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Wikipedia: War on Drugs
War on Drugs
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The expression "War on Drugs" refers to a governmental program, or series of programs, intended to suppress the consumption of certain recreational drugs. The term was first used by Richard Nixon in 1972 to describe the United States' programs. Later, President Reagan added the position of drug czar to the Cabinet. Equivalent terms are now used in many other countries as well. There is no known example of such policies successfully eradicating drug use or addiction.

Most countries have a very similar set of prohibited drugs. Some exceptions exist; most notably, Islamic countries mostly prohibit the use of alcohol, while most other states allow at least adults to purchase and consume alcohol. All countries regulate the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of some or all drugs, such as by using a prescription system. Only certain drugs are banned with a "blanket prohibition" against all use. However, the prohibited drugs generally continue to be available through the illegal drug trade. Many countries allow a certain amount of personal use of certain drugs, but not sale or manufacture. Some also set a specific amount of a particular drug, above which is ipso jure considered to be evidence of trafficking or sale of the drug.

The War on Drugs utilizes several techniques to achieve its goal of eliminating recreational drug use:

  • specialized law enforcement agencies, officers and techniques
  • information campaigns to educate the public on the real or perceived dangers of recreational drug use
  • streamlined enforcement and evidence-gathering procedures

Legal Provisions in Various Countries

The following frequently used drugs are prohibited or otherwise regulated for recreational use in most countries:
Note: The degree of prohibition against the above drugs varies in many countries; cannabis and hashish, for example, are sometimes legal for personal use, though not sale.

Alcohol possession and consumption by adults is banned only in Islamic countries. The United States banned alcohol in the early part of the 20th century; this was called Prohibition. Tobacco is not illegal for adults in any country.

In countries where alcohol and tobacco are legal, certain measures are frequently undertaken to discourage use of these drugs. For example, packages of alcohol and tobacco sometimes communicate warnings directed towards the consumer, communicating the potential risks of partaking in the use of the substance. These drugs also frequently have special sin taxes associated with the purchase thereof, in order to recoup the losses associated with public funding for the health problems the use causes in long-term users. Restrictions on advertising also exist in many countries, and often a state holds a monopoly on manufacture, distribution, marketing and/or the sale of these drugs.

In the United States, there is considerable legal debate about the impact these laws have had on Americans' civil rights. Critics claim that the War on Drugs has lowered the evidentiary burden required for a legal search of a suspect's dwelling or vehicle, or to intercept a suspect's communications. However, many of the searches that result in drug arrests are often "consent searches" where an arresting officer does not have probable cause or a warrant, but has asked for and received permission to search a person or their property.

Sometimes, crimes not directly related to drug use and sale are prohibited. For example, the United States recently brought charges against club owners for maintaining a place of business where a) Ecstacy is known to be frequently consumed; b) paraphernalia associated with the use of Ecstacy is sold and/or widely tolerated (such as glow sticks and pacifiers); and c) "chill-out rooms" are created, where Ecstacy users can cool down (Ecstasy raises the user's blood temperature). These are being challenged in court by organizations such as the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.

Many countries allow the use of undercover law enforcement officers solely or primarily for the enforcement of laws against recreational use of certain drugs. Many of these officers are allowed to commit crimes if it is necessary to maintain the secrecy of the investigation, or in order to collect adequate evidence for a conviction. Some people have criticized this practice as failing to ensure equality under the law because it grants police officers the right to commit crimes that no other citizen could commit without potential consequences.

The War on Drugs has stimulated the creation of international law enforcement agencies (such as Interpol), mostly in Western countries. This has occurred because a large volume of illicit drugs come from Third-World countries.

History of Recreational Drug Laws in the United States

The first law outright prohibiting the use of a specific drug was a San Francisco, California ordinance which banned the smoking of opium in opium dens in 1875. The inspiration was "many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the [Chinese] opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise." The primary cause of the movement for the law was a moral panic based on a fear of Chinese immigrants and other railroad workers seducing white women with the drug. This was followed by other laws throughout the country, and federal laws which barred Chinese people from trafficking in opium. Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The dividing line was usually the manner in which the drug was ingested. Chinese immigrants smoked it, while it was included in various kinds of (generally liquid) medicines for white people. The laws were aimed at smoking opium, but not otherwise ingesting it. 1 As a result of this discrepancy, modern commentators believe that these laws were racist in origin and intent.

Cocaine was prohibited in the first part of the 20th century. Newspapers used terms like "Negro Cocaine Fiends" and "Cocainized Niggers" to drive up sales, causing a nationwide panic about the rape of white women by black men, high on cocaine. Many police forces changed from a .32 caliber to a .38 caliber pistol because the smaller gun was supposedly unable to kill black men when they were high on cocaine.

This was followed by the Harrison Act, which required sellers of opiates and cocaine to get a license (which were usually only distributed to white people). The supporters of the Harrison Act did not support blanket prohibition of the drugs involved 1. This is also true of the later Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Soon, however, the people who were allowed to issue the licenses did not do so, effectively banning the drugs.

The American judicial system did not initially accept drug prohibition. Prosecutors argued that possessing drugs was a tax violation, as no legal licenses to sell drugs were in existence; hence, a person possessing drugs must have purchased them from an unlicensed source. After some wrangling, this was accepted as federal jurisdiction under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

1937 saw the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Harry Anslinger (Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner) testified in hearings on the subject that the hemp plant needed to be banned because it had a violent "effect on the degenerate races". This specifically referred to Mexican immigrants who had entered the country, seeking jobs during the Great Depression. The law passed quickly and with little debate. The American Medical Association (AMA) protested the law soon after, both on the grounds of actual disagreement with the law and the supporters' lies on the subject; Anslinger and others had claimed the AMA had vocalized support when, in fact, the opposite was true.

Practical actions

The War on Drugs involves action taken against three groups of criminals:

A War on Drugs is usually run like a modern war with police and other law enforcement officers instead of military personnel. The apparatus prepared for the War is ordinarily organized to face guerrilla situations, armed attacks or counter-attacks and bombings. These tactics include espionage, as undercover agents (spies) are used to infiltrate drug use and trafficking circles.

Investigation on drug trafficking often begins with the recording of unusually frequent deaths by overdose, monitoring financial flows of suspected trafficants, or by finding concrete elements while inspecting for other purposes. For example, a person pulled over for traffic violations may have illicit drugs in his or her vehicle, thus leading to an arrest and/or investigation of the source of the materials. Most investigations into trafficking or manufacturing are fruitless, and casual users remain at a greater risk of arrest, conviction and imprisonment than others.

Arguments for the War on Drugs, in whole or in part

  • A state cannot be involved with the distribution of substances the use of which is considered immoral by relevant lots of the population. A substance which is fought because it is unhealthy cannot be produced and distributed with the help of the state, because the goal of the state is to protect citizens' health and not to expose them to risk.
  • Recreational use of certain drugs is unhealthy and dangerous for the user's body. Hence, it should be illegal.
  • Drugs are addictive 1. Hence, they rob the user of free will in the same sense that slavery does. A drug user can not make an informed and rational decision to continue using drugs because the use of the drug eliminates that user's ability to think logically.
    • Drug users exercised free will when they chose to use drugs; a person has the right to give up his or her own freedom.
    • No drug exists which eliminates free will. It is possible to quit using any drug.
    • Many banned drugs are not addictive, or are significantly less deleterious to free will than legal alcohol or tobacco. Severe physiological addiction has been demonstrated for tobacco (stronger than cocaine), but no strong physiological addiction has been shown for marijuana 1.
  • If currently illegal drugs were legalized, dealers would invent new, more dangerous and addictive drugs in order to maintain their profit flow.
    • Any drug with a market can be legalized for personal use and distributed through lawful channels. This may occur a few times, but dealers will quickly learn that they can only waste time and money inventing something that lawful businesses will sell at cheaper prices.
  • Drug use is dangerous to persons besides the user, in the rise of health care costs, violence associated with the use of drugs (1, 2), neglect of children by drug-addicted parents, and other third party effects. Drugs should remain illegal to minimize these effects of drug use.
    • Drug legalization would reduce health care costs overall by reducing the probability of overdoses and accidental ingestion of an unintended drug through standardization of drug purity by state-sponsored production and sale. In addition, there is no evidence of prohibition significantly reducing the use of drugs 1, 2; so legalizing them would not raise health care costs significantly.
    • The violence associated with the use of drugs would be greatly decreased if the price was lower, as would certainly happen upon legalization. Most drug-related crime is caused by users attempting to find funding to buy drugs at artificially inflated prices (caused by prohibition raising the risk and cost of creation, transport and sale of drugs). 1
    • There is no clear and obvious third party harm. All examples of such are caused by related activities that can be illegal without blanket prohibition. For example, driving while intoxicated is illegal, while drinking alcohol without driving is not. The harm caused to children by their parents' excessive drug use is criminal insofar as it constitutes child abuse through neglect; drug-specific laws are unneeded. By this logic, alcohol, TV, video games, shopping, cleaning, sex, reading and writing, and virtually any hobby or occupation should be prohibited as some parents may neglect their children in order to focus on having sex, running a business, or building model trains.
  • If drugs were legalized, the companies that manufacture and market them would be sued, as Big Tobacco has been sued in the United States.
    • Big Tobacco was sued because the companies involved lied and misrepresented the facts in order to present their product as safe when they knew it was not. It does not have to be this way. Legalization of drugs does not mean that there will be national marketing campaigns encouraging heroin use, as some critics have claimed. Marketing illegal drugs can be totally prohibited, or regulated in varying degrees while not decreasing availability for those who desire to use the drugs.
  • The use of soft drugs, such as marijuana, leads to the use of hard drugs (the Gateway Theory).
    • No peer-reviewed scientific study has ever concluded this; many have concluded that the Gateway Theory is clearly untrue, and some have even concluded that marijuana use helps prevent the use of other drugs. 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Drug use negatively impacts the economy in the form of users missing work and doing shoddy work.
    • The War on Drugs has not been shown to reduce drug use 1, 2. Hence, legalization would have no effect on this.
    • If a worker does shoddy work, (s)he can be fired.
  • If currently illegal drugs are legalized, the Food and Drug Administration will have to be shut down, meaning that all health and safety restrictions on foods and drugs will be eliminated. Massive epidemics of diseases, overdoses and accidental drug interactions will occur. 1
    • This is a meaningless scare tactic with no basis in reality. Legalization does not mean a lack of regulation. Cigarettes come with warnings. Alcoholic beverages are clearly marked with the amount of alcohol. Currently, legal drugs contain a listing of all active and inactive ingredients. Illegal drugs could only be sold legally with ingredients lists, warnings, and purity levels clearly marked. There is no legal or moral reason the Food and Drug Administration would have to be shut down.

Arguments against the War on Drugs, in whole or in part

  • If the goal of a state is to protect citizens' health and well-being, drugs should be legalized so that their purity can be monitored (see harm reduction). The health of citizens is not best served by prohibiting drugs; this only increases risk and harm, and reduces health and well-being.
    • Drug use is a victimless crime and hence, should be legal.
      • Victimless crimes should be illegal if they are immoral. Drug use is immoral. Hence, drug use should be illegal.
        • That drug use is immoral can only be based off one set of moral beliefs. For example, it is discriminatory to claim that Judeo-Christian abstinence from intoxication is the correct set of moral beliefs, whereas Native American historic and religious use of peyote 1, 2 and psilocybin 1, is not the correct set of moral beliefs.
  • Drug use is a victimless crime and hence, is unenforceable: without a victim to report the occurrence of a crime, law enforcement personnel can not know of every individual instance of the performance of a crime; they are not able to convict the perpetrators of the crimes that they do not know occurred. Therefore, drug use should be legal so that the deleterious effects can be minimized (see harm reduction). 1
    • The fact that the laws can not be fully enforced does not negate the usefulness of such laws. Laws against murder, rape and other crimes will probably never reach a 100% conviction rate either. The War on Drugs has substantially reduced drug use 1, 2 and legalizing drugs would increase drug use 1.
      • Legalizing murder, rape or other crimes would not enable society to minimize the deleterious effects in other ways. This is not true with drug use (see harm reduction).
      • It is not true that the War on Drugs has substantially reduced drug use or availability 1, 2, 3.
    • It is possible to create a drug free society.
      • There are no examples of cultures that included the use of intoxicants and then successfully eliminated the use thereof. There is no indication of a drug free society being possible in the future.
  • The War on Drugs increases the profit margin in the sale of drugs 1, hence, legalization will decrease organized and disorganized crime 1.
  • The use of recreational drugs has no clear and obvious harmful effect on anyone besides the user (who chooses to accept those risks). The War on Drugs, on the other hand, places non-users' friends and loved ones in jail 1. Hence, the War on Drugs does have clear and obvious harmful effects on third parties.
    • Drug use has harmful effects on third party individuals 1, such as babies born addicted to drugs 1, or traffic accidents caused by intoxication 1, 2.
      • These are all caused by actions other than the ingestion of drugs, such as the use of drugs while pregnant or driving. One can, and usually does, use drugs when neither pregnant nor driving. It is worth noting that the use of cocaine has not been definitively linked to birth defects or mental retardation, but the use of nicotine has 1 as has the use of alcohol. Marijuana has also not been definitively linked to birth defects or mental retardation 1, nor to substantially increased risks of traffic accidents 1, 2.
  • Other countries which have experimented with varying degrees of legalization have had positive results 1.
    • No, they have not.1
  • The War on Drugs is hypocritical because only certain drugs are targeted. Other drugs, such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are legal (in most parts of the world), yet cause many more problems than currently illegal drugs. Even aspirin is, in many ways, more dangerous than currently illegal drugs. (See here or here for death statistics and here or here for addiction statistics)
    • The legalization of one drug does not mean that all drugs should be legalized.
    • Alcohol 1, caffeine 1 and tobacco 1, 2 use have been accepted parts of social interaction for centuries, while currently illegal drugs have not.
      • This is is simply not true. Cannabis has been socially accepted in many places for millennia 1, 2, 3, 4. Hallucinogens, such as peyote 1, 2 and psilocybin 1, 2, have been part of religious ceremonies in the Americas and elsewhere for thousands of years. Coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived) are still chewed by South American natives with no apparent physiological or psychological addiction or other deleterious effects 1, 2. Opium has also been used for at least two thousand years 1. Cannabis, peyote, psilocybin and coca have probably been used longer than alcohol, as they can be easily harvested and immediately ingested; alcohol requires some knowledge of fermentation, time and patience. The only drugs which do not have a long history of use were only recently invented, such as amphetamines, LSD and Ecstacy. There are, however, natural drugs similar to these (such as LSA, MDA) which have been used for a long time.
    • Aspirin (and other currently legal drugs) can have positive effects, hence the dangers are warranted.
      • Drugs such as marijuana (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and counterpoint: 1, 2), LSD and other hallucinogens 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, heroin (counterpoint: 1) and Ecstacy 1 may also have positive effects if used under certain circumstances. That this is true is not currently known for certain, primarily because drug prohibition has hindered research on the subject 1.
  • The prohibition against drug use has boosted black market research on finding new, more powerful drugs that can be transported easier and more safely than existing ones. Because they are more powerful, a smaller amount can be profitable, as well as more dangerous and addictive than older drugs. Hence, drug prohibition has fueled the refinement of heroin (from much less addictive precursors) and the invention of crack cocaine (a cheaper, more addictive and more dangerous derivative of cocaine).
    • A large corporation could do this much more effectively if recreational drugs were legalized.
      • A governmental agency (instead of private business) could manufacture and sell drugs, with a strict prohibition against developing new ones.
      • If a corporation did so, it could be required to prove relative safety and clearly mark all packages with danger warnings. It is much easier to force a few corporations to responsibly develop and market drugs than a vast, underground system of individual drug dealers who have no reason not to maximize profits at all costs, as there is no legal method of developing recreational drugs.
  • The War on Drugs leads to police corruption, by injecting huge profits into the black market. This inevitably leads to bribery 1, 2.
    • We should hire more moral police officers.
      • The huge profits of the illegal drug market make this impossible. With so much money, drug traffickers and dealers will always be able to bribe some police officers. Often, the bribery extends beyond circumventing drug laws but also to related activities, including murder. The profits to be raised by a police officer selling drugs found in others' possessions (and confiscated without making an arrest or official report) and/or accepting bribes makes the position attractive to some people. In effect, the War on Drugs does and always will attract corrupt people to the ranks of law enforcement agencies.
  • Drug dealers will sell to anyone, including children. Merchants who legally sell alcohol and tobacco are not allowed to sell to children. Many high school students report that it is easier to obtain blanket illegal drugs than alcohol and tobacco. Hence, legalizing drugs will help keep more dangerous and addictive drugs from minors, for whom the deleterious effects are greater 1.
    • Legalizing drugs will send a message to children that drug use is acceptable.
      • This is no more true than saying that the legal status of weapons sends a message to children that murder is acceptable.
      • Parents are currently expected to explain the dangers of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as frequently abused legal drugs, such as Oxycontin, Valium, and morphine. If they can do so with these drugs, they can do so with marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.
  • The War on Drugs disproportionately affects the poor and members of racial and ethnic minorities (in the United States). 1, 2, 3
    • This does not change the reasoning behind the laws. Drug laws should be enforced more fairly.
      • This may not be possible. The War on Drugs was founded on racism in the United States. Opium (a heroin precursor) prohibition began to target Chinese immigrants. Cocaine prohibition began to target African-Americans. Marijuana prohibition began to target Mexican immigrants. LSD prohibition began to target black and white leftist activists.
  • The War on Drugs has led to a decrease in civil liberties. Previously illegal searches and seizures, confiscations, wiretaps, and other police actions have been legitimized out of a desire to use them against drug smugglers or dealers. 1, 2, 3, 4)
    • This is not true.
    • This is true, but is worth it for the benefit of the health and safety of non-drug-abusing members of society.
      • The curtailment of civil liberties does not make anyone healthier or more safe. Unfair police tactics currently used against drug dealers, traffickers, and users could be easily used against people of political, religious, or ethnic minorities.
  • The United States, where drug laws are strictly enforced, has high rates of drug use as well as an astronomical number of its own citizens in jail. 1, 2
    • This is because the War on Drugs is working. These people have committed crimes and harmed our polity with their actions, and thus belong in jail.
      • Any definition of a policy "working" which involves rendering such a large proportion of our citizenry into prisoners and ex-convicts (many of whom lose the right to vote) is incompatible with democracy.
  • The War on Drugs has led to morally questionable activities by the government (in the United States). For example, governmental agencies use taxpayer funds to build support for the War on Drugs. See here for an example of taxpayer funds supporting the creation of a website about a taxpayer-funded conference on how to drum up support for continued prohibition and to successfully argue against legalization proponents, many of whom involuntarily paid for the website and conference. This would not be accepted if the federal government were using public funds to pay for pro-life commercials or advertisements for Republican candidates, and should not be acceptable for any issue. For another example of dubious morality, see here for an explanation of public funding being secretly paid to TV corporations in exchange for the placement of anti-drug messages on certain television shows. Secretive propaganda is always morally wrong and duplicitous.
  • The current blanket prohibition of both hard and soft drugs (compare ultra-addictive and dangerous heroin to relatively benign marijuana) lumps both in the same category in the minds of impressionable children. Drug dealers stand to make greater profit off hard drugs, and so will attempt to convince users to switch from soft to hard drugs. Separating the markets through legalization will prevent this. See this to compare the numbers between the Netherlands (where the hard and soft drugs markets are separated) to the United States (where they are not).
  • Drug legalization will enable users to be certain that they are receiving the correct drug. Currently, drugs are often laced with adulterants for various reasons (to aid in trafficking, to increase the effects, etc). Often, these adulterants are the cause of the primary dangers of use of the drug (as, for example, with Ecstacy). In addition, drug users can not know the purity of such drugs as heroin or cocaine; often overdoses are a result of underestimating the purity. These dangers would be eliminated if drugs were legalized and packages purchased were clearly marked with the purity of the ingredients, as well as a complete list of which ingredients were present.
    • The dangers of drug use are well-known. If a user chooses to partake in a risky activity and dies, it is the user's fault.
      • Willful neglect of the safety of drug users does not convince legalization proponents that the neglective party have their best interests in mind.
  • The Drug War began for racist reasons, such as the mythical use of cocaine as an incitement to the rape of white women by black men, seduction of white women by Chinese opium-smokers and violent behavior by Mexicans.
    • This does not effect the morality of today's laws. Laws that were passed for morally suspect reasons may be well-intentioned for other reasons.
      • Racism is still present in the drug war. A disproportionate number of people convicted for drug trafficking are of a racial minority. Juries and police are more likely to let white drug traffickers off the hook than minority drug traffickers. Only legalization can stop racism in the judiciary.
  • Hemp has environmental uses such as in the production of paper, which would decrease the rate that trees are being cut down. Marijuana criminalization has lead the government to prohibit its use even for this. Drug legalization would prevent any government excuse to ban hemp in the production of paper. The drug war primarily helps the synthetic-fibre, wood pulp, petrochemical, and pharmochemical industries. 1
    • The drug war primarily helps victims of drug abuse, not corporations of any kind. There is no known use for hemp that can not be achieved without other policies, and the legal growing of hemp will make it more difficult for law enforcement to enforce the laws.
  • George Washington grew Hemp on his farm and used it. Should we have put our first president in prison?

See also: perverse incentives

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Modified by Geona