Ending The (Other) War
- By Will Duff
- Published on June 26, 2011
Every Sunday, we’ll feature an article by a columnist on the Headstash staff who will give you a personal take on themes within our scene, including anything from jam bands to electronica acts and environmentalism to drug reform.
Forty years ago this month, President Richard M. Nixon announced the infamous “War on Drugs” in an effort to eliminate illicit drug use in the United States. Nixon declared drug abuse as “Public Enemy #1” and United States domestic and foreign drug policy has been dictated by this notion ever since. Since the inception of the War on Drugs, trillions of dollars have been spent and millions have been incarcerated, yet drug use and availability is as widespread as ever.
While one would be hard-pressed to conjure up the positive effects of the War on Drugs, the negative effects of this “war” on society are numerous and easily identifiable. We all know someone who has faced relatively unjust criminal punishment for something as insignificant as a dime bag. It is safe to say the War on Drugs has ruined more lives than it has saved.
Ironically coinciding with the 40-year anniversary was a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy released earlier this month suggesting a paradigm shift in the drug policy of nations. Instead of punishing and incarcerating drug users, governments should focus on treatment. Perhaps this consensus was reached, at least in part, because of the success of Portugal’s policy of decriminalization.
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In 2001, Portugal embarked on a bold experiment by decriminalizing all drugs. They believed focusing on prevention and treatment as opposed to heavy enforcement would decrease the number of overdoses and stop the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV. Ten years later, this policy is largely viewed as a success – drug use has gone down significantly and the incidence of HIV from using dirty needles has decreased dramatically.
Although all-out decriminalization in the United States may be a stretch, taking a sensible, pragmatic approach to this pressing issue is imperative. As stated by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the use of marijuana is widespread and elimination of marijuana is a pipe dream. Further, the use of marijuana is less harmful than the effects of alcohol abuse, which kills 75,000 Americans each year.
As seen in the United States failed attempt at alcohol prohibition in the first half of the twentieth century, outlawing any substance leads to criminal activity and degradation of the quality of the banned substance. Decriminalizing marijuana will not only take it out of the hands of criminal organizations but will also lead to regulation and improved safety of the substance. Additionally, taxing products like marijuana will legitimize an industry that is almost entirely underground and pump some money into a struggling economy.
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In 2009, the Obama administration pledged they would respect states rights when it comes to issues such as medical marijuana and were effectively ending the War on Drugs. Since then, the administration has gone back on their word and DEA raids on medical marijuana facilities are as common as during the Bush administration.
In his campaign to become President, Obama stated that drug abuse should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. Contrary to this statement, the Obama administration has a spending ratio of punishment over treatment that resembles a budget ratio during the Bush administration. Punishment is clearly still favored over rehabilitation.
It’s time our President ends the War on Drugs as opposed to just posturing and making false promises about it. It’s time our nation moves on from the archaic drug policies of the past and develops a comprehensive yet sensible drug policy. It’s time to stop incarcerating marijuana users and focus on rehabilitation for addicts instead of prison sentences. It’s time to abandon the War on Drugs. Forty years on, there is one universal truth about this war: it simply does not work.
Will Duff is a Headstash staff writer who grew up in New Jersey and moved to Colorado – very different states in terms of drug policy. Contact Headstash Magazine at
What do you think about the "War On Drugs" and what Will has to say about it? Let us know in the comments below.