War on Drugs

War on Drugs
As part of the "War on Drugs", the U.S. gives hundreds of millions of dollars per year of military aid to Colombia, which is used to combat leftist guerrilla groups such as FARC, who have been involved in narco-trafficking.[citation needed]

The War on Drugs is a campaign of prohibition and foreign military aid and military intervention being undertaken by the United States government, with the assistance of participating countries, intended to both define and reduce the illegal drug trade.[1][2] This initiative includes a set of drug policies of the United States that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal psychoactive drugs. The term "War on Drugs" was first used by President Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971.[3][4][5][6]

On May 13, 2009, Gil Kerlikowske, the current Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), signaled that although it did not plan to significantly alter drug enforcement policy, the Obama administration would not use the term "War on Drugs," as he claims it is "counter-productive".[7] ONDCP's view is that "drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated... making drugs more available will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."(2011)[8]

One of the alternatives that Mr Kerlikowske has showcased is Sweden's Drug Control Policies that combine balanced public health approach and opposition to drug legalization. The prevalence rates for cocaine use in Sweden are barely one-fifth of European neighbors such as the United Kingdom and Spain.[9]

In June 2011 the self-appointed Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the War on Drugs, declaring "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed."[10] The report was immediately criticized by organizations that oppose a general legalization of drugs.[8]



Although Nixon coined the term "War on Drugs" when he first used it in 1971, the policies that his administration implemented as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 were a continuation of drug prohibition policies in the U.S. which stretched back to the year 1914.[5][6] Less well known today is that the Nixon Administration also repealed the federal 2-10 year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana and started federal demand reduction programs and drug treatment programs. Robert DuPont, the ”Drug tzar” in the Nixon Administration, state it would be more accurate to say that Nixon ended, rather than launched, the “war on drugs.” DuPont also argue that it was the proponents of drug legalization that popularized the term "war on drugs"[8]

The first U.S. law which restricted the distribution and use of certain drugs was the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. The first local laws came as early as 1860.[11]

In 1920, the United States passed the National Prohibition Act along with the 18th Amendment which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption on a national level.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created. Established in the Department of the Treasury by an act of June 14, 1930 (46 Stat. 585)[12]

In 1933 the federal prohibition for alcohol was repealed.

In 1935 the president Franklin D. Roosevelt, publicly supported the adoption of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act. The New York Times used the headline ROOSEVELT ASKS NARCOTIC WAR AID[13][14]

In 1937, the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act was passed. In 1936 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) noticed an increase of reports of people smoking marijuana, which further increased in 1937. The Bureau drafted a legislative plan for Congress, seeking a new law that would place marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control, and the head of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger, ran a campaign against marijuana.[15][non-primary source needed]

Hemp, bast with fibers. The stem in the middle can be broken into hemp hurds.

FBN's agents reported that stacks of the old 1934 and 1935 crop of harvested hemp were used as a source for marijuana dealers. The total production of hemp fiber in the U.S. had in 1933 decreased to around 500 tons/year, then cultivation of hemp began to increase 1934-1935 but still at very low volume compared with other fibers.[16][17] Several scholars have claimed that the goal was to destroy the hemp industry,[18][19][20] largely as an effort of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family.[18][20] These scholars argue that with the invention of the decorticator, hemp became a very cheap substitute for the paper pulp that was used in the newspaper industry.[18][21] These scholars believe that Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings. The claims that hemp could have been a successful substitute for wood pulp have been based on an incorrect government report in 1916 that concluded that hemp hurds, broken parts of the inner core of the hemp stem, were a suitable source for paper production. This has not been confirmed by later research, as hemp hurds are not reported to be a good enough substitute. In 2003 were 95 % of the hemp hurds in EU used for animal bedding, almost 5% were used as building material.[22][23][24][25] See also Hemp#Paper.

Mellon, United States Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America, had invested heavily in the DuPont's new synthetic fiber, nylon, and considered its success to depend on its replacement of the traditional resource, hemp.[18][26][27][28][29][30][31][32]

On October 27, 1970, the Nixon administration implemented the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.[5]

In 1971. Two congressmen released an explosive report on the growing heroin epidemic among U.S. servicemen in Vietnam; ten to fifteen percent of the servicemen were addicted to heroin, and the Nixon administration coined the term War on Drugs.[5][33]

In 1973, the Drug Enforcement Administration was created to replace the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.[5]

As early as 1982, Vice President George H.W. Bush and his aides began pushing for the involvement of the CIA and U.S. military in drug interdiction efforts.[34]

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was originally established by the National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988,[35][36] which mandated a national anti-drug media campaign for youth, which would later become the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.[37] The director of ONDCP is commonly known as the Drug Czar,[5] and it was first implemented in 1989 under President George H. W. Bush, and raised to cabinet-level status by Bill Clinton in 1993.[38][citation needed] These activities subsequently funded by the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 1998 formally creating the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.[39][40] The Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 codified the campaign at 21 U.S.C. § 1708.[41]

June 2, 2011: "THE WAR ON DRUGS HAS FAILED" said a self-appointed 19-member commission including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mexico's former President Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil's ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, as well as the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the current Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou. The panel also featured prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU's former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former US secretary of state. Rafael Lemaitre, ONDCP Communications Director, issued a response the same day stating that President Obama's policy on drugs is a marked departure from previous approaches to drug policy.[42] U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin also released the first ever National Prevention Strategy.[43] Two weeks later, former President Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed in The New York Times explicitly endorsing the commission's initiative.[44] The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion in 2010 on the War on Drugs, a rate of about $500 per second.[45][46]

United States domestic policy

Arrests and incarceration

Graph demonstrating increases in United States incarceration rate

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.[48] A very large portion of people who are incarcerated are imprisoned for drug-related crimes. In 1994, it was reported that the "War on Drugs" results in the incarceration of one million Americans each year.[49] Of the related drug arrests, about 225,000 are for possession of cannabis, the fourth most common cause of arrest in the United States.[50]

In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses. 500,000 were imprisoned.[51]

In the 1980s, while the number of arrests for all crimes was rising 28%, the number of arrests for drug offenses rose 126%.[52] Among the prisoners, drug offenders made up the same percentage of State prisoners in both 1997 and 2004 (21%). The percentage of Federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses declined from 63% in 1997 to 55% in 2004.[53] The US Department of Justice, reporting on the effects of state initiatives, has stated that, from 1990 through 2000. "the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates, 7% of the total growth among Hispanic inmates, and 15% of the growth among white inmates." In addition to prison or jail, the United States provides for the deportation of many non-citizens convicted of drug offenses.[54]

Federal and state policies also impose collateral consequences on those convicted of drug offenses, such as denial of public benefits or licenses, that are not applicable to those convicted of other types of crime.[55]

Marijuana constitutes almost half of all drug arrests, and between 1990–2002, out of the overall drug arrests, 82% of the increase was for marijuana.  In 2004, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense.[56]

The practice of imposing longer prison sentences on repeat offenders is common in many countries, but the Three strike laws in the U.S., which mandate 25 year imprisonment and became implemented in many states in the 1990s, is very extreme in comparison with most countries in Europe. During the first 9 years after Nixon coined the expression War on Drugs, the statistics show only a minor increase of the number of imprisoned, which implies that some other factor than the declaration of "war" is the primary contributor to the rate of incarceration.

Sentencing disparities

In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine,[57][58][59][60] which had been widely criticized as discriminatory against minorities, mostly blacks, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine.[61] This 100:1 ratio had been required under federal law since 1986.[62] Persons convicted in federal court of possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine received a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years in federal prison. On the other hand, possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence.[58][59] In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act cut the sentencing disparity to 18:1.[61]

Crime statistics show that in 1999 the United States blacks were far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences than non-minorities.[63] Those same statistics also show that such events were far more likely to take place in areas with high minority crime: low income housing neighborhoods, city projects etc.

Statistics from 1998 show that there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-American drug users made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes.[58] Nationwide African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than other races,[64] even though they only supposedly comprised 13% of regular drug users.[58]

Foreign policy and covert military activities

Some scholars have indicated that the phrase War on Drugs is propaganda cloaking an extension of earlier military or paramilitary operations.[2] Others have argued that large amounts of "drug war" foreign aid money, training, and equipment actually goes to fighting leftist insurgencies and is often provided to groups who themselves are involved in large-scale narco-trafficking, such as corrupt members of the Colombian military.[1]

Operation Intercept

One of the first anti-drug efforts in the realm of foreign policy was President Nixon's Operation Intercept, announced in September 1969, targeted at reducing the amount of cannabis entering the United States from Mexico. The effort began with an intense inspection crackdown that resulted in an almost shutdown of cross-border traffic.[65] Because the burden on border crossings was controversial in border states, the effort only lasted twenty days.[66]

Operation Just Cause

The U.S. military invasion of Panama in 1989

On December 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of the government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S. which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug trafficking activities, which they had known about since the 1960s.[67][68] When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so.[67] The CIA, which was then directed by future president George H. W. Bush, provided Noriega with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as payment for his work in Latin America.,[67] When CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, documents aboard the plane revealed many of the CIA's activities in Latin America, and the CIA's connections with Noriega became a public relations "liability" for the U.S. government, which finally allowed the DEA to indict him for drug trafficking, after decades of allowing his drug operations to proceed unchecked.[67] Operation Just Cause, whose purpose was to capture Noriega, killed numerous Panamanian civilians; Noriega found temporary asylum in the Papal Nuncio, and surrendered to U.S. soldiers on January 3, 1990.[69] He was sentenced by a court in Miami to 45 years in prison.[67]

Plan Colombia

The "war on drugs" is simply a propaganda ploy, a legitimizing story for the American public. We were briefed by the Public Affairs Officers that counter-narcotics was a cover story for curious journalists, friends, and family that our mission, in fact, was to further develop Colombians' capacity for counterinsurgency operations
Stan Goff, retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer and former military advisor to Colombia[70]
As part of the "War on Drugs", the U.S. gives hundreds of millions of dollars per year of military aid to Colombia, which is used to combat leftist guerrilla groups such as FARC, who have been involved in narco-trafficking.[citation needed]

As part of its Plan Colombia program, the United States government currently provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year of military aid, training, and equipment to Colombia,[71] to fight left-wing guerrillas such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), which has been accused of being involved in drug trafficking.[citation needed]

Private U.S. corporations have signed contracts to carry out anti-drug activities as part of Plan Colombia. DynCorp, the largest private company involved, was among those contracted by the State Department, while others signed contracts with the Defense Department.[72]

Colombian military personnel have received extensive counterinsurgency training from U.S. military and law enforcement agencies, including the School of Americas (SOA). Author Grace Livingstone has stated that more Colombian SOA graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses than currently known SOA graduates from any other country. All of the commanders of the brigades highlighted in a 2001 Human Rights Watch report on Colombia were graduates of the SOA, including the III brigade in Valle del Cauca, where the 2001 Alto Naya Massacre occurred. US-trained officers have been accused of being directly or indirectly involved in many atrocities during the 1990s, including the Massacre of Trujillo and the 1997 Mapiripán Massacre.[73][74] US military schools and manuals have been training Latin American officers in Colombia and in the region at large since the 1960s, and have taught students to target civilian supporters of the guerrillas.[75]

In 2000, the Clinton administration initially waived all but one of the human rights conditions attached to Plan Colombia, considering such aid as crucial to national security at the time.[76]

The efforts of U.S. and Colombian governments have been criticized for focusing on fighting leftist guerrillas in southern regions without applying enough pressure on right-wing paramilitaries and continuing drug smuggling operations in the north of the country.[77][78] Human Rights Watch, congressional committees and other entities have documented the existence of connections between members of the Colombian military and the AUC, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist group, and that Colombian military personnel have committed human rights abuses which would make them ineligible for U.S. aid under current laws.[citation needed]

In 2010, the Washington Office on Latin America concluded that both Plan Colombia and the Colombian government's security strategy "came at a high cost in lives and resources, only did part of the job, are yielding diminishing returns and have left important institutions weaker."[79]

Mexico is scheduled to receive USD$1.6 billion in equipment and strategic support from the United States through the Mérida Initiative

Merida Initiative

The Mérida Initiative is a security cooperation approved on June 30, 2008, between the United States and the government of Mexico and the countries of Central America, with the aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking and transnational crime. The Mérida Initiative appropriated $1.4 billion in a three year commitment (2008–2010) to the Mexican government for military and law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice and training to strengthen the national justice systems. No weapons are included in the plan.[80][81]

Aerial herbicide application

Plane sprays herbicides over the jungles of Colombia.

The United States regularly sponsors the spraying of large amounts of toxic herbicides such as Roundup over the jungles of Central and South America as part of its drug eradication programs. Many farmers who live below, and have nothing to do with the drug trade, are exposed to dangerous doses of toxic pesticides which cause severe health problems, birth defects, and deaths,[82][83] not to mention destroying their legitimate crops, which for many are their sole source of income.

Environmental consequences resulting from aerial fumigation have been criticized as detrimental to some of the world's most fragile ecosystems;[84] the same aerial fumigation practices are further credited with causing health problems in local populations.[83]

Many Latin American farmers say that the fumigation programs are destroying their food crops, and that they are starving as a result.[85][86]

Public support and opposition

The War on Drugs has been a highly contentious issue since its inception.

A poll on October 2, 2008, found that three in four Americans believed that the War On Drugs was failing.[87]

Critics claim a large number of unnecessary deaths and imprisonments, increased levels of violent crime and gang activity, wasted government funds, violation of civil liberties, lack of public support, illegality of current drug policies, environmental destruction from drug eradication programs, lack of effectiveness, and a number of other issues.[citation needed]

Supporters claim that the War on Drugs is effective, protects families and communities, makes people more productive, social conditions are better as a result of it, and a number of other issues.[citation needed]

Socio-economic effects

Cyclic creation of permanent underclass

1 million people are incarcerated every year in the United States for drug law violations.

Penalties for drug crimes among youth almost always involve permanent or semi-permanent removal from opportunities for education, strip them of voting rights, and later involve creation of criminal records which make employment far more difficult.[88]

Thus, some authors maintain that the War on Drugs has resulted in the creation of a permanent underclass of people who have few educational or job opportunities, often as a result of being punished for drug offenses which in turn have resulted from attempts to earn a living in spite of having no education or job opportunities.[88]

Costs to taxpayers

A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, remainder from other drugs).[89][90]

Low taxation in Central American countries has been credited with weakening the region's response in dealing with drug traffickers. Many cartels, especially Los Zetas have taken advantage of the limited resources of these nations. 2010 tax revenue in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, composed just 13.53% of GDP. As a comparison, in Chile and the U.S., taxes were 18.6% and 26.9% of GDP respectively. Additionally, many Central American tax codes are highly regressive and emphasize indirect, Value Added Taxes (VATs) on good purchased, which disproportionately affect the less fortunate. Essentially, those with more money are taxed pretty much equally on the goods they purchase. However, direct taxes on income are very hard to enforce and in some cases tax evasion is seen as a national pastime.[91]

Impact on growers

The status of coca and coca growers has become an intense political issue in several countries, including Colombia and particularly Bolivia, where the president, Evo Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, has promised to legalise the traditional cultivation and use of coca.[citation needed]

The coca eradication policy has been criticised for its negative impact on the livelihood of coca growers in South America. In many areas of South America the coca leaf has traditionally been chewed and used in tea and for religious, medicinal and nutritional purposes by locals.[86] For this reason many insist that the illegality of traditional coca cultivation is unjust. In many areas the US government and military has forced the eradication of coca without providing for any meaningful alternate crop for farmers, and has additionally destroyed many of their food or market crops, leaving them starving and destitute.[86]

U.S. government involvement in drug trafficking

The CIA, DEA, State Department, and several other U.S. government agencies have been implicated in various drug trafficking enterprises, which were used to fund illegal covert activities in several nations.

CIA and Contra cocaine trafficking

A lawsuit filed in 1986 by two journalists represented by the Christic Institute showed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other parties were engaged in criminal acts, including financing the purchase of arms with the proceeds of cocaine sales.[92]

Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concludes that members of the U.S. State Department "who provided support for the Contras are involved in drug trafficking... and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly receive financial and material assistance from drug traffickers."[93] The report further states that "the Contra drug links include... payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies."

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb published reports in the San Jose Mercury News,[94] and later in his book Dark Alliance,[95] detailing how Contras, with the assistance of the U.S. government had distributed crack cocaine into Los Angeles to fund weapons purchases.

Webb's premise regarding the US Government connection was initially attacked at the time by the corporate media. It is now widely accepted that Webb's main assertion of government "knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers" was correct.[96] In 1998, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz published a two-volume report[97] that while seemingly refuting Webb's claims of knowledge and collaboration in its conclusions did not deny them in its body.[98] Hitz went on to admit CIA improprieties in the affair in testimony to a House congressional committee. Mainstream media has since reversed its position on Webb's work acknowledging his contribution to exposing a scandal it had ignored.

Heroin trafficking operations of the CIA, U.S. Navy and Sicilian Mafia

During World War II, the United States Navy, concerned that strikes and labor disputes in U.S. eastern shipping ports would disrupt wartime logistics, released the mobster Lucky Luciano from prison, and collaborated with him to help the mafia take control of those ports. Labor union members were terrorized and murdered as a means of preventing labor unrest and ensuring smooth shipping of supplies to Europe.[99]

In order to prevent Communist party members from being elected in Italy following World War II, the CIA worked closely with the Sicilian Mafia, protecting them and assisting in their worldwide heroin smuggling operations in exchange for the mafia's assistance with assassinating, torturing, and beating leftist political organizers.[100]

CIA/KMT opium smuggling operations

To provide covert funds for the Kuomintang (KMT) forces loyal to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, who were fighting the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong, the CIA helped the KMT smuggle opium from China and Burma to Bangkok, Thailand by providing airplanes owned by one of their front businesses, Air America.[101][102]


USS Rentz (FFG-46) attempts to put out a fire set by drug smugglers trying to escape and destroy evidence.

In 1986, the US Defense Department funded a two-year study by the RAND Corporation, which found that the use of the armed forces to interdict drugs coming into the United States would have little or no effect on cocaine traffic and might, in fact, raise the profits of cocaine cartels and manufacturers. The 175-page study, "Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction," was prepared by seven researchers, mathematicians and economists at the National Defense Research Institute, a branch of the RAND, and was released in 1988. The study noted that seven prior studies in the past nine years, including one by the Center for Naval Research and the Office of Technology Assessment, had come to similar conclusions. Interdiction efforts, using current armed forces resources, would have almost no effect on cocaine importation into the United States, the report concluded.[103]

During the early to mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study, again by RAND. The Rand Drug Policy Research Center study concluded that $3 billion should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest way to cut drug use, stating that drug treatment is twenty-three times more effective than the supply-side "war on drugs".[104]

The National Research Council Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs published its findings on the efficacy of the drug war. The NRC Committee found that existing studies on efforts to address drug usage and smuggling, from U.S. military operations to eradicate coca fields in Colombia, to domestic drug treatment centers, have all been inconclusive, if the programs have been evaluated at all: "The existing drug-use monitoring systems are strikingly inadequate to support the full range of policy decisions that the nation must make.... It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether and to what extent it is having the desired effect."[105] The study, though not ignored by the press, was ignored by top-level policymakers, leading Committee Chair Charles Manski to conclude, as one observer notes, that "the drug war has no interest in its own results." [106]

During alcohol prohibition, the period from 1920 to 1933, alcohol use initially fell but began to increase as early as 1922. It has been extrapolated that even if prohibition had not been repealed in 1933, alcohol consumption would have quickly surpassed pre-prohibition levels .[107] One argument against the War on Drugs is that it uses similar measures as Prohibition and is no more effective.

In the six years from 2000–2006, the USA spent $4.7 billion on Plan Colombia, an effort to eradicate coca production in Colombia. The main result of this effort was to shift coca production into more remote areas and force other forms of adaptation. The overall acreage cultivated for coca in Colombia at the end of the six years was found to be the same, after the U.S. Drug Czar's office announced a change in measuring methodology in 2005 and included new areas in its surveys.[108] Cultivation in the neighboring countries of Peru and Bolivia actually increased.[109]

Similar lack of efficacy is observed in some other countries pursuing similar[citation needed] policies. In 1994, 28.5% of Canadians reported having consumed illicit drugs in their life; by 2004, that figure had risen to 45%. 73% of the $368 million spent by the Canadian government on targeting illicit drugs in 2004–2005 went toward law enforcement rather than treatment, prevention or harm reduction.[110]

Richard Davenport-Hines, in his book The Pursuit of Oblivion,[111] criticized the efficacy of the War on Drugs by pointing out that

10–15% of illicit heroin and 30% of illicit cocaine is intercepted. Drug traffickers have gross profit margins of up to 300%. At least 75% of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before the traffickers' profits were hurt.

Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru from 1990–2000, described U.S. foreign drug policy as "failed" on grounds that "for 10 years, there has been a considerable sum invested by the Peruvian government and another sum on the part of the American government, and this has not led to a reduction in the supply of coca leaf offered for sale. Rather, in the 10 years from 1980 to 1990, it grew 10-fold."[112]

At least 500 economists, including Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman,[113] George Akerlof and Vernon L. Smith, have noted that reducing the supply of marijuana without reducing the demand causes the price, and hence the profits of marijuana sellers, to go up, according to the laws of supply and demand.[114] The increased profits encourage the producers to produce more drugs despite the risks, providing a theoretical explanation for why attacks on drug supply have failed to have any lasting effect. The aforementioned economists published an open letter to President George W. Bush stating "We urge...the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition... At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition."

The declaration from the World Forum Against Drugs, 2008 state that a balanced policy of drug abuse prevention, education, treatment, law enforcement, research, and supply reduction provides the most effective platform to reduce drug abuse and its associated harms and call on governments to consider demand reduction as one of their first priorities in the fight against drug abuse.[115]

Despite over $7 billion spent annually towards arresting[116] and prosecuting nearly 800,000 people across the country for marijuana offenses in 2005[citation needed](FBI Uniform Crime Reports), the federally-funded Monitoring the Future Survey reports about 85% of high school seniors find marijuana "easy to obtain." That figure has remained virtually unchanged since 1975, never dropping below 82.7% in three decades of national surveys.[117] The Drug Enforcement Administration states that the number of users of marijuana in the U.S. declined between 2000 and 2005,[118][dead link], though usage rates remain higher than they were in the 1990s according to the NSDUH.[119]

ONDCP stated in April 2011 that there has been a 46 percent drop in cocaine use among young adults over the past five years, and a 65 percent drop in the rate of people testing positive for cocaine in the workplace since 2006.[9]


The legality of the War on Drugs has been challenged on six main grounds in the US.

  1. It is argued that drug prohibition, as presently implemented, violates the substantive due process doctrine in that its benefits do not justify the encroachments on rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. On July 27, 2011, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven ruled that Florida's legislation purporting to eliminate intent as an element of the crime of drug possession was unconstitutional. Commentators explained the ruling in terms of due process.
  2. Freedom of religious conscience legally allows some, for example, members of the Native American Church, to use peyote with definite spiritual or religious motives, but the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment implies no requirement for someone to be affiliated to an official church - therefore leaving some ambiguity.
  3. It has been argued that the Commerce Clause means that the power to regulate drug use should be state law not federal law.
  4. The inequity of prosecuting the war on certain drugs but not alcohol or tobacco has also been called into question. Prohibition of alcohol required the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. It has been argued that prohibition of marijuana would also require an amendment to the Constitution, but no such amendment has been made.
  5. It is argued that the reverse burden of proof in drug-possession cases is incompatible with the rule of law in that the power to convict is effectively taken from the courts and given to those who are willing to plant evidence.
  6. Regardless of the legality itself of the war on drugs, there have been accusations of inequality in the prosecution of that war, claiming it disproportionately targets certain regimes and ethnic groups.


Several authors believe that the United States’ federal and state governments have chosen the wrong method to combat the distribution of drugs. By financing domestic law enforcement (which includes activities focused on the criminal justice system, such as the courts, police, and prosecution) in favor of treatment (which includes helping users become drug-free through in-patient and out-patient counseling and other services), the government has focused on punishment rather than prevention. In addition, by making drugs illegal rather than regulating them, the War on Drugs creates a highly profitable black market. Jefferson Fish has edited scholarly collections of articles offering a wide variety of public health based and rights based alternative drug policies.[120][121][122]

In the year 2000, the United States drug-control budget reached 18.4 billion dollars,[123] nearly half of which was spent financing law enforcement while only one sixth was spent on treatment. In the year 2003, 53 percent of the requested drug control budget was for enforcement, 29 percent for treatment, and 18 percent for prevention.[124] The state of New York, in particular, designated 17 percent of its budget towards substance-abuse-related spending. Of that, a mere one percent was put towards prevention, treatment, and research.

In a survey taken by Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration (SAMHSA), it was found that substance abusers that remain in treatment longer are less likely to resume their former drug habits. Of the people that were studied, 66 percent were cocaine users. After experiencing long-term in-patient treatment, only 22 percent returned to the use of cocaine. Treatment had reduced the number of cocaine abusers by two-thirds.[123] By spending the majority of its money on law enforcement, the federal government had underestimated the true value of drug-treatment facilities and their benefit towards reducing the number of addicts in the U.S.

In 2004 the Federal Government issued the National Drug Control Strategy. It supported programs designed to expand treatment options, enhance treatment delivery, and improve treatment outcomes. For example, the Strategy provided SAMHSA with a $100.6 million grant to put towards their Access to Recovery (ATR) initiative. ATR is a program that provides checks to addicts to provide them with the means to acquire clinical treatment. The project’s goals are to expand capacity, support client choice, and increase the array of faith-based and community based providers for clinical treatment and recovery support services.[125] The ATR program will also provide a more flexible array of services based on the individual’s treatment needs.

The 2004 Strategy additionally declared a significant 32 million dollar raise in the Drug Courts Program, which provides drug offenders with alternatives to incarceration. As a substitute for imprisonment, drug courts identify substance-abusing offenders and place them under strict court monitoring and community supervision, as well as provide them with long-term treatment services.[125] According to a report issued by the National Drug Court Institute, drug courts have a wide array of benefits, with only 16.4 percent of the nation’s drug court graduates are rearrested and charged with a felony within one year of completing the program. Additionally, enrolling an addict in a drug court program costs much less than incarcerating one in prison.[126] According to the Bureau of Prisons, the fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in 2006 was $24,440.[127] The annual cost of receiving treatment in a drug court program ranges from $900 to $3,500. Drug courts in New York State alone saved $2.54 million in incarceration costs.[126]

See also

Covert activities and foreign policy
Government agencies and laws
Organizations opposing prohibition
Organizations opposing drug legalization


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