To decriminalize all illicit drugs would not mean to legalize them. The legalization of drugs would grant the selling and industrialization of drugs legal status – creating a commercial marketplace where anyone can produce, buy, and/or sell drugs (Mate, 2010, p. 320). Decriminalizing is simply eliminating the penal code for drug possession if it’s for personal use (Mate, 2010, p. 320). With decriminalization, drugs would be dispensed by public authorities and would allow for drug users to be medically supervised (Mate, 2010, p. 320). Addicts would not only be provided with health information but the means to use drugs safely, such as clean intravenous needles to prevent the spread of diseases (Mate, 2010, p. 320). The fear that arises with a decriminalization of drugs is that more people will use drugs because of the lack of legal consequences. Yet under legal control, addicts in the United Kingdom are able to acquire heroin (Mate, 2010, p. 322). This program has existed in the United Kingdom for decades and there is no evidence that those not addicted to drugs are now enticed to use drugs (Mate, 2010, p. 322). CONTINUE TO PAGE 3
Impact of Policy
The War on Drugs has been scientifically proven unsuccessful in its goal. In fact, it seems that it has even had the opposite effect. This policy has had a negative health and social impact. The purity of drugs has been enhanced while drug prices have become lower, according to international surveillance systems (The price and purity of illicit drugs, 2004). Since the 1960s, $2.5 trillion dollars have been spent on the War on Drugs (Suddath, 2009). Yet with this influx of funds, drug law enforcement doesn’t reduce violence but adds to it. Eliminating chief members within the illegal drug market creates new positions for others to fill (Wood, Werba, Marshall, Montanera, and Kerra, 2009). Disturbing drug systems can amplify violence levels (Wood et al., 2009). Eighty-seven percent of studies done on the impact of drug law enforcement determine that the increased drug market violence is directly correlated with heightened drug law enforcement (Wood et al., 2009).
There is no evidence that drug use is diminished with heightened drug law enforcement (Degenhardt, Chiu, Sampson, Kessler, Anthony, Angermeyer, Wells, 2008). The US is at the forefront of the world’s drug war – heading drug policy and drug research – yet has the highest levels of drug use of cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol (Degenhardt et. al, 2008). It is apparent that the punitive drug policies of the US do not reduce drug use (Degenhardt et. al, 2008). The Netherlands drug policy method towards cannabis is to take a less criminal punitive approach and compared to the US, they have lowers levels of cannabis use (Degenhardt et. al, 2008).
The money spent on the drug war has also gone to anti-drug Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Numerous drug campaigns such as “Just Say No” and the DARE school program discouraged drug use. However, the proof that these PSAs are successful is lacking and there is not enough verifiable data that shows they prevent youth from using illicit drugs (Werb, 2011, p.839).
The War on Drugs also has also has a negative health impact. About 33 million people have Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and outside of sub-Saharan Africa, one-third of those people acquire HIV through needle injection (2012 World AIDS Conference, 2012). To curtail the spread of HIV among intravenous users, needle exchange programs are a great harm reduction tactic (Mate, 2010, p.336). Drug users would get new clean needles in exchange for their dirty ones (Mate, 2010, p.336). Because HIV and other infections are spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, uncontaminated unshared needles will curb the spread of disease (Mate, 2010, p.336). Needle exchange programs will help avoid skin infections, skin boils, and the increase of bacteria in the bloodstream (Mate, 2010, p.336). Nonetheless, the U.S. government doesn’t back such programs in that they believe it would only promote addiction (Mate, 2010, p.336). Needle exchange programs in Australia, Portugal, and Switzerland have shown that nearly all new diagnosed HIV infections are virtually abolished among drug users (2012 World AIDS Conference, 2012).
The main focus with the drug policies of America is enforcement. Drug users are imprisoned and this has had negative social impacts in our society. When Regan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 it created substantial racial differences in the prison population (America’s war on drugs, 2007). Crack is cheaper, so those in lower income classes tend to buy crack since powder cocaine is too expensive (America’s war on drugs, 2007). Due to drug law violations, 1 in 9 African-American men between the ages of 25-29 are imprisoned every day according to the Bureau of Justice statistics (Sabol and Couture, 2008). The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population yet has 25% of the world’s prisoners (Liptak, 2008). The War on Drug policies has played a pivotal role in massive incarceration rates (Liptak, 2008). In 1980 40,000 people were in jails and prisons due to drug crimes, but as the War on Drugs progressed, by 2008, 500,000 people were in jails and prisons because of drug crimes (Liptak, 2008).