Why the War on Drugs has Failed

Most US citizens know about the War on Terror, which was a term coined by George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks on 9/11; but, many do not know about the other war the US has been fighting even longer: the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was declared by Richard Nixon in 1971 and further pushed by the Reagan Administration whom drastically expanded the drug war. From 1980-1997, the number of people in prison or jail for non-violent drug offenses increased from 50,000 to 400,000 (Source). That is an unprecedented increase in the incarceration rate for non-violent drug offenses in just 17 years and that is exactly why the drug war needs to come to an end. The case that the War on Drugs is a failure has been building for the past few years with the government’s increased attention to Criminal Justice reform along with the de-criminalization of marijuana in various sections of the US. The money spent and lives ruined by the drug war far outweigh the perceived good that the war has generated.

The average amount spent on the drug war annually amounts to 51 billion dollars (Source). Imagine what that money could be going to if it was not being distributed to drug agencies as they “fight” the ongoing war against drug use and sales. Our education could be immensely improved and our infrastructure could be rebuilt within the blink of an eye. Also, with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the US has incarcerated approximately 1 in every 111 adults. This comes as a direct result of the drug war. Another interesting fact on the drug war is despite minorities and whites using and selling drugs at the same rate, blacks and latinos account for 57% of people incarcerated for drug offenses (Source). Therefore, not only is the government wasting money on the drug war, they have completely made minorities an easy target by having the highest prison and jail population in the world.

The failure of the drug war is further expressed by the de-criminalization of marijuana. To this date, 23 states and Washington DC have medical marijuana along with 4 states recreationally legalizing the substance within the US. Not only have US states legalized marijuana in some form but it is estimated if California legalized marijuana while taxing and regulating it, the sale of marijuana would generate 1.4 billion dollars for the state (Source). The numbers speak for themselves: the War on Drugs has failed the American people. Instead of getting drugs off the street, minorities are more likely to be arrested for a drug crime despite the same usage and sale rate as whites. Moreover, the US has become the incarceration capital of the world while spending billion of dollars annually on the drug war; and for what? States have taken it upon themselves to de-criminalize and legalize marijuana, so why are we still putting people in prison or jail if marijuana is medically shown to have important benefits? The drug war, specifically on marijuana, needs to be stopped so we can allocate our resources to more important matters and send a message that all drugs are not bad for people.

Contributed by R.A.


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