Many are not aware but America is currently fighting in one of its longest wars of all time, and no it is not being fought overseas. American’s have been fighting in this war all across the fifty states daily for the past fifty years. This war is The War on Drugs. Living in New York City many others and I see soldiers of this war everywhere every day. Soldiers of this war can be found sleeping on train stations, bus stops, and in some places, staircases. From public parks to neglected alleyway’s. They can be found close to home literally, like on the corner of your block, or in some cases much worse, figuratively, a loved one. But what about the victims of this war? What happens to them? Well, for a victim there are two final destinations and neither is pleasurable, dead or in jail. These people need to be treated before its too late for them, not incarcerated, not left heading towards their demise . It is time for a different approach to solving Americas drug problem, decriminalization and treatment.
President Richard Nixon declared the start of this civil war during his presidency in 1971 and according to Shawn Carter in Jay Z “The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail”, illustrated by Molly Crabapple, it only got worse after 1986. “In 1986 when I was coming of age Ronald Reagan doubled down on the war on drugs that had been started by Richard Nixon in 1971”. But what exactly is wrong with the war on drugs? Are we not supposed to want to fight against drugs. After all we can all agree that drug abuse and addiction is bad, so what is the issue? The issue is the war on drugs has been going on for half a century but not much has changed. In Jay Z “The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail” Carter says “Rates of drug use are as high as they were when Nixon declared this so called war in 1971”. This statement is backed up by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell’s “Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure” when the narrator says “The US Drug Enforcement Agency has an efficiency rate of less than 1% when it comes to stopping the flow of drugs into the US and inside the US”. This video also gives many reasons as to why the war on drugs is not the solution. The video says the idea behind the war on drugs is “No Drugs = No Problems, so almost all of the efforts in the last few decades have been focused on eradicating the supply of drugs and incarcerating drug trafficker’s”. He then says that these methods ignore the idea of supply and demand. They helplessly attempt to cut off the supply without addressing the demand which does nothing but make suppliers up their prices, make more money, and in turn, want to supply even more. This is exactly what happened with crystal meth in America. According to “Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure” the US tried to stop crystal meth production by “strictly regulating the sale of chemicals used to manufacture the drug”. Although this did put mass producers out of business it caused thousands of small scale operations to start up all over the country and use unregulated chemicals. Then the government tried to regulate even more chemicals which did reduce small scale operations but opened up the doors for Mexican cartels. The cartels saw the demand in the states and took advantage of it by starting up large meth operations to supply the demand and just like that Americas meth problem was right back where it started.
Not only is the war on drugs not doing much to solve Americas drug problem but it is also doing a lot of harm. The war on drugs is causing suffering, trauma, distress, torment in both the lives of drug abusers and their families and loved ones. This war is ruining lives and breaking families apart all throughout the nation and it is especially impacting the lives of people of color. In Tina Rosenberg’s NY Times article “Decriminalizing Drugs: When Treatment Replaces Prison.” Tina says, “Because I am white and middle class, society would view my addict child as a sick person who needed help. If I were African-American and poor, he would most likely be seen as a criminal”. Rosenberg backs this up with data taken from a different NY Times article, “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War On Drugs” that says “nearly ninety percent of new users in the last decade are white…While African-Americans are 12 percent of the country’s drug users, they are 59 percent of people in state prisons on drug offenses”. The fact that the war on drugs is impacting people of color and people of lower social status worse than others is also supported in Jonah E. Bromwich’s article “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic” on the NY Times. Bromwich says “imprisonment, federal mandatory minimum sentences and prohibitive cash bail for drug charges ruin lives and communities, particularly those of Black Americans”. This is also supported by Shawn Carter in Jay Z “The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail” when Carter says “police issue possession citations in Black and Latino neighborhoods at a far higher rate than other neighborhoods… kids at dorms in Columbia where rates of marijuana are equal to or worse than those in the hood are never targeted or ticketed”. He brings up a similar point when speaking on the crack era. He says that even though crack and cocaine are the same drug, selling crack was punished much harsher than selling cocaine and that “The NYPD raided our Brooklyn neighborhoods while Manhattan bankers openly used cocaine with impunity”. All these arrests led to mass incarceration in the US and according to Carter, the prison population grew over 900% because of the war on drugs. He says “when the war on drugs began in 1971 our prison population was two hundred thousand. Today it is over two million”. In Bromwich’s Times article he listed overpopulation in jail’s as one of the many reasons people are in favor of decriminalization.
The war on drugs is not the solution, but what has been proven to be effective is decriminalization and treatment. Other nations have successfully tackled their drug problems with this method. According to Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell’s “Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure” “In the 1980’s Switzerland experienced a public health crisis related to heroin use. HIV rates skyrocketed and street crime became a problem”. To resolve this swiss authorities tried treatment instead of incarceration. Free heroin maintenance centers were opened where addicts would be treated and stabilized. Addicts were provided with clean drugs in controlled doses, clean needles, a place in the centers to shower and sleep, and medical supervision, all for free. After patients were cured they were to be connected with social workers to be aided in finding housing and getting their new lives started right. The narrator says “The results were a sharp drop in drug related crime…HIV infections have dropped drastically, deaths from heroin overdoses have dropped by fifty percent, and drug related street sex work and crime has been reduced enormously”. In “Decriminalizing Drugs: When Treatment Replaces Prison” Tina Rosenberg reported similar outcomes in Portugal. Rosenberg says “At the turn of the century, Portugal was drowning in heroin and had the worst H.I.V. rates among injecting drug users in Europe” and in response to this the government put harsh drug laws in place. This did nothing but send the majority of users to underground markets. After realizing that fighting their drug problem with harsh laws does not work the nation decided to decriminalize drugs which shot overdose deaths down by seventy two percent. HIV rates shot down too just like they did in Switzerland after decriminalizing drugs and treating users. Rosenberg reports “Spread of H.I.V — down by 94 percent”. Some may argue that decriminalization is not a perfect solution and they would be right in saying that. Decriminalization does not help users that do not want to help themselves nor does it directly eliminate the supply but with that being said, Tina Rosenberg’s closing statement in her article comes to mind, “decriminalization is not a good solution to the drug problem. It’s just a better solution than the one we’ve got”.
In conclusion, the war on drugs must come to an end. To bring Americas drug problem closer to its end we need to decriminalize drugs and treat drug abuse as a problem to be helped, not a crime. Bromwich says that “the war on drugs has lost its political allure for many” and this is for good reason. War is not the answer. Sean Carter, Jay Z said it, “45 years later its time to rethink our policies and laws. The war on drugs is an epic fail” and so did Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, “After 40 years of fighting, its time to finally end the war on drugs and move on to something better”. From a parent standpoint Tina Rosenberg said if her son were a drug addict “I would want what any parent would: for his addiction to be treated as a health problem, not a criminal matter”. Albert Einstein once said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane. Let us do something different. Let us decriminalize drugs and treat addicts. Let us take down Americas drug problem. Let us end the war.
Rosenberg, Tina. “Decriminalizing Drugs: When Treatment Replaces Prison.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2015, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/decriminalizing-drugs-when-treatment-replaces-prison/?searchResultPosition=2.
Carter, Sean, et al. “Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004642370/jay-z-the-war-on-drugs-is-an-epic-fail.html.
Seelye, Katharine Q. “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Oct. 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/31/us/heroin-war-on-drugs-parents.html.
Bromwich, Jonah E. “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Nov. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/style/marijuana-legalization-usa.html.
Kurzgesat – In a Nutshell. “Why the War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure – Youtube.” YouTube, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 1 Mar. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJUXLqNHaIC.