Ever since President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971, the United States’ government has spent millions upon millions attempting to cure a disease with imprisonment. Every non – violent drug addict is thrown through the legal system, labeled a felon, and dumped back into the streets only to repeat the very process of drug abuse that landed them in jail in the first place. Rather than viewing these addicts as patients in need of treatment, our current system places all responsibility on the abusers themselves as they are relentlessly recycled through the penal system with little help or hope of ever overcoming the disease that ravages their lives daily. Current legislation regarding the use of illicit drugs is very obviously flawed and in need of reform. Our nation’s “war on drugs” is nothing more than a war on addiction, a war which cannot be won given our society’s current penal state. This war must be won through rehabilitation and understanding, and understanding can only be gained through further research and trials, not imprisonment and court cases. Although drug use must not be seen as acceptable, drug legislation must be amended in order to ensure that addiction is seen as a serious disease and that addicts may receive all necessary treatment rather than being degraded to jail cells with felony drug charges.
1. The Ability of Illustrious Black Markets to flourish
The most significant flaw within the United States’ drug legislation resides in the inability to reduce the desire for drugs. Addicts that are labeled as felons only build resentment for the entire concept of institutionalization rather than the tools they need to overcome the addiction itself. Upon release from institutionalization these victims’ only concern becomes avoiding getting caught, rather than avoiding their substance abuse.
The inability of current policy to reduce the desire for drugs allows massive black markets to flourish, taking millions of dollars out of circulation and putting it in the pockets of drug dealers. Due to the fact demand for drugs is not reduced, prohibitionist policies create potential profits for criminals; violent crime tends to follow. If demand for drugs is actually reduced through rehabilitation, these black markets will be unable to function and will eventually crumble.
2. The Current Drug Policy is Inherently Racist
Another startling characteristic associated with the United States’ current stance on drug criminalization is the blatant racism that comes along with the legislation in place. One statistical analysis found, “In the 2000’s, the flow of incarceration for drug crimes exceeded admissions for property crimes each year. Nearly one-third of total prison admissions over this period were for drug crimes…blacks are 3 to 4 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, even though they are no more likely than whites to use or sell drugs. Worse still, blacks are roughly nine times more likely to be admitted into state prison for a drug offense.”
Not only does current drug policy imprison hundreds of thousands of addicts that will never receive necessary treatment, it also heavily discriminates against African Americans. The criminalization of drugs has done nothing but waste billions of dollars and further the racial divide within our country by treating minorities unequally.
3. Decriminalization Has Worked in Foreign Nations
A reassuring notion for the United States when contemplating the decriminalization of banned substances is the fact that it has been done before. Portugal and The Netherlands long ago adopted effective systems of legalization within their borders. This provides an additional advantage to the United States as well, allowing them to adopt a similar system while making adjustments to any errors previous countries may have encountered. One study determined that switching from criminalization to regulation of a market for a product or service offers two principle advantages to a society, “First, customers can now turn to legal providers. This will reduce the market share for illegal operators, preferably to the extent that they will no longer be able to make a decent profit. Second, regulation allows the authorities to better control the risks of the product or service, such as addiction, exploitation and other costs to society.”
The United States should gear their policy to have a closer resemblance to The Netherlands’. Portugal has completely regulated the sale of illicit drugs within their country while The Netherlands simply decriminalized the incarceration of drugs in favor of rehabilitation. Complete regulation of sales of illicit drugs in a country with a population exceeding 280 million people leaves room for problems to arise, while decriminalization will allow addicts to receive the help they need to overcome the disease that ravages their lives daily.
4. The Legislation is Clearly Ineffective
Legislation regulating the patterns of societal norms are created with the intent to deter crime. Therefore, consequences to these crimes are created with the intention of keeping criminals from ever wanting to receive such a penalty, this is the reasoning behind the criminalization of banned substances. This is also the reason that while the United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, they currently account for 25% of the world’s prison population. This is a seemingly reasonable solution to a drug epidemic, until the complete inefficiency of these institutionalized penitentiaries is highlighted. In the last twelve years, since the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released its initial report on substance abuse among the nation’s prison population, little progress has been made in reducing the numbers of inmates with substance abuse problems crowding the nation’s prisons and jails. As the prisons continually introduce more and more convicts, living conditions for inmates deteriorate exponentially. One study found, “65 percent of the nation’s inmates meet certain medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, but only 11 percent received treatment for their addictions.”
Despite the fact our nation spends about five hundred dollars a second fighting the war on drugs, and the fact that the United States imprisons more people per capita for drug offenses than any other nation, drug use continues to escalate within our borders. Why is the United States obsessed with spending billions with nothing in return? Instead of locking addicts up with thousands of other addicts in an area where treatment is virtually nonexistent, we must utilize our knowledge of rehabilitation to heal addicts so that they may once again become contributing members of our society. The current legislation regarding drug policy needs to be abolished as it has proven to be an ineffective waste of money time and time again.
5. It Didn’t Work Before
The final piece of damning evidence to those supporting the criminalization of banned substances is the fact that America has attempted Prohibition in the past, a movement that is heavily regarded as a complete failure. Between 1920 and 1933 the United States practiced a policy of prohibition against the consumption or sale of alcohol. This policy is generally regarded as a monstrous failure due to the fact that all it did was create a massive illegal black market with an unregulated supply of alcohol that was created within homes of the individuals selling it. The creation of this illicit black market was fueled by organized crime. According to Wayne Hall, “although alcohol consumption and related incidents regarding its consumption did initially decrease, it became clear that the initiative was a failure over time.” Hall later examined the fact that the United States era of prohibition actually had little effectiveness on limiting the consumption or production of alcohol, “We find that alcohol consumption fell sharply at the beginning of Prohibition, to approximately 30 percent of its pre-Prohibition level. During the next several years, however, alcohol consumption increased sharply, to about 60-70 percent of its pre-prohibition level. The level of consumption was virtually the same immediately after Prohibition as during the latter part of Prohibition, although consumption increased to approximately its pre-Prohibition level during the subsequent decade.” The money that had previously been in circulation within the alcohol industry was now resting in bootleggers’ pockets. After 13 short years, the United States enacted the 21st Amendment, annulling the 18th amendment which had criminalized alcohol.
The current U.S. drug policy regarding illegal substances creates a nearly identical situation as the prohibition of alcohol did. Money that could be generated into current circulation with the regulation of these banned substances is instead heavily influencing the ever-growing black market within the borders of the United States. Decriminalizing drug use while reinforcing progressive forms of rehabilitation would greatly decrease the number of addicts within the United States’ borders, resulting in far less demand for the illicit drugs sold in the infamous black market. The vast reduction in demand for these drugs would result with the collapse of the black market and possibly addiction itself. The similarities between the policies are very clear, it is completely irrational to recognize the era of alcohol prohibition as an epic failure while retaining the United States’ current drug policy. Billions of dollars are spent each year, in the United States alone, fighting a war that is impossible to win without the power of rehabilitation. Incarceration for drug use must face elimination to ensure the stability of our nation.
Although the idea may seem irrational, it is in everyone’s best interest to decriminalize all banned substances to ensure addicts are not subjected to gross circumstances, and can instead receive the treatment that is necessary for them to overcome their disease. Our federal government could then divert the sixteen billion dollars that they spend annually fighting the war on drugs to research dedicated to treating addiction as the disease it is. In turn, as these addicts recover from their addiction and become contributing members of society, the illustrious black market for these illegal substances that once flourished will begin to retract as the massive profits they once made begin to deplete. The contraction of the massive black market will also result in less violent crime. The money that was once out of circulation due to the ravages of addiction would return as rehabilitated addicts begin to get back on their feet rather than sitting in their government housing unable to obtain a decent job due to the felonies placed on their records because of the previously flawed system. While there are many arguments to be made, reforming American drug laws, and ultimately decriminalizing addiction, is in everyone’s best interest to ensure the stability of our republic.