The US government refers to its domestic and international efforts to combat the use and production of illicit narcotics as the War on Drugs.
In 1971, the word became widely known in America after being brought up by US President Richard Nixon in a speech and covered by the media. Nixon had publicly proclaimed a war on drugs two years before this address, emphasizing imprisonment and eradication.
Nixon’s worries about drug usage during the Vietnam War and the proliferation of illicit substances on American streets led to this earlier proclamation.
A $100 million fund was set aside by Richard Nixon to combat drug production and trafficking globally. This budget has grown to $27.8 billion in 2018 and wastes a lot of money that might be put to better use.
The War on Substances has garnered plenty of criticism over the years, with detractors claiming that going to war against something as nebulous as illicit drugs is just as ineffectual as going to war against terrorism.
The early development of drug use in the United States, significant counterdrug activities, and critiques of this approach will all be covered in this article.
Table of Contents
The early development of drugs in the US
Since the 1600s, Americans have used marijuana for medical purposes, but it was officially illegal in the country in 1937. Many opponents of this idea point out that hemp is a less expensive substitute for paper pulp and that firms held by the wealthy would suffer financial losses if hemp were permitted.
Opiates, such as heroin, were commonly used to relieve pain during the Civil War and were brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants as a health tonic. Cocaine gained popularity as a stimulant in the 1800s and was even included in the Coca-Cola drink until 1903.
During World Wars One and Two, amphetamines were utilized by both the Nazis and the Allied forces to combat fatigue and shock.
The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 prohibited selling cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and morphine for any reason, while the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 mandated physicians and pharmacists to appropriately identify medications.
Not only the United States but many other nations also consider 1914 to be the start of prohibition.
To curb the spread of illicit drugs, the United States has provided nations with money, soldiers, and other resources (either overtly or openly) under the pretense of the “War on Drugs.” The significant (and well-known) operations that have occurred during the War on Drugs are listed here.
Operation Intercept (1969): This operation was designed to stop the flow of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. Due to the disruptions and reduced cross-border travel and activity, this operation only lasted 20 days. Border traffic significantly decreased during this period.
Plan Colombia (Continued): As part of this strategy, the United States provides millions of dollars in assistance annually to the Colombian government, which is battling armed organizations that are supported by the sale of cocaine and other illicit substances.
Thanks to this assistance, Colombia is the third-most recipient of US military aid after Israel and Egypt. Critics of this operation are split; some see it as a success, while others think that human rights have been neglected in the battle against these organizations while enabling narcotics to flow freely out of the nation.
Critics contend that Operation Just Cause (1989) demonstrates the hypocrisy of US foreign policy since while Manuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama, was paying US-backed Contra organizations in Nicaragua, the US promised to ignore his drug trafficking and money laundering operations.
During Operation Just Cause, US forces launched a full-scale invasion of the nation, and Noriega eventually gave himself up in 1990.
Arguments Against the War on Drugs
The War on Drugs has drawn criticism from several people and international organizations for various reasons. Critics claim that American political drug policies, which include supporting corrupt countries, are ineffectual and unproductive.
There is no denying that since the 1970s, drug usage, trafficking, and associated crime have dramatically grown. This is because the War on Drugs’ strategies prioritizes nonviolent criminals (users) above violent drug traffickers.
The overcriminalization of people in the War on Drugs has also drawn criticism. One instance of this is the number of people detained for possessing drugs.
In the United States, possession charges—most often for marijuana possession—represent 82 percent of all drug-related arrests. The United States astronomically high imprisonment rate is directly attributable to the War on Drugs.
Finally, many detractors worry that the drug conflicts and brutal bloodshed that are now occurring in Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines are being fueled by the US war on drugs. These nations have witnessed some of the most brutal drug-related bloodsheds our planet has ever seen.
In both the United States and Canada, several states have started legalizing marijuana or already have. As a result, fewer nonviolent offenders will be arrested, and the authorities will concentrate their efforts on illegal substances rather than helpful ones.
Today, many North American cities continue to struggle significantly with using hard narcotics like cocaine and heroin.
Anyone who has looked at the imprisonment rates for nonviolent offenders, the growth of illegal substances throughout North America, and the subpar methods employed by police to enforce numerous out-of-date drug laws views the War on Drugs, which has been waging for more than 40 years, as a colossal failure.