Starting early as 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, the war on drugs has been waging on American soil for more than 40 years. Since then, there have been a number of laws, acts and initiatives which have attempted to control and prohibit the consumption, manufacture and distribution of what many countries agree to be dangerous psychoactive narcotics. The term “war on drugs” was first used by former-President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, but has since been deemed “counter-productive” by President Barack Obama who no longer uses the phrase.
Between 1918 and 1920, the 18th amendment prohibiting the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol for consumption was certified in the United States. The U.S. then passed the National Prohibition Act to enforce the laws of the 18th amendment. Predictably, this merely drove the alcohol industry under ground resulting in an escalation of crime and corruption. The prohibition of alcohol was eventually repealed in 1933.
In 1937, the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act was passed and put a levy on the sale of cannabis on a national scale. In 1970, a new act was passed including the Controlled Substance Act. The C.S.A., a set of laws, is the foundation even to this day for the categorization of illegal drugs, basing them on their medicinal use and risk of addiction. Since the 1970s, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has been replaced by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military have been involved in the drug enforcement; and a national anti-drug media campaign directed at youth was launched.
Despite the bevy of anti-drug initiatives, the effectiveness of the war on drugs has come into question. In 2011, The Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report titled The War on Drugs, a report that criticizes the “criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.” It claimed that the war on drugs “has failed” with “devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
Using this report as a primary source — in addition to reports from the U.S. Department of Justice and Trans-Border Institute — we’re bringing you 6 facts about the so called War on Drugs that are at best counterintuitive and almost certainly shocking.
6. Annual U.S. Spending on the War on Drugs: $51 Billion
Like any war, the one on drugs isn’t cheap. It requires thousands of men and women in many areas of government, law enforcement, scientific research and academia to uphold, maintain and study the laws in place. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the annual budget for drug spending “aimed at reducing drug use” reaches a little over $15 billion. However, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates that the U.S. spends closer to $51 billion on the war on drugs for things such as enforcement, military operations, policing, legislation and incarcerations. But where does all of this funding come from? If you’re thinking the majority of it comes from the taxes paid by the average law-abiding American citizen, you would be right. Hoping that the hard-earned money was spent effectively? Read on…
5. People Arrested Annually on Nonviolent Drug Charges: 1.53 Million
Not everyone involved in the drugs trade is necessarily violent. Many people involved in the industry are consumers, also known as small-scale dealers or the proverbial term well-known in movies and television: “little fish.” For any organized drug trade, there are the workers at the very bottom of the hierarchy. They are usually the most visible and therefore the easiest to arrest. Many of them are reduced to selling on the streets due to a multitude of socio economic causes and stressors. Many of those arrested are incarcerated under the same or similar conditions as those of violent and organized drug offenders, yet there is little evidence that this high rate of incarceration has any mitigating effect on the drugs trade. It’s bad, but it could be worse: In countries other than America, some non-violent offenders are even subject to the death penalty.
4. People Arrested Annually for Breaking Cannabis Law: 757,969
Cannabis is one of the most controversial drugs in America’s history. It’s been the subject of tremendous speculation and research into its potential medicinal used and its harmful effects. It’s also one of the most widely used drugs in America. In 10 years, there has been an 8% increase in cannabis use from 147 million people to 160 million. From cannabis alone, almost 758 thousand people have been arrested, many of whom have also been incarcerated. These numbers include both consumers and traffickers. But does the criminalization of cannabis actually decrease its use? According to a study comparing Amsterdam’s decriminalization and San Francisco’s criminalization of cannabis, nothing was found that would indicate criminalization decreases its use, or that decriminalization increases use. Indeed, recent figures show that since Colorado legalised cannabis this year (the first state to do so) crime rates have actually dropped. It’s too soon, yet, to attribute the cannabis policies to this drop, but it’s a telling early statistic.
3. Cannabis Law Violators that were Arrested Only for Possession: 87%
Out of more than 700 thousand people arrested only for violations of cannabis law, 87% were not explicitly involved in the manufacture or transportation of the drug, and were arrested only for its possession. In order to be arrested for trafficking, it must be proved that the person has an intent to sell. However, if the amount of the drug on the person is so low that no intent to sell can be established, they can be arrested for possession. But does arresting, and therefore punishing, offenders for possession have a meaningful effect on the amount of the drug available or its use? The Report of the Cannabis Commission by the Beckley Institute compared the use of cannabis in states that decriminalized it and states that maintained their structures of punishment and found that there was no decrease of cannabis use in states that had decriminalization, nor did positive attitudes toward cannabis increase as a result.
2. People Killed in Mexico’s Drug War Since 2006: 125 000
Many illegal drugs are imported into the United States from Mexican drug cartels and organized crime syndicates. As protection is increased by national drug enforcement agencies and anti-drug trafficking organizations, it has been warned that such increases lead to greater and more prevalent violence from traffickers, and therefore more deaths. Based on numerous studies conducted in Canada, Australia, and Europe, 91% concluded that stricter or great enforcement in fact does more to increase than decrease violent crimes. But the violence is not isolated between enforcement agencies and traffickers; a great deal also occurs between the drug traffickers themselves as they fight for territory and the right to trade certain drugs. In Mexico alone, 70 000 people have been killed in the war on drugs since 2006.
1. Annual Taxes Drugs Would Yield if Legalized: $46.7 Billion
Imagine that drugs are no longer illegal. Now free to be exploited by private enterprise and sold in stores to any consumer who can afford them, drug products would be subject to a government tax, no different than a bottle of aspirin or an over-the-counter cough medication. After all, the underlying philosophy of almost any business is “supply and demand.”
If the criminal penalties on drugs were lifted, and the moral grounds against its use eventually waned, it might be a safe bet that corporations everywhere would jump at the chance to sell them for a tidy profit. Consumers would no longer be afraid to indulge in their favourite drug, as many already do in nations that have decriminalized the purchase of cannabis for medical use. With all of those drug sales subject to government tax, Uncle Sam would take in more than $46 billion in revenue, almost recouping the costs of their estimated total spending on the war on drugs, and more than doubling their $15 billion budget “aimed at reducing drug use.” Perhaps best of all in this hypothetical scenario, drug lords would be penniless and might even be forced to go legitimate, therefore eradicating drug crime altogether.
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