Only two more weeks until the election! As you know, assuming you have been keeping up with the site, I am all about the war on drugs and its role in the 2012 presidential campaign. I have been trying to be concise and cohesive in my terms and explanations but I think it will helpful (for you and me both) if I give an over view of what the war on drugs is exactly. If you didn’t realize this now, the war on drugs is not much in the sense of war as it is a term. War, as we all figure out in grade school, is when two opposing sides physically fight over a series of battles in order to reach a goal. While yes, there is physically fighting in this “war”, it lacks the consecutive series of battles against one opposing side- there are multiple enemies in this war. The war on drugs should be thought more of as a campaign to reduce illegal drug trade and use.
It all began about forty years ago when President Nixon brought the country’s attention to the drug problem facing America. The annual cigarette consumption peaked more than 4,345 cigarettes per person in the 1960’s and younger Americans start to use marijuana and LSD more than ever before. In July of 1973, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to coordinate the efforts of all drug agencies. Federal spending on anti-drug campaigns has increased thirty fold since 1973. This is because of new programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) formed in 1983, Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No”campaign in 1984, President Regan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, President Bush’s creation of Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1989, and President GW Bush’s signature of the STOP act in 2006. Even today, the US leads the world in drug use. The World Health Organization put out a survey of drug use (legal and illegal) reaching more than 54,000 adults in 17 countries. It came as no shock that most European countries have the highest alcohol consumption. But Surprise! The US reported having the highest levels of marijuana and cocaine use.
Despite all this federal funding, illicit drug use has been increasing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2010 about 8.9% of the population (Americans aged 12 or older) had used abused an illicit or psychotherapeutic drug in the past month. To put facts in perspective, that is up 8.3% from rates in 2002.
The chart above details the drug use in America by providing the overarching use of illicit drugs then the subcategories. Cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, and psychotherapeutics are all types of illicit drugs.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, I have told you that before so it should come as no huge surprise. But here are the hard, cold facts- between 2007 and 2011, the numbers of users 12 and older increased from 14.5 million to 18.1 million- that a 1.2% increase. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) conducted survey and found that states that legalized medical marijuana had a much higher rate of use than states that haven’t. If you didnt know at least 10 other states besides California have passed medical marijuana laws since 1996: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. People ranging from 12-17 have increased their marijuana use since 2009 and it is still on an upward trend. There are also a larger percentage of males using than females, about a 2.3% difference. It was estimated in 2011 that 5 million marijuana users 12 or older abused on a daily basis over a year. On a demographic scale, most illicit drug users are fully employed, but the rate of use is higher for the unemployed. African America are the highest users, followed by Caucasians, then Hispanics. And the highest rate of use geographically? Large metropolitan areas abuse the most compared to other parts of the country. Which makes sense if you put into perspective the population ratios.
Overall, drug trends have been relatively stable (but high) over the past few years. Despite all the money being poured into anti-drug campaigns, the numbers aren’t really changing. Interestingly enough, most American’s don’t realize the extent of the problem this country faces when it comes to the war on drugs. When asked back in 2007, the group Gallup (a statistics agency) surveyed Americans asking them to describe the problem of drugs in the United States. Answers ranged from extremely serious to no opinion. The bulk of the responses was extremely serious (35%), very serious (38%), and moderately serious (24%). These percentages are actually lower than they were back in 2000 where 43% thought it to very serious. Public opinion might be indicating that things are getting better, in actuality that isn’t the case. If you think of your experience with illegal drugs- do you agree with what the survey said? This makes my blogs pretty crucial now- I am here to inform you!
Domestic abuse is only half of the fight; a large part of this war has to do with the drug trades between the US and South America. More specifically, the cartel violence in Mexico has been threatening to spill into the US. Currently, Mexico is the main foreign supplier of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin. Since the collapse of the Columbian drug cartels, Mexican cartels have taken over much of the business. In addition, the rise of Mexican democracy in the 1990’s has influenced growth because drug traffickers use local officials in the government to do their bidding. It is really messed up to say the least.
There are six main cartels dominating certain sections of the country.
The one closest to home is the Tijuana Cartel Federation. Tijuana Cartel dominates the northwestern tip of Mexico, right where the border of Southern California is located. Yes, this is the same Tijuana that Nancy Botwin of the Showtime TV production Weeds is involved with- but those events are on a purely fictional basis. The US has been successful in making it harder to cross the border but as a result this has led to an increase in violence. Drug traffickers have actually begun to fight with each other over the limit amount of routes and access points to cross over into the US. On hot spot is the border closest to the Tijuana Cartel- this year alone more than 5, 300 people have been killed due to drug conflict. That is about 1,00 more deaths than the count of US military personnel killed in the Iraq war. A majority of these people killed are traffickers, police, soldiers, and civilians involved with the transfer of illegal drugs into the US.
The only way to ease the tension between the two sides is through compromise and cooperation. The Bush administration realized that and proposed the Merida Initiative. It would have the US provided aid package to Mexico in the form of equipment and training for law enforcement agencies, courts and the military to combat drug traffickers and strengthen the rule of law for three year duration. This has helped but not completely eradicated drug problems. This did strength US-Mexico relation though. The Bush and Calderón administrations announced in a joint statement back in December of 2007:
The United States and Mexico will make it a priority to break the power and impunity of drug and criminal organizations that threaten the health and public safety of their citizens and the stability and security of the region.
All of this brings me to the most pertinent part of the war on drug- it’s political effect. The question everyone tries to answer on the domestic level is how to combat the high drug use: by prevention or by punishment. Different political groups have different opinions on the issues. Hard-line liberals and libertarians favor legalization, while moderate liberals and libertarians favor prevention of drug abuse. Conservatives and populists adopt a policy that favors punishment for all aspects of the Drug War- like death penalty for drug dealers. Centralists or The New Democrats (which is supported by Clinton and Gore) are advocates of the war and its purpose and encourage maintaining funding. Keep in mind these are just generalizations and don’t necessarily apply to every person in that party.
I have detailed Obama and Romney’s views on the War on Drugs in one of my first posts, but here is a quick summary. Obama has focused mostly on judicial and penal reform in his last four years, he is not completely against legalization of marijuana, and he acknowledges the drug violence on the southern borders. His plan is to expand use of drug courts, reduce crime repetition by providing ex-offender support and eliminate sentence disparities. The notable thing about Obama is that he is for sure not the first president to use drugs but he is the first to be open and honest about it. On the other hand, Romney takes a domestic prevention approach to the war on drug. He voted “no” on more funding for the Merida Initiative and on a military border task force to help counter terrorism and drug interdiction. He also strongly opposes legalization of medical marijuana and feels punishments for its use should be stricter. He is all about national education and not getting involved with Mexico.
On that note, I hope this helped clarify the history on the war on drugs. It is ongoing problem this country faces and hopefully gets some attention by the next president.