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The Drug Debate Essay, Research Paper
The Drug Debate
For over twenty years the drug debate has been argued over and over. The drug war in the United States has been historically seen as a costly, yet necessary component of public policy; a policy that has been under substantial political fire for years. As we enter a new century, many are reconsidering their feelings towards the drug war. Critics cite the billions of dollars spent every year as well as the overflowing prison problem as reasons to cut back, and even legalize some or all recreational drugs. Those who are in favor of the war on drugs encourage its funding and continuation because of the perceived link between drugs and crime, and the detrimental health effects and medical economic impact that illegal drugs have on the body. There is a growing trend among Americans that is pushing for the legalization or, at least, the regulation of drugs by the government. However, the consensus in American society is to keep drugs illegal and these philosophies are evidenced in the political policies of America. By taking a look at the approach of these policies, the pros and cons of drug legalization can be assessed.
The concern of the public and politicians has made for a storied history in the American drug war. To better understand the pros and cons of legalization, an understanding of the history of the American drug war must first be accomplished with a description of this issue. The beginning of the American war on drugs first began with the passing of the Harrison Act in 1914. Public pressure for national controls over narcotic and cocaine sales finally led to the Harrison Act of 1914. The act required the payment of a small tax every time a drug changed hands, from the manufacturer down to the doctor or pharmacist. The government used taxes to control availability and sale of drugs. The act also required registration of all physicians and pharmacists and made opiates and cocaine available only by prescription. In 1919, the act was expanded to prevent physicians from freely prescribing habit-forming opiates. On the heels of the restricting legislation in 1919 came the 18th Amendment in 1920, which began prohibition. At this time, alcohol was made an illegal substance just as narcotics where made illegal six years earlier by the Harrison Act. The advent of the Jones-Miller act in 1922 furthered the restrictions on illegally obtained narcotics such as heroin and opium (Hamid, 1998: 88). Marijuana, a drug at the center of the legalization argument, has been used as a medicine and an intoxicant for thousands of years in many parts of the world. Marijuana was not originally included in the Harrison Act but achieved illegal status on its own. In the United States, state and local laws have prohibited marijuana use since the early 1900?s, and by federal law since 1937. The war on drugs continued throughout the twentieth century and remained at the forefront of public opinion. ?Concern over the use and abuse of illegal drugs remained critical throughout the 1990?s. In fact, regardless of political affiliation and ideology, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, or geographical location and occupational status, most Americans continue to rank ?drugs? among the major problems facing the nation? (Inciardi, 1999: 1). This tremendous public concern over drug abuse in the United States has made it a favorite focal point in the policy measures of politicians. ?President Nixon declared victory in the war on drugs in 1973. More recently, President George Bush has opined that at least we are making progress. Despite the optimism of our leaders, the war on drugs grinds on—as it has for most of the twentieth century? (Benjamin, 1991: vii). Many have stated that the war on drugs is a failure and is merely a waste of taxpayers? money; the statistics still prove that although the United States has attempted to assemble the best drug task force in the world but continues to fail. ?The United States has 5 percent of the world?s population but consumes 60 percent of its illicit drugs. Our hard-won progress in race relations is threatened by the perception of many African-Americans that the drug war is a racist plot. Our police, courts and prisons are inundated by a flood of drug cases. Our civil liberties are being eroded? (Eldredge, 1998: xi). Despite this perceived failure, the United States and its new leaders continue to pour money into this losing battle. ?During the summer of 1997, President Bill Clinton outlined a massive drug strategy for the coming fiscal year. At the heart of his plan was an unprecedented budget of $16 billion to finance the nation?s war against drug abuse. The president?s drug control plan relied heavily on a $350 million advertising campaign that would- if matched by the private sector?bombard young people with anti-drug messages during prime-time television? (Lyman, 1998: 3). The drug war began with a strict legislation at the turn of the century. By the end of the century, the legislative restrictiveness has grown, as has the economic prosperity of the drug black market. Now strategies appear to not only enforce the legislation and increase its punishments, but to use advertising as a strategy to curb the problem. The history of the drug war has taken many turns, but after a century of failure, many begin to consider the pros and cons of legalization.
Bello, Joan The Benefits of Marijuana, Sweetlight Books, Cottonwood CA, 1996
Benjamin, Daniel Undoing Drugs: Beyond Legalization, Basic Books, Washington 1991
Eldredge, Dirk Ending the War on Drugs, Bride Works Publishing, Bridgehampton NY,
Hamid, Ansley Drugs in America, Aspen Publishing, Gaithersburg MD, 1998
Inciardi, James A. The Drug Legalization Debate, Sage Publications, London, 1999.
Lyman, Michael D. Drugs in Society, Anderson Publishing Co., Cincinnati OH, 1998.
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