Under the United States Constitution the federal government is charged with the responsibilities to protect our individual, as well as collective, rights to life and liberty. Often times this charge leads the various branches of the federal government to create, implement, and enforce policy that is designed to protect society from itself. Noble in it’s ambition the result although not apparent initially, sometimes does more to hinder the rights of the citizens it is attempting to protect, and/or the cost of doing so becomes a higher price than that of the cost that is being avoided. In this case it is necessary to re-evaluate the situation and explore any alternatives that may offer a more fathomable solution concerning both protection of rights as well as the cost of so doing.
In the late 1980’s the United States government made such policy and today the results have done little to resolve the problem and have left the country closer to the danger it sought to prevent. The policy is known as the “ War on Drugs”. Initially the drug prohibition was, however idealistic, a valiant attempt to rid the country of this terrible “enemy”. The objectives were simple; to impose stiff penalties on those who use drugs outlined to be illicit, quell all to trade and commerce of such substances, and even to go as far to prevent countries with in our general border vicinity from producing and exporting these substances.
The illicit drug market, pre-drug war, is estimated to be a hundred billion dollar a year business. The federal government, since the beginning the war of drug, spends approximately ten billion dollars a year on drug enforcement agencies and programs, and another estimated one hundred and ninety billion dollars a year on investigating drug related crimes, prosecution of alleged drug activities, and enforcing punishments and/or imprisonment. That adds up to be a staggering cost of two hundred billion dollars ($770.00 per person) to attempt to prevent one hundred billion dollars worth of illicit drug use. (Evans and Berent) Another consequence of this questionable war lies in Opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is defined as the cost of opportunity lost in pursuit of another option. This cost analysis is relevant in the case of the drug prohibition policy in that the resources use to implement the policy are limited, police and prisons. The law enforcement used in this “war of drugs” has their time nearly monopolized by the approximate thirty to forty million people yearly who purchase and use drugs. This inherently leaving various law enforcement agencies with less ability to confront other crimes. Then there is the problem of prisons. The space in the prisons is extremely limited, and the cost of keeping a person in prison is astronomical in caparison to the prevention being provided in reference to drug prohibition. The issue of limited prison space gains significance greatly when you consider an estimated sixty-percent of prison population is serving time on drug conviction. In 1994 some seven hundred and fifty thousand people were arrested in drug related events. Of the seven hundred and fifty thousand people arrested, six hundred thousand of them were charged with minor counts of possession. (Wink) Other indicators that can be easily observed such as the rise in illicit drug use by teens and children reported the Drug Enforcement Agency. In fact only twenty-eight percent of teens used illicit drug compared to a whopping forty percent in 1996. (DEA/CDC) The misallocation of resources is totally exhausting and paralyzing the entire legal system that could be better targeted on a more productive agenda. What does the policy of drug prohibition actually encourage? The statistics show a rise in crimes concerning personal property; drug abusers in hopes of supporting their drug habit committed seventy-five percent of all property crimes such as burglary and robbery. Studies have shown that out patient drug programs or programs that offered drugs for a lower cost drastically reduced the amount of crimes committed. (Duke) As of 1992 an estimated sixty million people have tried and or used marijuana and there has yet to be one recorded death attributed to overdose. While it is estimated that ten thousand people die from overdose of alcohol annually. This would lead one to acknowledge that maybe our opinion drugs may be based in fear and social standard rather than in solid facts.
The optimal goal of any policy is to protect our rights while encouraging all the ideals of the society. The problem occurs in the fact that is fairly impossible to regulate individual contributions (positive or negative) to the nation in any broad legislative sense. To more accurately explain the complexity of the issue of drug prohibition it is pertinent to understand the difference of positive and negative liberty. Positive liberty is a liberty that forces the government to provide a service to its’ citizens such as maintaining a military or a national treasury. A negative liberty is the type of liberty we most often refer, such as our first amendment rights. Negative liberties prevent the federal government from interfering with certain rights for example freedom of speech and freedom of press. Drug Prohibition is most closely classified as a positive liberty because it forces the government to provide services to create and enforce a drug free America. The difference between the two types of liberties is significant. Positive liberty calls for the federal government to fulfill a more substantial role in individual lives thus it is believed for that reason the federal government should not give itself too many liberties of this type. (Peterson) Finally one must step back and objectively ask, “should we retain our current policy stance concerning illicit drugs, or is the current drug prohibition policy ineffective and counter productive?” United States Judge William W. Schwarzer once said, “…ending drug use is useless if in the process we lose our soul”.
The first step in changing a policy is to evaluate it effects both positive and negative. To begin to evaluate a policy, one must be able to define the parameters of the policy being examined. The parameters of the drug prohibition policy that will be investigated are the Untied States prohibition of drugs christened the war on drugs of 1989. This will include examining the effects this policy has had on society, on personal rights, the cost of implementation (monetarily and other wise), and of course the success and/or failure of drug prohibition policy.
United States President George Bush officially began his “war on drugs” in September 5, 1989. President Bush gave the first prime time address of his presidency, on which he delineated the federal government’s scheme for eradicating drug use. This plan would call for a nearly eight billion dollar budget from Congress, which added over two billion dollars to over the previous year’s budget. Of the nearly eight billion that Bush asked Congress to allocate, the plan outlined that seventy percent would go to law enforcement, which also included a billion and a half for jails. However, his proposal only allocated thirty percent to prevention, education, and treatment. The Bush administration sought to focus the brunt of his anti- drug campaign in the United States, which, to Bush, meant attacking and arresting the drug user, rather than focusing on prevention, education and treatment, or interdiction. Since the federal government has very limited police resources, it would have to enlist the combined cooperation of the states to achieve success. States that did not comply with the Bush plan would be penalized with a reduction in funding from the federal government. (Treaster)
The effects on society are not miniscule like the government would have you believe. Crime has risen exponentially since the 1989 when the “war of drugs” was first introduced. In the early 1900’s before the prohibition of so called illicit drugs heroin and aspirin both were sold at about the same price. In contrast today the price of heroin has sky rocketed to a price of fifty dollars per gram compared to a mere twenty cents per gram, the cost of aspirin. (Cundruff) This type of surge in price of illicit drugs have not reduced the need of users to consume various illicit drugs, but has in turn encourage them to rob, steal, and kill for them. Today there is approximately 1.7 million people imprisoned and our murder rate is close to twelve per one hundred thousand people. That is highest rate of imprisonment and one of the highest murder rates in the world. These are significant numbers considering that sixty percent of the prison population has been jailed due to drug violations. In the 1980’s casual drug use was mainly in the middle and upper-classes. Around 1985 that rate dropped a staggering twenty-two percent among the two classes, but rose exponentially in the poorer class. The invention of drugs such as crack cocaine, a cheaper version, began to race through the streets of the poor neighborhoods. The sudden influx of cheaper drugs led to creation of drug cartels, a rise of the number of gangs, and a contributed greatly to the general further destruction of inter- city sub divisions. The rise in gangs and drug-lords, that recruit people from as early as childhood, tempt them into the high yield world of drug sales, promising them a high level of living. These circumstances then encourage children and teenagers in these poor neighborhoods to neglect or totally drop out of school, which leaves a mass group of people uneducated, unskilled, and committing crime. All of these factors only precede poorer communities
Prohibition at its’ root is an assault on the rights of the citizens on which it is inflicted. The ‘war on drugs’ is no exception. At the most basic of these rights are our inalienable rights to life and liberty.