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The War on Drugs: It's Time to Surrender

Who is the real target of the so-called drug war?

By Hannah SmartPublished 6 years ago 4 min read

Ask an average republican what he or she believes are the most pressing issues facing the United States today. Chances are, you wouldn’t hear about our excess military spending or the fact that we dwarf the rest of the world in the categories of both mass incarceration and mass shootings. What you may hear, however, is that the United States has a drug problem and that the only inevitable solution to this problem—the only way the United States can finally defeat those wishing to pump their own bodies full of harmful substances they’ve used their own money to obtain—is to crack down even harder on drug users and imprison more people, helping to contribute to the mass incarceration issue mentioned earlier. An average democrat would likely have a different opinion on the most pressing issues facing the country, but would most likely still support the “War on Drugs” to an extent, maybe going as far as to say that recreational marijuana should be legalized nationwide while maintaining that “harder” substances should remain illicit. While I tend to side more with the democrats on this issue, I disagree with both of these stances, because I fundamentally disagree with their premise.

The drug war officially began in 1971, when President Nixon declared that substance trade and abuse was “public enemy number one” (keep in mind that we, at the time, were in the middle of two actual confrontations—the Cold War, and the Vietnam War). From the start, this was an overly aggressive campaign—even its title, the “War on Drugs,” implies some kind of military confrontation between the US government and the various organic and synthetic chemicals they banned.

Consider the seemingly random allocation of “danger” statuses to these chemicals. They’re illicit for the health risks they pose, but cigarettes, which are responsible for over 480,000 deaths each year in the United States alone (CDC), are perfectly legal in every state. Perhaps what sets illegal drugs apart from cigarettes, then, is their mind-altering capabilities. But what, then, should we make of alcohol, whose mind-altering influence causes driving accidents that cost the country $44 billion dollars per year (CDC)?

Still not convinced? Consider the five categories of the Controlled Substances Act. The first category is presumably dedicated to drugs that pose high likelihood of addiction and have no medicinal uses, such as heroin; but in that category, one can also find marijuana, a substance that has been shown to lessen epileptic seizures, prevent the spread of cancer, and slow down the rate at which Alzheimer’s Disease progresses (Business Insider). Schedule II of the CSA consists of slightly less threatening drugs with approved medical uses, such as the oh-so-therapeutic methamphetamine, which can lead to addiction after one use (, yet still somehow doesn’t meet the qualifications for having a “high likelihood of addiction.” So what gives? Were these categories chosen at random?

The criteria for each category is so blatantly not applicable to the substances listed within that one cannot help but wonder if the people who compiled it were using drugs themselves. However, a closer look at the demographics commonly associated with each substance reveals an underlying pattern. Heroin, a Schedule I substance, is used at about the same rate across all ethnicities—notably, both Whites and Blacks use the drug at exactly the same frequency (Huffington Post)—1.8 percent (CDC).

Cocaine, on the other hand, one of the most notoriously addictive drugs, does not make the cutoff for being a Schedule I controlled substance. Yet, something to note is that white youth have been shown to be 4.6 times more likely to use cocaine than their black peers (Huffington Post). Cocaine also tends to be expensive due to its long shipment from Central America, which allows it to incur risks and increase in value. As a result, regularly purchasing the drug is only sustainable if you’re a member of the upper class. Marijuana use rates are similar for Whites and Blacks, yet a recent study in New York found that only 15 percent of marijuana arrest victims in the city were White (NY Times). These statistics are likely not surprising, but when laid out altogether, one can clearly see that the stated “enemy” in this “war”—drugs—is only a pathetic cover-up for the systematic disenfranchisement of targeted groups of people.

If that weren’t enough, consider the violence and gang activity that illegal drug trade brings to inner-city communities. Think of the repeated cycle of poverty that staunch economic rightists believe can be broken with the correct balance of individual perseverance and hard work, and think of all the potential businesses that could be established in those inner-city communities if entrepreneurs did not have to take into account the violence perpetuated by drug dealers.

Do not make the assumption that I’m advocating the use of drugs. If hard drugs were suddenly declared legal today, I would not—as I’m sure the majority of you would not—go out tomorrow and purchase cocaine and heroin. So whom then, would this legalization affect? Probably only the people who are already using or selling drugs. See, what advocates of this continued war on drugs fail to mention is the real victims of the war—it’s not the drugs, as one may be misled to believe, but the over a million nonviolent drug addicts and users who, instead of being rehabilitated for a serious, life-altering problem, are instead being disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote, and thrown into prison. The United States government currently spends over $30 billion per year taking care of prisoners and maintaining prisons (USDJ) when less than 18 percent of them are violent offenders (November). Imagine if that money were instead spent on rehabilitation, or universal healthcare, or education—all investments the government apparently cannot afford without a widespread tax increase. Most Americans aren’t strangers to the idea that the country’s authorities have budgeting problems, and we’re also quite familiar with the American ideals of justice and liberty, but when the targets of this “justice” are, by and large, people who are simply exercising their liberty in a non-threatening manner, one cannot help but long for updated definitions of justice and liberty that do not involve deliberate and systematic exploitation. Then perhaps we could end this absurd, corrupt, racist, failed “war” we’ve been perpetuating against our own people for nearly fifty years.


About the Creator

Hannah Smart

Middlebury College class of 2019. Amateur musician and writer.

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