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Why The War on Drugs is a Waste of Time

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The war on drugs has been lost, and just like countless other redundant efforts society has pursued we still insist that exact opposite. We have lost billions of dollars from the economy, ruined countless innocent life’s, and created an shameful stigma around people with addiction problems.

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Although governments have been taking action against drug use since the beginning of the 20th century the real ‘declaration of war’ against drugs was made by the Nixon administration in 1971 when president Richard Nixon of the United States announced that drugs are the “Public enemy number one in the United states.” He stated reasons for this being drugs like marijuana caused teenagers to go crazy, causing violent rampages and rapes, and that woman were turning into psychotic sex addicts. Additionally, the reason for this sudden attack was not the due to increased consumptions rates or an increase in overdose deaths, but rather so Nixon’s cabinet could vilify their enemies. Nixon’s domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman was leading this battle and several years later in 1994 in an interview with Dan Baum for Harper’s magazine stated “You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The war against drugs has deep roots in systemic human rights violations and since then has caused countless race based stereotypes and conflicts. This is shown in countless studies such as a statistical analysis report conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that even though white males are 3 times more likely to become addicted to drugs, black males are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession. And according to the FBI, DEA, Creative spirits, the ABS and more institutions, roughly 1 in 3 dark skinned adults will be arrested or spend time in jail for non-violent drug related offenses, compared to the 1 in 19 white adults average.

In addition to this, these tactics have been shown to be ineffective. We are repeating the past and doomed to make the same fatal mistakes as before. In the ACT there was a prohibition of alcohol from 1910 and 1928. Just like in America and every other country people continued to drink alcohol by whatever means necessary, this in turn caused several social and political issues and, when substances are banned, time and time again it has been shown that the potency increases. People will pay for whatever they can get their hands on, and if you were to receive the same punishment if you take a low quality product as high quality product why wouldn’t you opt for the stronger option, why take a substance that makes you go ‘meh’ when you can take one that induces laughter and seemingly endless fun times. This directly lead to an increase in unnecessary non-violent incarcerations and alcohol related injuries and even deaths. The exact same effect is happening with illicit and prohibited drugs, since they are illegal the potency has increased and more social problems are coming to light.

Furthermore the government’s actions have proven to be costly and unsuccessful. In Australia in 2010 alone the government spent 1.7 billion dollars on drug enforcement, and, for example since then every year on average there have been 77,549 marijuana related arrests according to the nation alcohol and drug knowledgebase, 91% of which were for personal consumption and 9% which were for distribution. We are not tackling the problem we are just shaming people for an act that as much as 35% of the population has taken part in. We are focussing too much money on drug enforcement and not enough on health and education. Drug abuse and addiction are serious problems that require more of the governments help, we should not be putting people in prison over a health issue, we should be helping them. And we shouldn’t continue to just tell kids drugs are bad, because, everyone knows that, however no one seems to care. I’m sure we can all think of a health class we’ve been in over the past 4 years were the teacher has said something along the lines of “Drugs are bad, all they do is ruin people’s life’s and turn you into a loser.” And I’m sure our parents and teachers received the same talk also. But we still all know of people who use drugs. This clearly isn’t working.

It is evident that a suitable course of action to tackle this problem could be role modelled off of Portugal’s recent methods. Portugal was the first country in the world to decriminalize all drugs for personal use in 2001. Since then they have re-directed their budget into safe spaces for drug users to use drugs, were they are provided clean drugs, a sanitary environment and medical treatment. And instead of locking up offenders, they give counselling and education to these victims. Since then the HIV infection rate dropped from 104.2 cases per million in 2000 to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The overdose death rate dropped to 30 people per year in 2019, compared to Australia’s 1, 612 deaths. And the stigma around the issue is no longer one of pity and hatred, they are no longer ‘junkies’ or low life’s, they are people who have a health issues. This small act has decreased negative connotations and have pushed for more people to seek out help rather than being ashamed of doing so.

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The dependency and abuse of drugs is a horrible epidemic that must be fought with education and health rather than punishment. So, again, the war on drugs has been lost, and we are still convinced that we are winning. 

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