Issues surrounding the availability and use of prohibited drugs have remained vital in the United States. Most Americans contend that substance abuse is one of the most serious problems affecting the country. The debate on the legalization of the drugs comes amid opposition for the same because of the negative effects (Baird, 2012). Addiction has become an epidemic in the country while the abuse has led to the destruction of young lives in society. Control and regulations of illegal drugs are necessary to aid in the serious problem of misuse and addiction. Drugs are controlled by criminals whose main objective is to have their customers become addicted and have insatiable needs, which will consequently continue making them rich. These cartels and individuals are not concerned about the wellbeing of the users as long as they support their illegal business ventures. Maintaining the unlawful status of the drugs has proven futile in preventing the dangers of the drugs in society (Vanden Heuvel, 2013). Therefore, to deal with the lingering problem of drugs, it is imperative to legalize them and use proper controls and taxation in their sale and use.
State and federal laws have been in place to control the possession, manufacture, and sale of illegal substances, such as marijuana and methamphetamines. However, the legislation regulating the use of drugs vary from state to state. While the drugs remain illegal at the federal level, the legalization map in the states has been changing. Presently, thirty states and the District of Columbia have made weed legal, either for medical purposes, recreational or both. Together with the District of Columbia, eight states have implemented extensive laws that have made recreational marijuana legal. California is one of the most recent states to allow the drug to be manufactured, distributed, and used without legal restrictions. In some of these states, retail sales of the drugs are already available (Room, 2014). Besides those that have permitted extensive sales and use of the drugs, there are some who are allowed limited access under particular conditions. Louisiana and West Virginia have allowed the use of the drug for medical purposes. Some states have laws that are allowing the possession of weed only by individuals who are sick from certain clinical conditions.
The federal government has maintained the illegal status of the manufacture, distribution, and possession of these substances. Most of the drugs that are prohibited according to the law are those which are particularly used for recreational purposes, apart from tobacco and alcohol. Nevertheless, there are some intoxicants that are permissible and controlled for use for medical purposes (Sacco, 2014). The Attorney General of the United States is the one responsible for the reinforcement of these regulations. The administration has upheld stiffer penalties in place to prevent the use of the illicit substances. The foundation for the law is the efforts to use the war on drugs policy, which stiffened the controls for the substances. The laws have been in place to ensure that every form of drug-related crime is punishable by law.
Federal drug crimes continue to attract mandatory penalties in the efforts to reduce the effect. Beginning from the 1980s, the government has been critical about such crimes, leading to the increase in the number of Americans who were arrested and given different sentences. The drug-related offenses that were typical during the time would lead to compulsory minimum sentences of five to ten years. Even as states such as California passed the law to make marijuana legal, the federal government has not changed the law or even eased the penalties. In fact, the policy changes in the state caused major enforcement and legal tension between the federal and state laws (Sacco, 2014). Regardless, courts have maintained that the states do not have to follow the federal path in terms of legalizing drugs such as cannabis.
The US government has, over the past decade, changed its stand on the drugs towards a more comprehensive strategy. The approach in use is targeted to prevention, treatment, and enforcement. The government is currently using the means for restricting and reducing the accessibility of the illegal substances using “supply reduction.” Domestic drug enforcement remains an important part of the war on drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)’s drug control budget (FY2015) indicated that about 60 percent of the overall drug control expenditure by the federal government went to support the new strategy of reducing the supply of drugs. Another 37 percent was used in the achievement of domestic law enforcement (Sacco, 2014). The government continues to use a lot of the country’s resources in fighting the war. The policy decisions are founded on the continued illegal standing in the view of intoxicating recreational substances.
The war on drugs strategy is one of those which have proven ineffective in dealing with the problem. The policy has been criticized from various circles, including the law enforcement and public arena. The failure of the dogma is driving the need for relaxed US drug policies. Because of the policies implemented during the Reagan and Nixon administration, there have been additional challenges for the state and federal governments. The majority of the people arrested and sentenced for the drug-related offenses are the users. In fact, the prison population has been growing over the years. The country has the most number of people in prison than any nation in the world. Out of the 2.5 million incarcerated persons, half are in for drug-related crimes (Vanden Heuvel, 2013). The problem is made worse by the reality that the drug barons are still free to carry out the illegal business. Clearly, the laws illegalizing the substances have not worked to curtail the unlawful trade.
The America’s war on drugs policy has been challenged for decades based on the continued addiction regardless of the mandatory sentencing. Decriminalization of drugs such as marijuana would probably be better in addressing the public health problem. The initiative is among the reason for the support for such moves as the California’s Proposition 19 legalizing marijuana. There have been calls to use a more appropriate approach to the problem, especially to lower the incentives for the illegal dealers. Given that the efforts, based on the illegal discourse have not worked, probably it is time to try the legal path. Experts argue that the nation is ready for an environment where drugs are legal. Additionally, some countries such as Uruguay have led the way, and the new policy is working (Vanden Heuvel, 2013). Indeed, the time has come for the United States to look at the problem differently.
The continuing debate on legalization of drugs questions whether the decision would solve the epidemic. While legalization of the substances would not eliminate the sale of illegal drugs, it would help to make them available to the public through legal and taxable means. The demand has been on the increase locally and internationally. Besides marijuana, the trend is evident for other drugs such as cocaine. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has given an estimate of 5.7 million Americans who have tried the drug for at least one time (Atuesta & Hewings, 2013). The number has been increasing over the years. The illegality of drugs in the country and others is the basis for ongoing problems affecting the Americans, mostly the young generation. The unlawful status of the substances has not prevented the people from accessing and abusing them.
The fight against drug abuse should move away from prohibition. The current federal policy is the worst failure in American history. The statement is strong, but looking back at the effect; the move has become easy to accept. The policy is the foundation of undue harms and disasters, including the increase in addiction and deaths resulting from drug abuse. It is not surprising considering the words of Abraham Lincoln. The former president of the United States explained the state of affairs in clear terms when he stated:
Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded (cited in Gray, 2012, p. 34).
The quote explains the reason the illegal nature of the drugs has caused more harm than good for the Americans.
From an economic model, it becomes evident that legalizing the drugs would have a positive contribution to the economy. Being illegal, the dealers are also clandestine business people who make billions of dollars from the trade. In fact, this is one of the most common black markets in the country. The model measuring the effect of the illegal nature of the drugs is an econometric or a partial equilibrium one. An example is the use of the general equilibrium in the analysis of the impact of illegal drug market in Bolivia by Gibson and Godoy (1993) (as cited in Atuesta & Hewings, 2013). The income that comes from the illegal trade does not benefit the general economy of the country. Another way of looking at the problem is to consider the loss of welfare because of the negative effects of the illegal trade. Evidently, the part of the population that should be benefiting from the welfare programs have not received any assistance. Instead, their productivity is affected by addiction and other challenges associated with drugs.
The economic repercussions of the war on drugs are the basis for the support for the legalization of drugs in the United States. From the earlier analysis, it becomes evident that the government has been using a lot of resources in the efforts to counter the use of illegal substances. The efforts are put amid the reality that the government does not get any legal income from the business. As long as the business is unlawful, it means that there is a cost of prohibition in terms of the lost taxes. If the drugs are legalized, it means that the government will spend less in controlling its use and it will gain when there is room for taxation (Atuesta & Hewings, 2013). Getting taxes from the business will present the country with a major opportunity for income because of the vast nature of the business. After all, even the prohibited status of the drugs has not stopped the business.
Some countries have already passed the laws to legalize drugs such as marijuana to allow for taxation of cultivation and distribution. Uruguay is one such country which has revealed an increase in the level of public support for the move to legalize the drug (Room, 2014). Even in the United States, there has been a demographic shift on the topic, especially after the move to legalize the drugs in Colorado and Washington (Room, 2014). According to a Gallup report, in 2005, about 58 percent of the people in America are in support of the move. The number indicates the need for Congress to revisit the question of making marijuana legal. The new policy direction would be towards reforming the current ones to include the means for regulating, controlling, and taxing the cultivation and distribution of the substance. The decision would reduce the drug war that weighs heavily on the poor, young and blacks.
Illegalization of drugs has damaged more lives than a legal status would. The current policies have destroyed the low-level drug offenders, while the real criminals are left free. The criminal justice system has used the current federal law to ruin the lives of the aforementioned groups of Americans. The problem is that even when the offenders are arrested and incarcerated, the drugs do not get off the streets because the high-level dealers are never touched. There is never a deficiency of the illegal traders on the streets. At the same time, those who are incarcerated for the violations do not receive adequate treatment and rehabilitation (Gray, 2012). When they reintegrate into the society after serving their sentence or getting out on parole, they come back to the same mistakes. The cycle is repeated showing that the law does not achieve any effect in the end.
Two major challenges have been created in the United States by the illegal dealing of the prohibited substances. Drug harm is the first kind, while the second one is effect of the drug money. The first one is the effect of the addiction, some of which lasts for the lifetime. The other one is the impact to the Americans in the cities, states, and the country. The danger is not caused by the drugs themselves, but by the money that is generated from the illegal trade in the substances. The drug economy is an illegal one, as long as they remain unlawful; it will continue to flourish with more negative than positive gains (Gray, 2012). It is the kind that is causing young Americans to waste away while within the society, in jails, and prisons when they are incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is an economy that is growing each passing day.
Prohibition of drug use in countries such as the United States and other parts of the world has proved to be a challenge. The war on drugs in these cultures has caused more harm to the users than good. Punishing those who use drugs will just force them into a criminal market economy, which is growing every day. The opponents of the move to legalize drugs have cited the possible danger they pose. They indicate the possibility of increased juvenile delinquency and crime, addiction, and even death. Nonetheless, it is plausible to note that the illegal nature of the substances has not prevented the negative effects to society (Fang, 2014). The main threat to legalization is similar to the special interests hindering the reaping of considerable financial benefits from the business. The illegal business continues to benefit the gangs and drug cartels who are gaining from every sector of the economy.
There is no doubt that the war on drugs has failed to achieve the objective of reducing the access and use of illegal substances. It has failed to cut down the number of the addicted persons. Indeed, the initiative has not succeeded in punishing the offenders even with the increase in the numbers of inmates. The situation shows the need for new policies to deal with the problem. However, the efforts to come up with other controls are marred with dead-end, partisan debates over what move will help to save the country from the impact of the addiction. While controversial, the idea of legalization appears to bear the greatest weight as opposed to any efforts to make the laws tougher. Americans are now open to rethinking the war on drugs because the effects are evident (Gray, 2012). A “get tough” approach might have a worse impact on the access and use of the illegal drugs.
An increasing number of Americans within the criminal justice system are in support of the changes in the current policy to legalize drugs. Federal and local officials, judges and police are among those joining the wagon upon experiencing the danger the illegal nature of the substances has caused the people and country. There is evident loss of confidence in the war on drug approach, which has been in force for decades. Since the enforcement of the policy, the situation has deteriorated, which shows that it has failed to rid the nation of drugs (Fang, 2014). The players within the system are citing frustration with the challenging duty of arresting, interdicting, and incarcerating an unending torrent of users, traffickers, and dealers. The problem is made worse by the fact that the policy has not worked in punishing some of the worst crimes that relate to drugs, especially those perpetrated by the members of cartels.
The policy has failed in dealing with the problem because of the emphasis on arresting and incarcerating instead of treatment and rehabilitation. It has also achieved very little in terms of preventing abuse and addiction. The mandatory sentencing laws have not helped Americans or saved the lives of those in danger of the addiction. The argument points to the need to change the policy completely such that there are more effective controls in the production and flow of the drugs into the country (Fang, 2014). Possibly, when the substances are made legal, there will not be any more danger of the young people engaging in crime. In most cases, it is the urge to experiment with the “forbidden fruit” that puts the young people in the danger of drug dealing. When the drugs are made legal, it will be possible to track their sales and prevent the possible sales made to the young people.
The war on drugs has never worked, and it might not be effective in future. It will only be possible to reduce the substance abuse problem in the country if there are new laws to make them lawful and easy to control. With the change, it will be possible to reduce the trafficking by the organized criminal gangs. In fact, when there is a law making them permissible, the law will focus on the illegal dealers which will reduce their accessibility. The solution to the emergence of the criminal activity will be found in curtailing the supply within the black market (Fang, 2014). After all, the drugs will be permitted, which means that the illegal dealings will be tracked and dealt with in accordance with the new law. Taxation of the business will also ensure that the society benefits from the business.
The war on drugs is ongoing and has done more harm than good. The current policies on the selling and manufacturing of drugs have failed to protect the people and the country. The ban on drug use has resulted in wars between authorities and the users in most cities around the world with no end in sight. It has only achieved in ruining the lives of the young people who, besides being addicted, are incarcerated without any hope of recovering. The policy has bred a cycle of crime involving the poor, young and the people of color, while the actual criminals are free to continue causing more damage. A time has come for the policymakers to change the federal policy towards legalization of drugs.
Atuesta, L., & Hewings, G. J. (2013). Economic welfare analysis of the legalization of drugs: A CGE microsimulation model for Colombia. Economic Systems Research, 25(2), 190-211. doi:10.1080/09535314.2012.728130
Gray, J. P. (2012). Drug Prohibition Is the Problem. Tikkun, 27(3), 34-71. doi:10.1215/08879982-1629164
Sacco, L.N. (2014). Drug Enforcement in the United States: History, Policy, and Trends, Congressional Research Service
Fang, L. (2014). The anti-pot lobby’s big bankroll. (Cover story). Nation, 299(3/4), 12-18.
Room, R. (2014). Legalizing a market for cannabis for pleasure: Colorado, Washington, Uruguay and beyond. Addiction, 109(3), 345-351. doi:10.1111/add.12355
Vanden Heuvel, K. (2013, November 18). Waiting to Exhale. Nation. pp. 3-4.