Essay: War on Drugs Moral and Economic Arguments

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War on Drugs

Moral and Economic Arguments on Both Sides of the War on Drugs

Today's Americans are obsessed with war. War with Iraq, war in Afghanistan, and war among the nations of Asia and the Middle East are all common topics on the lips of Americans discussing politics. Still, many forget that one old war is still raging, a war that has been overshadowed by the Vietnam war, the Cold War, the Korean War, and three Wars in the Middle East. Although occasionally a conflict of arms, this war has primarily been fought with law enforcement and incarceration, with politics and civil rights law, in town halls and among the D.C. lobbyists. This war is the War on Drugs. Founded in 1971 by President Richard Nixon, the War on Drugs was a reaction to the increase in number of recreational drug users in the late 1960s, when drugs lost their previous stereotype as being associated with only minorities and illicit behavior. Attracting the white, middle-class, narcotics use became associated with protest and political activism during this changing era. However, it also soon became associated with crime, as Dr. Robert Dupont found that half of prisoners admitted to the Washington D.C. jail system tested positive for Cocaine (Frontline, 2008). Because of all of these factors, Nixon's War on Drugs focused on treatment rather than politics, criminalization, and law enforcement, the only time in the history of the war during which this was the case (Frontline, 2008). Today, the War on Drugs continues to rage. Although the war has been fought in classrooms and through public education and treatment, today's War on Drugs features law enforcement officials and the agencies created by Nixon and his predecessors to deal with the problem of drugs, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as architects of foreign policy and agents who attempt to stop the drugs coming into the U.S. from Latin America (Frontline, 2008).

From its inception, the U.S. War on Drugs has been characterized by successes and losses. Although U.S. politicians and law enforcement officials have managed to pass legislation that curtails drug use, capture important actors in the drug trade such as U.S. Mafia members and Latin American drug cartel representatives, the casualties of the war are similar to any Middle Eastern conflict deaths -- Violence in Latin America and the United States lead to deaths, kidnappings, and injuries all in the name of drugs. Despite the death and destruction, many argue that he War on Drugs is not working, and that it is too expensive to fund a program that does not work. Recently, the European Commission has echoed this sentiment by finding that the War on Drugs has not reduced "the production, trafficking, availability, or use of drugs" (O'Keeffe, 2009, para. 1). In addition, the Commission suggested that the war may even be making the drug situation worse by contributing to the functioning of black markets that can sell drugs at lower prices and uproot legitimate economies and political situations (O'Keeffe, 2009). Other criticisms facing the War on Drugs are ethical or moral in nature, arguing that policies are racist and zero-tolerance regulations for sentencing incarcerate those who could have been helped through treatment. Finally, the European Commission's finding that the current drug war spends too little on prevention -- the exact opposite of what Nixon had in mind when he declared the War on Drugs -- criticizes the true intent of the program. However, like many political issues, the War on Drugs has become a rumor mill for one-sentence slogans that try to convince citizens to support a certain party. Thus, to determine whether or not the War on Drugs should continue to be waged against what is arguably one of the fiercest problems of our time -- narcotics trafficking and use -- it is necessary to consider the moral and economic implications of the current War on Drugs.

Although people often cite moral evidence for the end of drug prohibition, there is actually a great deal of evidence that supports both continuing and ending the War on Drugs. Illegal drug trafficking and use both come stocked with their share of moral problems. According to Leduc and Lee (2003), "The role of organized crime remains pivotal in the International drug trade" (para. 6). Leduc and Lee also write that this organized crime often lies in the hands of ethnic gangs, who not only involve law enforcement, but also each other in their turf wars. While organized crime may bring up images of Mafia movies, this is no laughing matter, and the violence associated with such groups is severe. Indeed, the 1980s played host to a plethora of murders and kidnappings in both the United States and Central America because of the drug trade (Frontline, 2008). Certainly encouraging this kind of violence, allowing for the murder of law enforcement officials, and witnessing the recruitment of gang members is a matter of morality in the highest degree. Another way in which morality is closely linked with drug use is based on the effects of illegal drugs. After becoming addicted, drugs ruin lives, causing hopes and dreams to be lost in the battles of addiction and encouraging some to turn to crime. The link between crime and drugs that Dupont found in 1969 was clearly indicative of this (Frontline, 2008). Although not supporters of the War on Drugs, Lusane and Desmond (1991) write, "The dreams of thousands of African-Americans are rapidly going up in smoke. The twisted curls of smoke emanating from pipes filed with crack, heroine, PCP, ice, and other deadly substance symbolize the blurred nightmares that are strangling community after community" (pg. 3). Clearly, then, the existence of drugs and their availability has moral implications for those inside and outside of the United States, as with drugs available in the world, people will continue to be faced with violence, addiction, and broken dreams. Because of this, one can make an argument that putting an end to prohibition and the War on Drugs is an immoral decision.

Lusane and Desmond (1991), however, would not agree. While they have seen the effects of drugs on the African-Americans who choose to partake, they contend that the War on Drugs has had a "destructive" impact on Blacks. Indeed, they site evidence from the FBI to show that while Blacks make up only about 12% of drug users in the United States, they make up nearly half of all of those arrested on drug charges. Thus, these authors repeat the often-used argument that the War on Drugs has not only failed to make a difference in the number of people who use drugs in the United States, but that it has compounded matters by becoming yet another government policy that is biased against Blacks, making their struggle for equality even more difficult despite the years they have spent embattled in Civil Rights struggles.

Other than its racist component, a second moral argument used to criticize the War on Drugs is the argument that prison sentences are unfairly applied, with emphasis being placed on punishment rather than treatment. Leduc and Lee (2003) write that the proportion of money allotted to the War on Drugs for law enforcement vs. treatment is 60% to 30%. Further, mandatory minimums and zero tolerance policies have left many serving a decade or more of prison time due to minor drug charges. Mummert (2007), who served as a prison chaplain, shares anecdotes regarding these prisoners that speak to the problem far more than any statistic. Mummert writes (2007), "Women told me they were serving ten years, twenty years, even life sentences in prison for minor roles in nonviolent drug crimes" (para. 1). She also notes that the women she visited were distraught over such issues as being unable to see their children. According to Mummert (2007) many of the women were attempting to escape abusive relationships and were even backed into drug-related crimes -- such as spending or transferring drug money that someone else had earned -- in order to find safe accommodations. Regardless of the reason why the drug crime was committed, the moral argument that can be used against the War on Drugs in this situation is the argument that the sentences do not fit the crime -- an eighth amendment violation. Based on the potential racist components of the War on Drugs, and its unjust sentences, some argue that the war is immoral.

Other than arguments of morality, economic arguments are generally used to justify or condemn the War on Drugs. Similar to the case of morality, it is generally only the economic arguments opposed to the War on Drugs that are generally made known. However, if the War on Drugs was able to do all it was hoping to do, including curbing the use, trafficking, sale, and distribution of drugs, the cost of the War would not be as staggering. Indeed, the War on Drugs did have some important successes. The anti-drug campaigns encouraging parents to be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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