The War on Drugs was deemed a much-needed effort as the correlation of illegal drug use claimed to be connected to an increase in violent crimes affecting children and adults alike. It was claimed that the adults went into a drugged-out world of their own and the children of these drug addicts were neglected, abused and even abandoned.
History has shown us that the main beneficiaries of this war are the organized crime members, dirty politicians, dirty law enforcement agencies and drug dealers. And centuries after the War on Drugs began, the United States has still not been able to eradicate the menace they created.
Instead, the government has spent trillions of dollars admitting that the “best efforts” of law enforcement have not reduced the availability of drugs or drug addiction in America in any meaningful way.
Ironically, the leading cause of death from drugs is currently prescription opiates revealing another facet of this particular racket called “The War On Drugs”.
Beginning our war on drugs timeline, “drugs” first became popular in the United States in the 1800s. Opium surfaced after the American Civil War. Cocaine followed in 1880’s. It was used in health drinks and many remedies.
Morphine and heroin were used for medicinal purposes. And then, slowly and steadily, they were being abused and the addiction to these drugs reached epidemic proportions due largely from prohibition itself, the lack of information, and experience at the time. In any event, that is when the government realized the gravity of the situation and local governments and competing interests began prohibition efforts.
The prohibition of illegal drugs began in the 1870’s in America, and the first anti-drug law was passed in San Francisco. On November 15, 1875, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance making it illegal to keep or visit opium dens. This was the opening shot in the War on Drugs.
It was mainly directed at the Chinese immigrants and not the medicinal use of opium by the whites. The roots of this ordinance were indeed racist and clearly not health-oriented. Soon, the ordinance was spread to other towns with Chinese communities, like Virginia City, Sacramento, Stockton, and Oakland followed by Los Angeles and San Diego.
A statewide ban was enacted by the legislature in 1881, however, the measure was applicable only to the public, and not private, consumption of opium. The only effect that this ordinance caused was to move the dens underground and not to eradicate them. Opium dens continued as a cottage industry. while the law failed to work despite the promptness and thoroughness of the punishment.
The Supervisors soon realized the futility of their efforts and to make their own profits, started charging a license fee to the wholesale opium dealers. The situation worsened. In retrospect, and compared to what ensued, the opium dens were quite benign. They only led to a few misdemeanors. However, after the new laws of prohibition, drug abuse became a violent crime. Drug crime became an institution as the problems of drug dealers in the streets created drug-related violence.
A similar ordinance was passed in Virginia City, Nevada in 1876 which also failed to accomplish its purpose. Regardless, other states and cities followed suit thereafter. The tariffs on smoking opium were increased and decreased, but alas, to no avail.
After the state governments were unable to accomplish the purpose of illegal consumption of drugs, the Congress took matters into its own hands. It was in 1909 that the importation of opium was prohibited altogether. This law did reduce the problem as the opium passing through the custom houses reduced to zero, the problem was not eradicated.
Then the Congress found the need to amend the existing 1909 law in January 1914 let by then current Secty of State William Jennings Bryan. This included an additional statute of imposing a prohibitive tax of $300 per pound of opium… aka: Narcotics Tax Act.
Hence, the Harrison Narcotic Act was passed in December 1914, with broader provisions. The Harrison Narcotic Act was United States’ first federal drug policy which restricted marijuana sales as well as cocaine, heroin, and morphine sales. Being a federal policy, the act was enforced aggressively. The physicians who ‘prescribed’ drugs to the addicts were harshly punished. More than 5000 physicians were convicted.
Under President Richard M. Nixon, the Controlled Substances Act was enacted in 1970. It is the Federal law that guides the manufacture, import, possession, use and distribution of regulated substances. Under this law, five schedules were created and two federal agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to determine which substances are added to or removed from which schedule.
By the end of the 60’s, the link between illegal drugs and communism was the theme du jour from the Feds. It played extremely well augmenting the fear-based, post-nuclear narrative while our government continued to defend its position on Viet Nam and Cambodia.
That honor must be given to the infamous Harry J. Anslinger, America’s first Drug Czar, who headed up the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Collectively, between Anslinger and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, they controlled vice law and vice law enforcement in the United States for over 30 years. Prior to that, the Federal government largely ignored drug enforcement.
But by 1936, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was being crafted in an effort for competing businesses in agriculture, textiles, construction materials, medical, construction materials and much more to be, shall we say, conveniently obliged and accommodated. So again, another angle on criminalization yet again. New myths and horror stories were created about drugs while Anslinger continued to showcase his extreme racism on cannabis users and the subject of marijuana.
Then came the impending U.S. involvement in WW II when the Feds trumped everyone and reversed Anslinger’s policies by overtly promoting and rewarding American producers to grow as much hemp as possible for the war effort. And after the war? You guessed it. Cannabis was placed on the controlled substances list and classified as a ‘Schedule 1 Drug’ which to this day has been the legal paradigm set to justify criminalization and incarceration once again. This classification is the proverbial cornerstone upon which all prohibitionist racketeering and political manipulation find the necessary legal leverage to survive.
The drug laws enforced up to this time did nothing but worsen the situation. Drug use became another symbol of youth rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent. It was in June 1971 that President Nixon declared a War on Drugs.
Nixon increased the size and the powers of the federal drug-control agencies, made stringent regulations like mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants, and even set up a commission led by Raymond Shafer to look into the effects of marijuana.
Ironically, the commission, in 1972, recommended decriminalization of possession of marijuana for personal use. This recommendation was, however, outrightly rejected by Nixon.
Later, many states followed with decriminalization, but within a few years, the tide seemed to shift again as Fed propaganda declared that due to decriminalization many teens were falling prey to marijuana abuse.
Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure
Ironically, the commission, in 1972, recommended decriminalization of possession of marijuana for personal use. This recommendation was, however, outrightly rejected by Nixon. Later, many states followed with decriminalization, but within a few years, the tide seemed to shift again as Fed propaganda declared that due to decriminalization many teens were falling prey to marijuana abuse.
The laws made by President Nixon were further modified by the then-Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, in 1973. The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated extremely harsh punishment and prison terms for possession or sale of even small amounts of drugs. These laws shifted the process of addressing drug abuse from medical and public health systems to the criminal justice system.
This harsh law prevented the direction of offenders to community-based programs like drug treatment, education and vocational programs which had proven to be far more economical, effective and efficient than incarceration. Thus, the drug laws moved from reform to punishment gleefully supported all the way by the power elite up through Bush The Younger’s administration, and not questioned until Obama came to office.
The social and economic cost of prohibition rackets are so immense, it is almost incalculable. Yet here we are… 2016. States continue to push back against our obnoxious, oppressive and deceitful Federal government by legalizing the medical use and recreational use of cannabis-related products… relentlessly, the Feds still won’t let go of their Drug War profits.
I only intended to hit the main points… well. Did I miss the mark? Please share your thoughts, anecdotes and opinions on this exasperating and sad subject of the War on Drugs history.
After considering the entire history of War on Drugs, one is inclined to consider whether we have won, or are winning this war?
Understandably, there is a great deal of confusion as to why the war is being fought and who the real targets actually are. Due to the confusion and lack of unanimity, this war on drugs cost has clearly caused more harm than good. The problem is that the war is not attacking the right people.
Besides the taxpayers, the ones who suffer are mostly the petty offenders who use drugs for recreational purposes and get busted for owning $50 worth of cocaine in their pockets.
However, the real culprits are the dealers who have made drug dealing a huge money-making profession; the culprits are the politicians who have used the criminalization and decriminalization of drugs to fit their political agendas and all too often financial gain; the culprits are big business enterprises, large pharmaceutical corporations that gain big from the black market prohibition and criminalization of drugs.