“War on Drugs” sociology paper

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“America”, recognized worldwide for it’s engrossing mass media and lavish lifestyle, has now gained the reputation as one of the largest drug consumers to this day. Drugs are now seen as a major problem in the American way of life, but this is no new dilemma. Drugs themselves have existed in America since the landing of the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, but never before have they augmented in such a proportion until this past century. The first piece of legislation which would later lead to the “war on drugs” was the Harrison Tax Act of 1914, in which it restricted the sale of heroin and was also later used to prohibit the sale of cocaine. In January 1919, the United States passed the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol on a national level. June 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created under the leadership of Harry Anslinger. By 1933 Depression-era gangsters and bootleggers had gotten so out of hand that the 18th Amendment (prohibition on alcohol) was repealed. A new national enforcement framework came into view with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which attempted to tax marijuana into oblivion, as Tom Head from Ask.com emphasized that marijuana “with it’s alleged perception might be a “gateway drug” for heroin users”.

The Boggs Act of 1951 had established a mandatory federal sentence for possession of marijuana, cocaine, and opiates. During the 1960’s drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dispute. When the Nixon administration came into office in 1970 they looked for ways to block the import of marijuana from Mexico, they imposed strict traffic searches along on the U.S.-Mexican border in an effort to crack down on marijuana. While dealing with marijuana at home the Nixon administration was also forced to look upon the soldiers who were over sea in Vietnam. Statistics provided by Shmoop detail the numbers of soldiers who became drug users while on duty, “military police were arresting more than a thousand soldiers a week for marijuana possession, and statistics from 1969 assert that a least 40,000 Vietnam veterans came back from the conflict as heroin addicts”. With the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, the federal government took a more active role in drug enforcement and drug abuse prevention. In June 1971, President Nixon declared “war on drugs,” who called drug abuse “public enemy number one” in a 1971 speech.

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He later dramatically increased the size of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing. Within just a few years proposals to decriminalize marijuana were forgotten as parents became increasingly concerned about high rates of teen marijuana use. The Ronald Reagan presidency marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, “the number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1997 to over 400,000 by 1980,” as stated by the Drug Policy Alliance. In 1981, Reagan’s wife, Nancy Reagan, began a anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan “Just Say No.” This set the stage for the zero tolerance policies in the 1980’s. Following the 1980’s the 1990’s has created more awareness campaigns and formed treaties with our neighboring countries to unite against the threats of drug trafficking and transnational crime. In the recent 2000’s the United States has provided aid to Colombia as shown on Wikipedia, “As part of its Plan Colombia program, the United States government currently provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year of military aid, training, and equipment to Colombia, to fight left-wing guerrillas such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), which has been accused of being involved in drug trafficking.” The U.S. has also provided Mexico with $1.4 billion to the Mexican government for military and law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice and training to strengthen their national justice systems. Many Americans believe that the War on Drugs has been costly and ineffective primairly because there has not been a high emphasis placed on treatment.

Wikipedia sources indicate that “the United States leads the world in both recreational drug usage and incarceration rates. 70% of men arrested in metropolitan areas test positive for an illicit substance,[160] and 54% of all men incarcerated will be repeat offenders.” Americans are not the only one’s who believe that this will be an never ending war, due to the cause that we are at war with inanimate objects, social phenomena, and or abstractions. Considering that drugs are a billion dollar industry the policies that will have to be implemented will be rash and will definitely take time to go into effect, but every person worldwide will be relieved to hear that the “war on drugs” has finally died down. A sociological view of the social conflict theory on the “war on drugs”would depict that the conflict theory argues that crime and criminal justice in the modern world is designed to benefit the upper, p classes, while subjugating the lower classes.

The conflict theory has also been applied to the current trends of drug abuse in the U.S., finding that societal and social class position effect one’s rate of drug abuse. More specifically, Conflict theory holds that there are higher numbers of chronic drug abusers found in lower social classes, disorganized neighborhoods, lower income families, and politically powerless places. Wikipedia’s information on the conflict theory states that “social environments negatively affect inequality…widespread poverty and severe social disorganization, lacking legitimate opportunities as well as adequate education and training, have a [strong] association with opiate and cocaine use.” Structural functionalists perceive the war on drugs is ongoing partly because of the expectations of monetary success in society. Innovators, as defined by the functionalist perspective are those who conform to the goals of society through improper means, for example drug dealers. As Stated on Wikipedia “the war on drugs rages on because of the innovators who profit from the war efforts that only end up making the drugs more in demand, the profits from selling drugs are too great for the innovators to conform to the standards of normal society.” Whenever a set back to the drug trade occurs, is it the innovators, driven by the idea of success who come up with new and inventive ways to traffic drugs into the United States.

As far as my judgement goes of the “war on drugs”, I am not too fond of. If it were up to me I would implement harsher policies on all those who smuggled drugs and those who consumed them. I have also had the thought of legalizing certain narcotics under special circumstances, which would later result in the dieing off of the drug cartels, but nothing is for sure. I am a regular taxpayer and it hurts me to see all of our hard earned money going into help overcome drug cartels, I believe that if we had different,and more effective policies we would not be in our current situation in regards to our “war on drugs”.


“A Brief History of the Drug War.” Drug Policy Alliance. Drug Policy Alliance, n.d. Web. 1 Nov 2013. .
Gaines, Larry and Miller, Roger. Criminal Justice: The Core, California Edition. Sixth Edition. Mason,
Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Head, Tom. “History of the War on Drugs.” About.com. About.com, n.d. Web. 1 Nov 2013. .
Shmoop . History of Drugs in America: Shmoop US History Guide. Shmoop University Inc, 2010. eBook.

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