War on Drugs for Roughly a Century Research Paper

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War on Drugs

For roughly a century, the United States government has been using their resources to police the substances known as drugs. In the last few decades the regulation of certain substances has resulted in an all-out "war" on drugs. Today in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of federal prisoners and 21% of state-level prisoners are incarcerated on the basis of drug-related offenses which represents an incarcerated population greater than the population of Wyoming; the federal government is spending over twenty-two billion dollars alone on a so-called war that 76% of the population view as a failure (Head). The "war" has been so unpopular that President Obama stopped referring to the criminalization of people for drug charges as the "war on drugs."

The controversy associated with the ongoing effects of the drug war, have been consistently mentioned throughout the public discourse since marijuana was initially banned in 1937 though the Marijuana Stamp Act. This was preceded by the prohibition on alcohol which was in effect from 1920 until 1933, which was also deemed a failure. The regulation of illicit substances finally culminated in 1968, when American soldiers began returning home from the Vietnam War addicted to heroin which eventually led President Richard Nixon to declare an all-out "War on Drugs."

The War on Drugs was accelerated throughout the next few decades with each new generation of political leadership. President Ronald Reagan launches the South Florida Drug Task force which was headed by then Vice-President George Bush, in response to the city of Miami's demand for help. In 1981, Miami was the financial and import central for cocaine and marijuana. As a result of the task force, drug arrests and drug seizures were at an all-time high which gave the public a sign that the war was being won. However, what the public didn't realize is that even with the record number of arrests, the presence of drugs in the country was still expanding exponentially. When the government would put one drug dealer behind bars, two more would pop up. Despite the "War on Drugs" best efforts, the drug problem in the United States has still steadily expanded.

Sociological Factors of the Drug Trade

The Sociological factors that perpetuate the drug trade are arguably the most overlooked in terms of actually dealing with the problem. Instead of actually understanding the factors that led people to drugs, the government's leadership has been quick to criminalize drugs and incarcerate individuals associated with the drug trade. In fact, your average American is far more likely to spend a weekend in Paris, Moscow or even Beijing than two days or nights in one of America's slums (Mosle). The fact that the sociological factors are so misunderstood or ignored has resulted in legislative efforts that have proven over and over again to be ineffective. There have been many attempts however to paint a more complicated picture than many people care to see.

In the book "The Corner," the basis for the story is a result of author David Simon observing a single corner in Baltimore for about a year and then later spent more time working with people in the neighborhood. The crime-infested intersection of West Fayette and Monroe Streets is well-known -- and cautiously avoided -- by most of Baltimore. But this notorious corner's 24-hour open-air drug market provides the economic fuel for a dying neighborhood (Simon and Burns). The authors claim the book is more like a work of journalism than fiction due to the fact that they researched the book in the way that they did. They stood on "the corner" and observed what the people did while doing their best not to influence any of the events that would take place on the street as they watched. Books such as this provide some of the best insights into the sociological aspects of the "War on Drugs" that is often never even considered by those who are quick to criminalize.

The Corner -- Plot

The corner of Fayette and Monroe operates in a much different way than most of the rest of society. Education virtually has no value and what schools are there are both so underfunded and understaffed that they can do little in the way of educating children. Some children only visit the school when they are trying to find someone that they are searching for. Many rival gang members will go to school and try to locate someone that owes money or has disrespected them in some way so that they can beat them or punish them in some way.

Most of the relationships on the corner are based on money in one way or another. Those who have money or are making money are those who are generally respected while everyone else is viewed as an addict or loser. There are surprisingly little racial tensions and an addict is an addict despite any racial prejudices. There is hardly ever anything that would resemble a traditional family structure and families are composed of loose networks of acquaintances that have some common interest or just wound up together somehow. Many children are abandoned and left to try to make their own way on the streets and are forced to sell drugs or become prostitutes at very early ages.

In such an environment the story portrays a drug addicted family who is struggling to raise their fifteen-year-old son, DeAndre. DeAndre, a young drug dealer, doesn't find fast-food work demeaning; it's part of a workaday world he scarcely comprehends. When he lands a job at Wendy's, he's so proud that he parades his new uniform in front of his mother and girlfriend (Mosle). Tyreeka, DeAndre's girlfriend who is 14 years old, gets pregnant not to obtain a government handout but in a desperate bid to keep a straying boyfriend. In such a way the story dispels many of the myths that are associated with the less privileged classes.

The authors also provide insights as to why the War on Drugs has been so ineffective. They claim that it would not matter if you double or tripled the amount of police officers dedicated to enforcing the drug laws. What is missing in the equation is an understanding of the drug culture. The culture is what drives the use of drugs and simply incarcerating those involved does not necessarily change the culture. There is little focus on rehabilitation or understanding the environments that led people to drugs in the first place. There is also some correlation between poverty and drug use and therefore a War on Drugs alone cannot be successful unless both aspects are considered together.

HBO's the Corner

The success of the book also led to a mini-series that aired on HBO in 2000 and was very well received by audiences. The show won 3 primetime Emmys and the cast had another nine wins and ten nominations (IMDb). The show was based on the book and was adapted for television by David Simon and David Mills. The show portrays the family living out different scenarios that affect their daily lives and provides a vivid example of the drug life and a life of poverty. The challenges that the family faces gives the audience a glimpse of the reasons that the War on Drugs has failed and this is likely the reason that audiences found it so interesting.

Figure 1 - Sean Nelson who played DeAndre in HBO's the Corner (IMDb)

Conclusion

The War on Drugs has proven to be ineffective on a grand scale. Despite a record number of arrests, the highest incarceration rate in the world both in the total number as well as the percentage of the population in prison, and public spending that has risen year by year, the drug trade still plagues… [END OF PREVIEW]

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