Reaching a Conclusion, the End to the War on Drugs

It has become far too apparent through this research and that which has been done by so many scholars and ordinary people, that the War on Drugs is not accomplishing its goal of decreasing drug use, but instead has grown to continue racism and a prison industrial complex that this country’s government sits to benefit from.  To borrow the rhetoric of Cameron Stoddart, a columnist for The Raw Story, “ordinary citizens like you and me are losing this war. If our government were losing it, wouldn’t it retreat, call a cease-fire, and end the abomination that it is?” (Stoddart).  Although NAFTA was never meant to aid the transportation of drugs, it has, and “85% of the drugs that come into this country go unnoticed” (Stoddart).

The Drug War Failure

The Drug War Failure

The War on Drugs has hardly solved the problem of drug use in this country, and since it has created an even larger problem, one which allows racism and a ridiculous disparity of opportunity to persist in America, it should be deconstructed.  If just a fraction of the exhorbitant amount of money spent ‘combatting drug use’ in this country went to improving the lives of the impoverished, then a much better service would be done to the people of this country and to the well-being of the future United States as well.  “Educate and rehabilitate, do not humiliate and incarcerate.”

Stoddart, Cameron. “The war on drugs: 21st century prohibition.” The Raw Story. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://www.rawstory.com/exclusives/stoddart/war_on_drugs.htm&gt;.

2012 – Marijuana Legalized in WA and CO

In a time where marijuana use has never been less contested, Washington and Colorado moved referendums to allow the recreational use of marijuana in-state to adults 21 years and older.  This chart highlights the growing evidence that the War on Drugs just isn’t convincing people of the dangers of drugs and especially the fact that growing evidence has been released that discounts most of the claims made, such as the classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 substance among the ranks of heroin, having zero accepted medical use.

Provided by WhiteHouse.gov

Provided by WhiteHouse.gov

The legalization of marijuana in WA and CO is a milestone for the deconstruction of the War on Drugs and for the shift of mentality towards drugs away from the God-like authority of the government controlling prohibition, to a much more ethically and intellectually inclined opinion of their use.  This event also marks a check to the largely uncontested power of the federal government in driving the War on Drugs and revives the notion of state’s rights in regulating activity within their borders.

“DEA / Drug Scheduling.” DEA / Drug Scheduling. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://www.justice.gov/dea/druginfo/ds.shtml&gt;.

“Marijuana Legalization.” The White House. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/marijuana-legalization&gt;.

2006 – No-Knock Tactics Gone Horribly Wrong, The Killing of Kathryn Johnston

Kathryn Johnston was killed in her Atlanta, GA home by a no-knock drug raid in which no drugs were found.

Kathryn Johnston was killed in her Atlanta, GA home by a no-knock drug raid in which no drugs were found.

Kathryn Johnston, a 92 year old black lady, was shot by undercover police officers in her own Atlanta, GA home in 2006 by undercover police officers carrying out a ‘no-knock’ drug raid.  The three police officers neglected to identify themselves upon entering and Johnston, acting in self defense, fired a single revolver shot above the officers heads before being returned with 39 shots by the three policeman, effectively killing her.  This show of force is only a sliver of the wrongdoings committed in the name of the War on Drugs.  These officers were acting outside of their jurisdiction, something that has become all too common since the dawn of drug prohibition and enforcement in which a blurring of the lines of due process has become nearly commonplace.  It is important to note that Johnston’s house was situated in a crime ridden neighborhood in West Atlanta, another common trend of drug enforcement targeting  This event only supports the view of drug prohibition as Draconian and absolutely misconstrued into a haphazard and dangerous intrusion upon the lives of ordinary citizens for the sake of the government’s image as a crusader against drug use.

“All three men pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death. Smith and Junnier also pleaded guilty to state charges of voluntary manslaughter and making false statements, and Smith admitted to planting bags of marijuana in Johnston’s home after her death” (Ex)

“Ex-Atlanta officers get prison time for cover-up in deadly raid.” CNN. Cable News Network. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/24/atlanta.police/&gt;.

The Introduction of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

As drug use continued into the 1970s and 80s, so did enforcement highlighting a string of questionable legislative techniques used to punish offenders of the drug war.  Mandatory minimum sentencing bypasses the judicial process in a large way by providing a framework for jail sentences to people convicted of crime, regardless of the judicial process.   The history of mandatory minimum sentencing is derived from the Boggs Act of 1952 which made a first time possession offense of marijuana punishable by “two to ten years with a fine of $20,000” (Mandatory).  This was overridden by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which enacted different mandatory minimum sentences, including marijuana. “In 1973, New York State introduced mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment for possession of more than 4 oz (112 g) of a hard drug” (Mandatory).

A popular metal band, System of a Down, released Prison Song in 2001 which contains a few verses denouncing the policy of mandatory minimum sentences and argues that this practice has led to a dramatic increase in prison populations rather than solve any problems related to drug use and abuse.  A few of these verses can be found below:

Following the rights movements
You clamped down with your iron fists,
Drugs became conveniently
Available for all the kids

All research and successful drug policy shows
That treatment should be increased,
And law enforcement decreased,
While abolishing mandatory minimum sentences,

Drug money is used to rig elections,
And train brutal corporate sponsored
Dictators around the world.

Although a somewhat radical decree, this popular band publicly lambasting the policy of the US government supports the dichotomy of rights and whether the government’s actions can be interpreted as improving life of citizens by making the streets ‘safer’ or if they overstepped their boundaries concerning privacy during the drug war.

Heather Ann Thompson argues that the process of laws meant to subject violators to unprecedented time behind bars and that the “dramatic postwar rise of the carceral state depended directly on what might well be called the criminalization of urban space“.  This process, according to Thompson, subjected increasing populations of urban dwellers–“overwhelmingly men and women of color”–to a series of laws that targeted their disposition as well as “regulated bodies and communities in thoroughly new ways” (Thompson 706).

Mandatory minimum sentencing has only supplemented the longstanding racism that pervades American culture and that, as Kenneth B Nunn highlights, since the judgment process is removed the judgment is placed upon police officers who, from a growing body of evidence, have been known, as American socialization has encouraged, to target blacks as more suspicious and more likely to engage in crime.  “To the extent that the concentration of investigation and arrests in African American communities exceeds that in white communities, without reason to believe that African Americans offend at a greater rate than whites, then such practices amount to unjustified ‘over- policing'” (Nunn).

Although the US Sentencing Commission, which regulates US sentencing, released a report that “notes the racial disparities in cocaine vs. crack sentencing” (Thirty) in 1995, Congress overrides their recommendation to reduce this discrepancy for the first time in history, alluding to a Congress content with allowing an unequal judicial process.

“Mandatory sentencing.” Wikipedia. 7 Nov. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_sentencing&gt;.

Nunn, Kenneth B. “The Drug War as Race War.” The Drug War as Race War. 17 Nov. 2013 <http://academic.udayton.edu/race/03justice/crime09.htm&gt;.

System of a Down. “Prison Song.” Toxicity. 2001. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yndfqN1VKhY

“Thirty Years of America’s Drug War: A Chronology.” PBS. PBS. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/cron/&gt;.

1982 – Reagan’s War on Drugs

To illustrate a summarized history of the role the Executive Branch has had in US drug enforcement, here is a bit of legislation passed under certain Presidents…

Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 – President Woodrow Wilson

Federal Bureau of Narcotics created in 1930 – Supported by Harry J. Anslinger and created under the presidency of Herbert Hoover.

Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 – President Richard Nixon.  In 1971, Nixon first used the term ‘War on Drugs’

War on Drugs “Just Say No” 1982 – President Ronald Reagan

On January 20th, 1981, President Ronald Reagan inherited an office exhausted with problems.  The issues brought about in the post-War era seemingly became more defined and pressing as Reagan’s policy agenda outlined issues including: economy, energy, national security, the US position as one of leadership in world affairs, and most important to this blog, crime and drug abuse.  On October 14th, 1982, utilizing the powerful rhetoric of the Capitalism vs. Communism struggle of the time, Pres. Reagan declared illicit drugs to be a “threat to U.S. national security” (Glass).  President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan’s fight towards ending drug abuse centered around the negative aspects of drug culture.  Pres. Reagan likened his administration’s attack on substance abuse to a French soldier’s speech at Verdun, “there are no impossible situations. There are only people who think they’re impossible” (Politico).  First lady Nancy Reagan worked to proliferate the phrase, “Just Say No” to encourage young members of the US population to denounce drug use. This type of rhetoric highlights a theme of US drug enforcement that places the government in a regulatory, or almost parent-like role upon its citizens.  Although the Reagan’s valiant prevalence of propaganda against drug use was warranted and certainly countered the popularity brought about by the wave of counterculture in this time period, Kenneth B. Nunn argues how the rhetoric, especially the term ‘war’, was eventually detrimental and has allowed government institutions to target minorities in their enforcement of anti-drug policies.

“The War on Drugs that has been a centerpiece of American foreign and domestic policy over the past two decades should not be viewed as a war against a particular collection of inanimate objects. The War on Drugs in this sense is but a convenient, yet inaccurate, metaphor. Instead the War on Drugs should be understood as a special case of what war has always been-the employment of force and violence against certain communities, and/or their institutions, in order to attain certain political objectives. Race has played an important role over the years in identifying the communities that became the targets of the drug war, consequently exposing their cultural practices and institutions to military-style attack and police control” (Nunn).

In 1988, Reagan created the Office of National Drug Control Policy to coordinate drug-related legislative, security, diplomatic, research and health policy throughout the government.  In 2009, R. Gil Kerlikowske, the current director of that office, signaled that the Obama administration would not use the term “war on drugs,” saying it was “counterproductive.”

Counterculture Reignites Recreational Drug Use Popularity and An Aura of Revolution – 1960s

“One generation got old
One generation got soul
This generation got no destination to hold”

– Jefferson Airplane

This video, set to Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane, showcases iconic images of the 1960s that define its dynamic history which left a large imprint on that of drug enforcement in the US.

This song is not only a great rock track with emblematic guitar riffs that instantly transport the mind of the listener to a Woodstock-esque setting, but a call to arms for a generation to embody the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity that this nation was founded on.  By striking down the discrimination of old, Volunteers encourages the young generation to realize the oppression that has manifested itself in the form of racism and inequality.  This idea can be transferred to the drug use that characterized the 60s and this focus upon revolution coupled with massive and popular drug use encouraged a generation to get out of the system and try that which has been called ‘bad’ for so long by older and ‘wiser’ people.  Instead of blindly complying with the law, this generation chose to fight the draft, to use drugs, and to denounce ‘the man’, all encouraging a rhetoric in contrast to the US government.

It is apparent that the spirit of the 1960s, aided by radical events such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and ’65 and Woodstock, transcended the confines of the decade and cries of revolution continued to be heard today as the drug war continues to oppress the rights of individuals who feel the liberty to use such substances.  Ron Paul, a proclaimed libertarian who stands for freedom in the form of allowing consenting adults to partake in drug use through the ending of the War on Drugs, utilized propaganda that specifically highlights the idea of a revolution.  The fact that a presidential candidate is campaigning on the rhetoric of ‘revolution’ in 2013 emphasizes the timelessness of the rally cry of the 1960s and the very present opinion that that which the government is doing is not aligned with the foundations upon which the US was created.

Ron Paul 'REVOLUTION' Campaign Ad

“Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers.” YouTube. YouTube. 18 Nov. 2013 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboRijhWFDU&gt;.

“The Counterculture of the 1960s.” The Counterculture of the 1960s. 18 Nov. 2013 <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/more-subjects/history/us-history-ii/the-new-frontier-and-the-great-society/the-counterculture-of-the-1960s&gt;.

The 1960s and Beyond

“If we hope to sort out why the politics of postwar liberalism waned over this period, we must realize that the nation’s rightward shift had more to do with mass incarceration than we have yet appreciated and less to do with rising crime rates and the political savvy of the Republican party than we have long assumed” (Thompson 705).

The 1960s leading up to modern day can be considered the most active and also the most radical time period of the history of drug use and enforcement in the US.  In an era characterized by political unrest, rebellion, and counterculture, drug use grew exponentially and spread as a fashionable recreational activity amongst young, white middle class Americans.  This set of blog posts will further support the notion that drug policy and enforcement has enacted disfortune upon minorities and further promoted the long standing disparity of opportunity and quality of life between white Americans and minorities.  Heather Ann Thompson provides an expert look into the focus placed upon mass incarceration in this time period and especially how an apparent trend has developed in favor of whites or suburban landscapes and contributed to the dilapidation of cities once thought of as centers for the future whose main populous includes minorities.  Although drug use has soared within whites comparative to other minorities, police enforcement of the War on Drugs has consistently targeted minorities in a blatant procurement of racism within US society.  This final set of posts will address the US’ enforcement of drug prohibition and how certain practices have contributed to a continuation of racism and preference upon race in US society.