History on War on Drugs

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War on Drugs

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The War on Drugs is an initiative undertaken by the United States with the assistance of participating countries, which is intended to manipulate various aspects of supply and demand for certain biologically active substances. This initiative is responsible for a set of laws and policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of targeted substances.
The War on Drugs is a form of prohibition. In its broadest sense, the War on Drugs could be considered to have started in 1880, when the U.S. and China completed an agreement that prohibited the shipment of opium between the two countries. The United States alcohol prohibition from 1920-1933 is the most widely known historical period of drug prohibition. The term itself, however, was coined in 1971 by Richard Nixon to describe a new set of initiatives designed to enhance drug prohibition.
The philosophy behind drug prohibition is to interfere with the production and distribution of a substance to the extent that the cost to the end user exceeds the value of the product, resulting in a widespread discontinuation of use. It also relies upon fear of reprisals and obedience to legal statutes in order to discourage use. These measures proved to be ineffective during alcohol prohibition, actually resulting in an increase in alcohol use, and statistical evidence suggests that it has had similar effect on the use of other drugs.


The first recorded instance of the United States enacting a ban on the distribution of medicinal substances to its own people is the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914. This act was presented and passed as a method of regulating the production and distribution of opiate containing substances under the Interstate Trade section of the U.S. Constitution, but a small section of it was later interpreted by enforcement officials to prosecute doctors for prescribing opiates to addicts. Previous to this, similar bans had existed in many individual states, but this was the first federal act of prohibition.
Alcohol prohibition progressed similarly, starting as numerous state-wide bans and eventually culminating into a nation wide constitutional amendment in 1919, having been approved by 36 of the 48 states. This remains the only major act of prohibition to be repealed, having been struck down by a later constitutional amendment in 1933.
In 1937, congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act. Presented as a $1 nuisance tax on the distribution of marijuana, this act required anyone distributing it to maintain and submit a detailed account of his or her transactions, including inspections, affidavits, and private information regarding the parties involved. Punitive measures, such as fines and the threat of imprisonment for persons failing to fulfill their statutory obligations, effectively made the legal distribution of marijuana too great a liability for normal business. This act was passed by congress on the basis of testimony and public perception that marijuana caused insanity, criminality, and death.
The 1951 Boggs Act increased penalties by four fold; five years later, the 1956 Daniel Act increased penalties by a multiple of eight over those specified in the Boggs Act. Although by this time there was adequate testimony to refute the idea that marijuana caused insanity and death, the deliberations for these laws shifted in focus to the proposition that marijuana use lead to the use of heroin, creating the gateway theory.
Nixon's modern-day War on Drugs began in 1969. He characterized the abuse of illicit substances as "America's public enemy number one." In an attempt to make good on his campaign promise to be tough on crime, the Nixon administration created and pushed through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. This legislation is the foundation on which the modern drug war exists. Responsibility for enforcement of this new law was given to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and then in 1973 to the newly formed Drug Enforcement Administration.
In 1988, towards the close of the Reagan Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was created to centrally coordinate legislative, security, diplomatic, research and health policy throughout the government. In recognition of his central role, the director of ONDCP is commonly known as the Drug Czar. The position was raised to cabinet-level status by Bill Clinton in 1993.


The following decades showed a substantial rise in demand for cocaine in America. A number of economically depressed Colombian farmers in several remote areas of the country began to turn to what became a new, illicit cash crop for its high resale value and cheap manufacturing process. Local coca cultivation, however, remained comparatively rare in Colombia until the mid-1990s. Drug traffickers originally imported most coca base from traditional producers in Peru and Bolivia for processing in Colombia, until eradication efforts in those countries resulted in a "balloon effect".

Despite the Reagan Administration's high-profile public pronouncements, secretly, many senior officials of the Reagan administration illegally trained and armed the Nicaraguan Contras, which they funded by the shipment of large quantities of cocaine into the United States using U.S. government aircraft and U.S. military facilities.[1][2]. Funding for the Contras was also obtained through the illegal sale of weaponry to Iran. When this practice was discovered and condemned in the media, it was referred to as the Iran-Contra affair, but the large cocaine shipments into the US to fund the Admininstration's illegal foreign policy agenda were much less known.
Another milestone occurred in 1996, when 56% of California voters voted yes to Proposition 215, legalizing the growing and use of marijuana for medical purposes. This created significant legal and policy tensions between the Federal and State governments. Courts have since decided that neither this, nor any similar acts, will protect users from federal prosecution.
Regardless of public opinion, marijuana could be the single most targeted drug in the drug war. It constitutes almost half of all drug arrests, and between 1990-2002, out of the overall drug arrests, 82% of the increase was for marijuana. In this same time period, New York experienced an increase of 2,640% for marijuana possession arrests.

United States domestic policy

For U.S. public policy purposes, drug abuse is any personal use of a drug contrary to law. The definition includes otherwise legal pharmaceuticals if they are obtained by illegal means or used for non-medicinal purposes. This differs from what mental health professionals classify as drug abuse per the DSM-IV, which is defined as more problematic drug misuse, both of which are different from drug use.
Domestically the War On Drugs has fueled the expansion of the U.S. Prison industry, which oversees the largest prison population on Earth — reaching a total of 2.2 million inmates in the U. S. in 2005. The US Dept. of Justice, reporting on the effects of state iniatives, has stated that, from 1990 through 2000, "the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates, 7% of the total growth among Hispanic inmates, and 15% of the growth among white inmates."

United States foreign policy

The United States has also initiated a number of military actions as part of its War on Drugs, such as the 1989 invasion of Panama codenamed Operation Just Cause involving 25,000 American troops. The U.S. alleged that Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of government of Panama, was involved in drug trafficking in Panama. As part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. has funded coca eradication through private contractors such as DynCorp and helped train the Colombian armed forces to eradicate coca and fight left-wing guerrillas such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and right-wing paramilitaries such as the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), both of which have been accused of participating in the illegal drug trade in their areas of influence.
In 2000, the Clinton administration initially waived all but one of the human rights conditions attached to Plan Colombia, considering such aid as crucial to national security at the time.[3] Subsequently, the U.S. government certified that the Colombian government had taken steps to improve respect for human rights and to prosecute abusers among its security forces.[4] The U.S. has later denied aid to individual Colombian military units accused of such abuses, such as the Palanquero Air Force base and the Army's XVII Brigade.[5][6] Opponents of aid given to the Colombian military as part of the War on Drugs argue that the U.S. and Colombian governments primarily focus on fighting the guerrillas, devoting less attention to the paramilitaries although these have a greater degree of participation in the illicit drug industry. Critics argue that Human Rights Watch, congressional committees and other entities have documented the existence of connections between members of the Colombian military and the AUC, and that Colombian military personnel have committed human rights abuses which would make them ineligible for U.S. aid under current laws.


Advocates of the War on Drugs include government officials such as James F. Mack, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. James Mack, in testimony before the House Committee on International Relations, has associated the War on Drugs with the War on Terror[7].


The War on Drugs has been attacked on grounds ranging from the practical to the ethical.

Richard Davenport-Hines, in his book The Pursuit of Oblivion (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), criticized the efficacy of the War on Drugs by pointing out:
10-15 per cent of illicit heroin and 30 per cent of illicit cocaine is intercepted. Drug traffickers have gross profit margins of up to 300 per cent. At least 75 per cent of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before the traffickers' profits were hurt.​
Prominent religious scholar Huston Smith has criticized drug prohibition on the grounds that it deprives contemporary man of experiences which have proved spiritually valuable since the dawn of civilization[8]

The scientific community has criticized U.S. drug policy as being "outdated,"[9] and a hindrance to legitimate medical and scientific research efforts. For example, the U.S. government's classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (having no medicinal value) is contradicted by the journal Nature Medicine [10]:
"the endocannabinoid system has an important role in nearly every important paradigm of pain, in memory, in neurodegeneration and in inflammation."​
Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru from 1990-2000, described U.S. foreign drug policy as "failed" on grounds that "for 10 years, there has been a considerable sum invested by the Peruvian government and another sum on the part of the American government, and this has not led to a reduction in the supply of coca leaf offered for sale. Rather, in the 10 years from 1980 to 1990, it grew 10-fold."[11]
The social consequences of the drug war have been widely criticized by such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union as being racially biased against minorities and disproportionately responsible for the exploding United States prison population. According to a report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, and released in March 2006 by the Justice Policy Institute, America's "Drug-Free Zones" are ineffective at keeping youths away from drugs, and instead create strong racial disparities in the judicial system.[12]
Environmental consequences of the drug war, resulting from US-backed aerial fumigation of drug-growing operations in third world countries, have been criticized as detrimental to some of the world's most fragile ecosystems[13]; the same aerial fumigation practices are further credited with causing health problems in local populations [14].
The epithet "War on Drugs" has been condemned as being propaganda to justify military or paramilitary operations under the guise of a noble cause; in particular, prominent linguist Noam Chomsky points out that the term is an example of synecdoche referring to operations against suspected producers, traders and/or users of certain substances. This form of language is similar to that used in other initiatives such as Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty and George W. Bush's War on Terrorism. The word "war" is used to invoke a state of emergency, although the target of the war isn't anything against which standard military tactics are effective.
In their book Multitude, Michael Hardt en Antonio Negri oppose the view that the use of the term "war" is only metaphorical: they analyse the War on Drugs as part of a global war of a biopolitical nature. Like the War on Terrorism, the War on Drugs is a true war, waged by the US government against its own people.[15]
The prohibition of drugs is inherently unconstitutional and unjust. The United States Constitution invokes prohibition only on the powers of government. The government is authorized only to regulate (commerce, the militia and the value of money), not prohibit. Prohibition is not the same as regulation.
As acknowledged by the United States Declaration of Independence, legitimate governments are instituted to secure the inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all. An inalienable right is a right that cannot be justly denied; not even by law or constitution. It is a right that is, by definition and natural law, retained by the people.
The right of well regulated and peaceful pursuit of happiness is an inalienable and retained right guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment. The abject failure of the war on drugs is self-evident proof that these rights are denied only at great expense and injustice.

  1. <LI id=_note-archive>^ The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations / Documentation of Official U.S. Knowledge of Drug Trafficking and the Contras. The National Security Archive, The George Washington University. Retrieved on July 22, 2006. <LI id=_note-whiteout>^ Cockburn, Alexander, Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout, the CIA, Drugs and the Press. New York: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-258-5. <LI id=_note-doug>^ Stokes, Doug (2005). America's Other War : Terrorizing Colombia. Zed Books. ISBN 1-84277-547-2. p. 99 <LI id=_note-CERTIFY>^ Colombia: Determination and Certification of Colombian Armed Forces with Respect to Human Rights-Related Conditions. HTML. U.S. Embassy in Colombia (May 1, 2002). Retrieved on June 23, 2006. <LI id=_note-AIRBASE>^ El Tiempo: The nation is sentenced to pay 2000 million pesos to the victims of the attack on Santo Domingo. HTML. International Labor Rights Fund (May 26, 2004). Retrieved on June 23, 2006. <LI id=_note-XVII>^ Revista Semana: El senado norteamericano pone objeciones a la Brigada XVII por violaciones. HTML. Equipo Nizkor (December 11, 2005). Retrieved on June 23, 2006. <LI id=_note-0>^ James Mack Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations. Retrieved on October 27, 2006. <LI id=_note-1>^ Huston Smith, Cleansing the Doors of Perception (Tarcher, 2000) <LI id=_note-2>^ "Perspectives", Scientific American, December 2004 <LI id=_note-3>^ Nature Medicine, October 2003 <LI id=_note-4>^ Don Podesta and Douglas Farah, "Drug Policy in Andes Called Failure," Washington Post, March 27, 1993 <LI id=_note-justice>^ How drug-free zone laws impact racial disparity–and fail to protect youth. Justice Policy Institute. Retrieved on July 27, 2006. <LI id=_note-5>^ Rebecca Bowe, "The drug war on the Amazon," E: The Environmental Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2004 <LI id=_note-6>^ Larry Rohter, "To Colombians, Drug War is a Toxic Foe," New York Times; May 1, 2000
  2. ^ Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005). Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Hamish Hamilton.
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