The War on Drugs, like the war on Terrorism, is a war that America may not be able to afford to win. For over forty years the United States has been fighting the War on Drugs and there is no end in sight. It has turned into a war that is about politics and economics rather than about drugs and criminals. The victims of this war are numerous; but perhaps they are not as numerous as those who benefit from the war itself.
History of U.S Drug Policy:
While laws prohibiting the use of drugs, in one form or another, can be traced back to the 1870s, it was not until 1968, when Richard M. Nixon was elected President, that our current drug war was conceived. In 1970 Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act.(2) With an emphasis on law enforcement, the act replaced and updated all previous laws concerning narcotics and other drugs. When Nixon officially declared the “War on Drugs” in 1971, his administration claimed that heroin use was responsible for 18 billion dollars in property crime a year and that there were upwards of 315,000 addicts in the United States. (2)
These figures helped garner support for the new drug war but in reality they were greatly inflated. In fact, the total of all property crime in the United States in 1971 was 1.3 billion dollars and the estimated number of heroin addicts was somewhere around 68,000.(2) Despite these facts, Nixon’s drug war took hold in the public imagination. This allowed Nixon enough freedom with law enforcement that he was able to create his own agency. On January 28, 1972 under Executive Order 11641, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement was established.(14) Headed by John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh, this agency would be short lived but would serve as Nixon’s own private security agency which could investigate leaks, tap phones, and gather intelligence on his internal and external opponents. Assistant to Egil Krogh was G. Gordon Liddy. Howard Hunt was a consultant on the drug problem to the president’s Domestic Council.
Both of these men would gain fame a few years later as Watergate conspirators. Under these
men, instead of being understood as a health and social problem, drug addiction was defined as a law and order problem.
On July 1, 1973 the War on Drugs was solidified with the creation of the Drug
Enforcement Administration.(15) The DEA, which was the result of merging the Bureau of
Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs with various other law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies, including the ODALE, was given the responsibility of enforcing the nation’s federal drug laws. It’s enormous sphere of influence is reflected in its Mission Statement which states among other things; “The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of...