to supply the US. The US Government also states that, in the unlikely event that drug production was stopped in South America, several countries would suffer a major economic collapse.”

In 1990 the US General Accounting Office reported that after doing a major study on border interdiction, that it was a “waste of money” and concluded that “no conceivable increase in funding would make it any better”. That didn’t stop them from continuing to increase the allocation of funding toward it, however. Sterling Johnson the Federal prosecutor for New York in 1988 said that the police would have to increase drug seizures by at least fourteen hundred percent in order to have any effect at all in the drug market. This in addition to the almost 11 billion already spent each year, and not accounting for any rises in drug production or distribution.

Not every civilized country has so many difficulties in assisting its citizenry with drug difficulties. It may seem counter-intuitive from the perspective of a culture where the only solution seems to be “more prisons” and “longer sentences”. Yet the evidence is striking. In Holland, the entire country’s drug use is one tenth that of the city of Washington D.C.. The drug policy emphasizes decriminalization and social reform rather than criminalization as a means of reform. Here is a small glimpse of their policy:

-Drug users dealing in hard drugs in order to provide for their own needs and found in possession of somewhat more than a small quantity:

In these cases the public prosecutor must demand a prison sentence, but is free to determine the length of the sentence to be demanded;

-Possession of a small quantity of hard drugs for personal consumption:

No specific police investigation, no pre-trial detention and as a rule no prosecution.

-Dealing, possessing and producing a maximum of 30 grams of cannabis:

No specific police investigation, no pre-trial detention and as a rule no prosecution.

-Sale of cannabis in small quantities by a reliable person in a youth voor (known as a house dealer):

No prosecution unless the dealer trades provocatively or openly advertises his wares.

Dr. Ruter states that, “It enables you to get an idea what happens when you reduce the role of law enforcement and embark on a policy which is based, as the former Dutch Minister of Justice said, on the idea that drug abuse is primarily a matter of health and social well-being and not of police and criminal justice.” A panel of six distinguished jurors who were subject to testimony of thirteen experts on Drug Policy, Criminal Justice, and Substance abuse concluded that “the US must abandon the “War On Drugs” and seek out new policies that would address issues of drug use as social and medical problems rather than criminal ones. This Commission believes that the current policy, in spite of its intentions, in the end does more harm than good.” 

Americans have some of the strictest enforced drug laws in the world and yet our drug problem is one of the most out of hand and fastest growing on the planet.Yet, in other nations, such as Holland, where a softer, more compassionate tactic has made drug addicts and drug dealers all but a rarity even when compared to one of our municipalities, let alone our entire country. Government officials must step down from the tried and failed policies of the past. It is time to stop warring with our citizenry and move towards alternatives which have proved far more effective in nations where law-makers have turned to a more humane, decriminalization approach to drug control.


-United Nations, Office of Drugs and Crime. Executive Summary on Global Illicit Drug Trends. Washington, D.C.: United Nations, 2003.Print.

-Walker, Jonathan. “Drugs Tsar Resigns over Decriminalized Cannabis.” Birmingham Post 11 July 2002. A-5. Print.

-“Drug Tsar’s Clash With Cabinet”. Daily Record .11 July 2002.Print.

-Wilson, David “Perspective: Politicians fighting a losing battle in the war”.Birmingham Post 24 February 2001

-US Department of State.Bureau of International Narcotics Matters.International Narcotics Control Strategy Report(INCSR).Washington:US Department of State. April, 1993.Print.

-Vallance, Theodore R. National Review in the Federal Financial Analysis of Legalization of Drugs.10 July 1995. Print.

-Sterling, Eric E. “The War on Drugs: Addicted to Failure”. Recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on U.S. Drug Policy .04 May 2002.Print.