The War on Drugs has, and always will be, something of a controversial topic. The term ?War on Drugs,’ although coined by Nixon under the Nixon administration in 1971, will be used in this paper to distinguish any time the United States’ attempted to fight or regulate drug usage of any kind. The reason for this clarification is because we can find evidence of the United States’ attempts as far back as around 1860 with the regulation of pharmaceuticals. As time has gone on, drugs have only been more of a reoccurring force for the United States to deal with. This essay aims to highlight the arguments both for and against the federal government’s actual ability to govern drug usage in order to discover the most logical position to take on the matter.
The United States has been fighting the War on Drugs since the 1860s; over a century and a half of ever-increasing drug related issues. The first recorded attempt at regulation for anything related to drug usage at all would have been around the 1860s. During this time, efforts were made to regulate the sales of pharmaceuticals. Laws were introduced that created penalties for things such as mislabeled drugs, saturating pharmaceuticals with narcotics, (an increasingly common problem that would only continue to appear with time,) and the improper sale of what had been considered at the time to be poison, as determined by prominent pharmaceutical societies. Only twenty years later, the United States found opium addiction to be an epidemic – The rate of opiate addiction increased from about .72 addicts per 1,000 people, to a high of 4.59 per 1,000 in the 1890s(cite me) – And stemmed the sale of opium between the United States and Qing Dynasty China via an agreement that prohibited shipments of opium between them, going either way. Only barely scraping the surface, these were just the beginning of what the United States would continue to deal with as time went on.
The Unites States was not a stranger when it came to dealing with drugs. Multiple passed legislations and several more rejected ones prove that drugs were clearly an issue at hand at all times. If research showed that a drug was harmful, the United States would react with legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Act, or alcohol prohibition. Other times, entirely new federal agencies were created, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration, or the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. There were supporters on either side of each and every one of the many debates had over every type of drug imaginable.
But at what cost? The United States Constitution doesn’t say anything about the regulation of drugs. In fact, drugs (or substances of any kind) aren’t mentioned at all. However, the United States Federal Government appears to be passing legislations with the population’s best interest in mind. These are the arguments for and against the federal government having the power to regulate such things. Unfortunately, there is no obvious one size fits all answer to this century and a half long debate. As such, this begs the question; how much power does the United States Federal Government actually have when it comes to problems revolving around the regulation of substances?
In-Depth Analysis of Arguments for Both Sides
Drug Laws are Effective
Those that favor support of the federal government in the creation of anti-drug laws can cite numbers showing that drug laws are indeed effective in stemming the usage of drugs. Comparisons between the United States’ licit usage of substances (such as alcohol or tobacco,) to illicit usage of substances (such as heroin or cocaine,) in people aged 14 and older are, as expected, drastically different. The threat of persecution is a valid deterrent for those who have used or have thought about using substances. This threat causes a massive gap in the number of users using licit substances versus the number of users using illicit substances. As a republic, the United States Federal Government exists to assist, and in this case, keep its people alive and safe from the ill effects of certain substances used (or abused).
Drug Laws are Ineffective
Drug laws create a divide between users and non-users. This divide makes it difficult for users, whether willingly out of recreational desire, or unwillingly out of addiction, to live a normal life for a couple of reasons. Users of illicit substances are essentially marked as criminals. Most of the drug cases that go to court end with the defendant being charged only with possession; if this was indeed the only crime they committed, they have caused no damage to any party, and wronged no one except themselves. They are then then faced with exorbitant fines and time in jail or prison for a crime that affected nothing but their health. The second reason drug laws are ineffective is due to the sheer lack of ability for any government to regulate an underground or black market. This creates an economy based on a criminal market. With this, other problems arise, such as vast networks of organized crime for the sale of an illegal substance.
The United States Federal Government has no constitutional right to the private affairs of its population without probable cause. The insinuation that the government can circumvent this limitation by way of passing legislation that not only doesn’t fully meet intended goals, but also causes more problems than it solves only makes the issue that it is unconstitutional even worse.
Gateway Drug Theory (Cannabis)
Cannabis is a Gateway Drug
Cannabis, also known as marijuana or weed, is a drug used recreationally by many. While the effects of it are less harmful than that of a harder drug such as heroin, the United States Food and Drug Administration currently has cannabis classified as a Schedule I drug. What this means is that cannabis has been deemed, on the federal level, to have both no current accepted medical usage, as well as a high potential for abusage. There are a few states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use and/or medical use, but cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug. Even though cannabis is classified in the same group as much more dangerous drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, the high it provides is not as intense as other Schedule I drugs. This leads them to try increasingly more potent drugs to find a stronger high, essentially using cannabis as a ?gateway’ into harder drug usage. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency cited in its 2008 Marijuana Sourcebook that recent research has proven that those who have tried a drug (like cannabis) are five times as likely to move on to try a more intense drug such as heroin or cocaine.
Cannabis is not a Gateway Drug
Other studies conducted have shown that cannabis use and hard drug use both share the same methods of influence, such as a person’s peers/environment, or genetics. Golub and Johnson of the National Development and Research Institute in New York wrote that young people who smoked marijuana in the generations before and after the baby boomers did not appear to be likely to move on to harder drugs.