War On Drugs

War On Drugs

A Story by Bryant James

A position paper on the War on Drugs.

War on Drugs...

“I am against Prohibition because it has set the cause of temperance back twenty years; because it has substituted an ineffective campaign of force for an effective campaign of education; because it has replaced comparatively uninjurious light wines and beers with the worst kind of hard liquor and bad liquor; because it has increased drinking not only among men but has extended drinking to women and even children.” -- William Randolph Hearst, initially a supporter of Prohibition, explaining his change of mind in 1929. From "Drink: A Social History of America" by Andrew Barr (1999), p. 239.

The War on Drugs is a campaign of prohibition and foreign military aid being undertaken by the United States government, with the assistance of participating countries, intended to both define and reduce the illegal drug trade (Cockburn).  There are many sides and positions to be expressed on the subject of the War on Drugs, and while there are both positive and negative aspects to its current position, some feel that the “war” remains illegal altogether.  The first time America heard the phrase “War on Drugs” was from the mouth of President Nixon in 1971, although most of the policies were already laid forth by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 and the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act of 1937. Many people feel that the only reason Marijuana is included in the current drug policy is because the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act of 1937 was established for none other reason but to destroy the hemp industry which would have been a far more practical substitute for the paper-pulp being used in the newspaper industry.  Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings, and Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America, had invested heavily in the Du Pont families new synthetic fiber, nylon, which was also being outcompeted by hemp (French).  The organization formed in 1930 to enforce the policies of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. President Nixon would implement the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, and in 1973, he created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

There is a high majority of Americans who feel that the War on Drugs is already lost, that it is only still in operation as a cover to distribute congress approved funds to foreign nations for alternative motives. It is well known that the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and well over half are charged with drug related crimes. The War on Drugs directly puts over a million Americans in jail every year, and a quarter of those are solely charged with Marijuana possession. America spends over forty billion dollars a year on the War on Drugs, and after thirty years, we show no signs of improvement. A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy �" $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, remainder from other drugs) (Debusmann). Another negative aspect of the drug war advocated by many authors is that it creates a permanent “underclass” that is socially challenged in the job market.

One of the DEA’s first installments of the drug war was Operation Just Cause, which the United States deployed 25,000 troops into Panama in 1989. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of the government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S. which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug trafficking activities, which they had known about since the 1960s (Buckley). The DEA tried to intervene as early as 1971, then the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, but was stopped by the CIA, headed at the time by future president George H. W. Bush. It wasn’t until a CIA pilot was shot down over Nicaragua and the discovery of several documents that linked the CIA to illicit activities in Latin America, that the DEA was able to capture Noriega. Operation Just Cause killed thousands of innocent Panamanian civilians and exposed two departments of American government in contradiction with each other, one of which was aiding the Panamanian drug trade. 

The War on Drugs has also had its detrimental influence on Colombia, and currently the United States provides hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as military assistance and training. Their ultimate goal is to halt cocoa production and exportation, critics impose that they are implementing to strong of influence into the government and turning a shoulder to the drug exchange in the north of the country.  Human Rights Watch, congressional committees, and other entities have documented the existence of connections between members of the Colombian military and the AUC, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist group, and that Colombian military personnel have committed human rights abuses which would make them ineligible for U.S. aid under current laws (Washington). The United States also regularly pay for ariel herbicides to be sprayed over the jungles of Central and South America with the goal of eliminating the fields of illegal cocoa production, but ultimately results in the destruction of legal crops of local farmers. Many farmers who live below, and have nothing to do with the drug trade, are exposed to dangerous doses of toxic pesticides which cause severe health problems, birth defects, and deaths (Bigwood). Environmental consequences resulting from aerial fumigation have been criticized as detrimental to some of the world's most fragile ecosystems; the same aerial fumigation practices are further credited with causing health problems in local populations (Rohter).

Approved on June 30, 2008, the Merida Initiative involves the cooperation of United States, the government of Mexico, and the countries of South America to combat the effects of drug trafficking. The Mérida Initiative will appropriate $1.4 billion in a three year commitment to the Mexican government for military and law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice and training to strengthen the national justice systems. No weapons are included in the plan (Guevara). Not only has the Obama Administration refused to use the term “War on Drugs”, but no payments of the remaining billion dollars owed to South America have been paid and remains uncertain if they are to honor the Merida Initiative. In 2010, the Washington Office on Latin America concluded that both Plan Colombia and the Colombian government's security strategy "came at a high cost in lives and resources, only did part of the job, are yielding diminishing returns and have left important institutions weaker” (Washington).

The CIA has also been linked to many controversial cases throughout the years, and in 1986 a lawsuit was filled citing the CIA and other parties were involved in criminal acts. The Nicaraguan revolutionaries, known as Contras, distributed crack-cocaine throughout Los Angeles, with the aid of the United States Government, in order to finance weapons for the rebellion against the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional. Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concludes that members of the U.S. State Department "who provided support for the Contras are involved in drug trafficking...and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly receive financial and material assistance from drug traffickers." The report further states that "the Contra drug links include...payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies” (Cockburn).  In order to prevent Communist party members from being elected in Italy following World War II, the CIA worked closely with the Sicilian Mafia, protecting them and assisting in their worldwide heroin smuggling operations in exchange for the mafia's assistance with assassinating, torturing, and beating leftist political organizers (Cockburn).

            Although we will not hear the phrase “War on Drugs” anymore, as the Obama Administration has announced it is “counter-productive”, this war is very much still in effect. We will continue to battle the struggles, both economically and emotionally, for many years to come.      

Bryant James

Baton Rouge



© 2011 Bryant James

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Added on March 7, 2011
Last Updated on March 7, 2011


Bryant James
Bryant James

Baton Rouge, LA

Undergraduate Student. Late Bloomer. Journalism. Life. Expression. more..