4 Decades And Counting: Is Our Longest War Finally Ending?
For over 40 years, the United States has been fighting their longest war against appointed public enemy #1: drugs. Could the decriminalization of cannabis mark the beginning of the end of the longest failed war?
$51,000,000,000. Imagine what can be done with that amount of money for the greater good of the United States. Now imagine what can be done with that amount of money if it could be put to good use every year. Instead, $51 billion a year is poured into the failed, costly, and deadly War on Drugs according to The Drug Policy Alliance. In fact, in 2010 alone, we were spending $500 every single second.
With War, Comes Bloodshed. With Prohibition, Comes Failure.
But it’s not just money that needs to be worried about. It’s more or less the violence that ensues directly because of the drug war, and more importantly, how it has been a complete failure for over 40 years. Yes, our country (and the rest of the world) has been deeply affected by this war for over 40 years.
Similar to how alcohol prohibition (our original failed prohibition) fueled the dangerous gangsters such as Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone over 80 years ago, marijuana prohibition has fueled the dangerous illicit drug market and drug cartels across the globe. What’s the difference? Marijuana’s prohibition has lasted 6 times longer – since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Despite the billions and billions dollars annually spent towards fighting the War on Drugs including marijuana prohibition, the war continues to wage on.
Feeding the Cartels, Failing The War Photo credit: Wikipedia
Because there is such a high demand for cannabis, and cannabis remains to be illegal at the federal level, the supply has to come from somewhere. Due to an unregulated market, violent cartels in mainly Mexico and Columbia have thrived with large margins of profits for centuries.
These billions of dollars in illicit sales taken in by the cartels continue to strengthen the cartels, which in turns translates into more violence. For example, in Mexico’s drug war alone, there have been 100,000+ deaths since 2006. These 100,000 deaths are not just cartel members, but instead a large portion are innocent civilians, families, U.S. law enforcement officers, etc. that have been caught in the line of fire in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Despite fighting the War on Drugs for over 40 years, cartels have continued to dominate the illegal drug market in the U.S. by having nearly 900,000 criminally active gang members affiliated in over 2,500 cities according to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). So why do we continue to let the cartels remain in control?
When And Why We Waged The Longest Failed War In U.S. History
In 1971, The War on Drugs officially began in the United States after President Nixon declared public enemy number one to be “the problem of dangerous drugs.” This was influenced after the recreational drug use rose in the United States as drugs became mainstream in the 1960s.
Shortly after, in 1970, just one year before Nixon declared the War on Drugs, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act where drugs were to be placed in five categories based upon the medicinal value and the potential for addiction.
For cannabis, the substance was temporarily placed as a Schedule I drug, the strictest category, which claims the substance has no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Cannabis was temporarily placed as this classification while Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission to review all evidence surrounding cannabis and make a recommendation based upon what they had found. In 1972, the commission had unanimously recommended decriminalizing cannabis.
However, Nixon rejected the recommendations. As a result, cannabis has remained a Schedule I substance ever since. Cannabis continues to be listed among other drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, indicating that these substances are equally dangerous compared to one another. It may be very hard to argue that cannabis is as dangerous as any of the other Schedule I drugs, and has “no accepted medical use” when nearly half of the country is saying otherwise (23 states currently).
A year later after the Shafer Commission’s recommendation to decriminalize cannabis, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established in 1973, and has since handled almost all aspects of the failed War on Drugs.
Just Say No To Drugs. Just Say Yes To Prohibition.
When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, the War on Drugs became even more dominant. Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy Reagan created the famous “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, which started the zero tolerance policies throughout the 80s. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program was also established, and the hysteria over drug use ensued with extreme penalties being passed by Congress.
In 1985, only 2-6 percent of the U.S. acknowledged drug abuse as the number one problem in the country. However, because of this mass hysteria that continued to grow, that percentage increased rapidly to 64 percent just four years after in 1989. Thanks to the Ronald Reagan era, the strengthening of the drug war resulted in extreme growth in arrests and incarcerations.
In fact, those who were put in jail for nonviolent drug offenses skyrocketed from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997. As a result, wasted prison space has become a big issue within the drug war and there are many shocking statistics to prove it.
Bush Reignites The Drug War
When George W. Bush came into office at the start of the 21st century, the War on Drugs’ dominance was declining slowly. However, Bush reignited the war by putting more money than ever into it, which resulted in his drug czar, John Walters, to primarily focus on cannabis. One major campaign that was launched promoted student drug testing and was a very extreme approach to fueling the war on cannabis specifically.
In addition, throughout Bush’s presidency, there were large amounts of paramilitary-style SWAT raids in the U.S. every year for mostly nonviolent drug offenses – nearly 40,000 annually). These SWAT raids for nonviolent drug offenses have continued for many years.
Historical Change Is Slowly Coming Along
Acknowledgement on how much of a failure the War on Drugs has been is increasing each year. Many individuals and even politicians are seeing the drastic effects the war has caused on American society and other countries around the world that have been influenced by the United States’ decision ever since the war began. However, sensible policy changes towards drug policies are shifting incredibly.
Even though the progress has been a bit sluggish, the dominoes are starting to fall one by one, and the momentum cannot be stopped. For cannabis especially, policy reform is an inevitable outcome, as public opinion towards ending our second failed prohibition is becoming clearer and clearer.
As education and awareness continues to spread and as policies continue to change, we may finally witness an historic moment that has long been overdue – the end of the longest and most failed war and prohibition in U.S. history.
Header photo credit: dvids