Many illicit drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana, and opium, and other psychedelics, have long been used by people for medical, spiritual, and recreational purposes. However, some have been made illegal in the last century, while others have remained legal, raising the question of why the disparities exist. As a result, despite the negative impact of drugs on society, the war on drugs has been a war on minorities rather than drugs since its conception, albeit by drugs. President Richard Nixon, the former president of the United States of America, popularized the word “war on drugs.” Nixon initiated the war on drugs by increasing the budget for the drug enforcement agencies as well as the presence of the agencies. The war on drugs has been driven by evil-motive rather than the health gains of the people of the USA.
The War on Drugs: A Witch Hunt
Many of the illegal substances like cocaine, marijuana, and opium as well other psychedelics have been used by people for a long time for medical, spiritual as well as pleasure reasons. However, in the last century, some have been made illegal, while other have remained legal, raising the question why the discrepancies. Are the decisions based on any scientific research or is it based on the people using the particular drugs? The answer can be found in a study of the policies prohibiting the use and the trafficking the drugs. The first laws against the use of opium were established in the 1870s to cut the Chinese immigrants off from the drug. Anti-cocaine laws came into action in early 1900. The laws targeted the African Americans in the south. The first laws against the use of bhang in the south west as well as the Midwest were enacted between 1910 and the 1920s. The anti-marijuana laws targeted the Mexican immigrants and the Latinos in the United States of America (Drug Policy Alliance. 2017). Today, the African Americans and the Latinos still face different thresholds of the laws regarding drug abuse and possession. Therefore, despite the adverse effects of drugs on the societies, the war on drugs since its inception has been a war on the minorities rather than the drugs, albeit through the drugs.
Before discussing why the war on drugs was designed to destabilize the minorities rather than in good faith, it is important to acknowledge the adverse effects of drugs on the society. It is the negative effects and the preference of particular drugs by certain ethnic groups that led to the drugs being used to fight the minorities. Different drugs have different effects. Nevertheless, some are more harmful than others while others have medical purposes that may be important in saving lives if the restrictions are removed. Drugs like cocaine and heroin have been connected to the deaths of abusers who overdose on them. Marijuana too is lethal when taken in excess. Also, the drugs make the abusers less productive in their societies leading to the suffering of their family members. Drugs also result in the increment if criminal activities (Baum, 2016). Most of the addicts and peddlers of drugs need to engage in illegal activities to get money to use the drugs because the adductions make them dependent on drugs. Apart from the direct effects of the drugs, they also cause psychological trauma to the abusers and lead to suicide and other ills such as prostitution. Therefore, it is a fact that drugs are bad. However, not all drugs are similarly bad. In fact, some drugs like marijuana have been found to be beneficial to patients with chronic illness (Drug Policy Alliance. 2017). Marijuana is a good painkiller and is therefore used by the patients of cancer.
The use of the term war on drugs was made popular by the former president of the United States of America President Richard Nixon. Nixon initiated the war on drugs by increasing the budget for the drug enforcement agencies as well as the presence of the agencies. The president also advocated and pushed the legislators for laws that led to mandatory sentences as well as no-knock warrants. The Nixon administration popularized the concept in the 1970s and even established the infamous Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973 to help combat the use of drugs in the country (Drug Policy Alliance. 2017). According to the Drug Policy Alliance (2017), an organization that studies the policies put in place against substance abuse in the USA, the drugs became connected with the rebellion of youths, political resistance and social growth in the 1960s. Therefore, the government reduced its concentration on the research about the safety of the drugs as well as the efficacy and introduced the laws to fight the use of the drugs. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, John Ehrlichman, the man who had the chief aide to President Nixon in the late 1960s during his presidential campaigns and in the early 1970s when the war on drugs was made popular, the war on drugs was about fighting the black people (Baum, 2016). The aide said that the campaign team of the president realized that there were two primary enemies of the Nixons ambitions. The first group was the antiwar left and the second group included the black people in the United States of America. The team realized that making the hippies and the blacks to be associated with the drugs and then creating laws to make the drugs criminal would destabilize the communities.
Among the proves that the war on drugs has been driven by evil-motive rather than the health gains of the people of the USA is the fact that the government of President Nixon ignored the recommendations named by the Shafer Commission in 1972 (The United States. Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, & Shafer, 1972). According to the commission, even though the drug was found to be hazardous, it was not a cause of social unrest. They commissioners found that the users of marijuana were not involved in the violence as the government had alleged earlier. The decisions by President Nixon concerning Marijuana were not informed by research but prejudice. The fact is even more apparent were one considers the fact that the administration had put marijuana on the schedule 1 drugs before it was removed (Miron, 2007). Therefore, it is either that the government did not know what it was doing or it had more reasons for criminalizing some drugs rather than their serious effects.
The governments also implemented laws about drugs differently against the different ethnicities. A good example is the differentiation of the sentences for possession and use of powder cocaine and crack cocaine by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act that was passed in 1986 (Drug Policy Alliance, 2017). Crack cocaine was common among the African Americans who could not afford the powder cocaine, and therefore they used it by mixing with water and kitchen soda. Despite the fact that crack cocaine contained fewer concentrations of the active substance than the powdered cocaine, the punishment for possession of crack cocaine were made stricter than having the pure form of the drug. Also, President Carter decriminalized marijuana as he had promised in his campaign for the presidency. Carter decriminalized the drug after several states had decriminalized the possession of the drug between 1973 and 1977 after the recommendations of the commission led by Shafer. Nevertheless, the effects of decriminalizing marijuana were almost not felt because of the way in which the agencies associated the drugs with the minority ethnic groups. Such open discriminations have made the war on drugs legally discriminative and therefore a war on the users rather than the drugs.
The racial and ethnic discrimination masked as the war on drugs is evident from the ethnic disparities in the prisons of the USA. The massive incarceration that was made famous by the presidency of Richard Nixon from the early seventies have contributed massively to the jail overcrowding in the USA and failed to abolish the use of drugs in the country. Since 1970, the race of imprisonment of people in the USA has increased by up to 100 percent. According to a report by the Washington Post, about 1.5 million people have apprehended annually, and half are imprisoned (Dufton, 2012). The majority of the people are black Americans followed by the Latin Americans. Such is neither economic nor fair. The government spends a lot of money to keep the discriminatory war in place by funding the Drug Enforcement Agency which is the living embodiment of the discriminatory era of Nixons leadership and locking more than 800000 drug addicts (Miron, 2007). The addicts would have been treated better by placing them in rehabilitating centers rather than locking them up in prisons that cost the tax.
Therefore, even though the government should control the use of harmful substances in the United States of America, it should conduct its duties fairly and without encouraging discrimination against the minorities. The laws that are put in place should be designed to fight the use of drugs in the country rather than to punish the societies from which addicts emanate. Also, the use of incarceration as the primary method of combating the use of drugs is ineffective as it leads to the targeting of the minorities as well as crowding of the prisons. Therefore, even though the recent governments have reduced the hypocrisy of the war on drugs, the government should do more to reduce the problem and at the same time benefit the minorities.
Baum, D. (2016, April). Legalize It All: How to win the War on Drugs. Retrieved from Harpers: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/
Drug Policy Alliance. (2017). Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved from A Brief History of the Drug War: http://www.drugpolicy.org/facts/new-solutions-drug-policy/brief-history-drug-war-0
Dufton, E. (March 26, 2012). The War on Drugs: How President Nixon Tied Addiction to Crime. The Atlantic. Retrieved October 23, 2016
Miron, A. (September 17, 2007). Costs of Marijuana Prohibition: Economic Analysis. Marijuana Policy Project. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
The United States. Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, & Shafer, R. P. (1972). Marihuana, a Signal of Misunderstanding; First Report of the Commission, March 1972. US Government Printing Office.