The Decriminalization of Illegal Drugs in the United States

The Decriminalization of Illegal Drugs in the United States

Use of illegal drugs is one of the major problems facing the modern world. The late 19th century up to date has seen a rise in illicit drug use, trafficking and sales that have welcomed heightened drug control policies among different affected nations. Abuse or use of illegal drugs has immense and multilateral impacts on our societies. Effects range from those directly affecting the user, their families and friends, the environment, and the economy (DeSimone, 2002).

Use of illegal drugs puts users at risks of getting infected, specialized treatments and death in more severe cases. Virtually all the illegal drugs are addictive leading to individuals developing a dependence on the drugs that culminates to the need for treatment. Users of illicit injectable drugs risk contracting diseases and infections from reuse of single needle for several injections or use of a single needle for multiple injections of different members. HIV and hepatitis infections are easily passed from an individual to another through injections with a single needle (Anthony et al, 2007). 

Families, friends and the society in which the drug abuser comes from suffer the impacts of these individuals’ drug use. Children endure the stress of growing up under a parent(s) who uses or is addicted to illicit drugs. Such children are endangered to abuse and other risks such as accidents involving fires, exposure to harmful chemicals, explosions, physical and sexual abuse and death.  Consequently, such parents cannot secure jobs, support families, or else die leaving widowed and orphaned kids who require adoption. Family members and the society get burdened with taking care of the orphaned kids. Children who are raised by parents who abuse drugs are highly likely to take up the vice. A society laden with drug users is less productive as considerable attention and funds are directed to taking care of the already addicted and less productive or unproductive members through facilities such as rehabilitation centers (DeSimone, 2002).

            Jails, prisons, and penitentiaries are dotted with high numbers of drug-related crimes. Billions of dollars are invested in expanding and maintaining correction facilities and financing treatment and rehabilitation of addicted members. Drug addicts are less economically active leading to loss of vast amounts of a potentially capable citizenry. Moreover, clandestine drug business engages members in various confrontations that endanger security within their localities.

Drugs use dates back to ancient times in medicinal, spiritual or recreational purposes. Laws and legislation concerning production, use, possession and sales of illicit drugs encounter diverse approaches among different countries. In the case of the United States, drug abuse, and misuse may be traced to the19th century following the civil war. After the war, opium, cocaine, and morphine became more common and were used in various ways including treatment of respiratory illnesses, constituent of Coca-Cola soft drink and pain reliever medications respectively.  Illegal drug abuse has swollen over years despite the measures and massive resources invested in curbing the menace. Vast numbers of incarcerates in the in America are incriminated with drug-related crimes, with other huge numbers languishing in our streets and rehabilitation centers while children are neglected, abused and exposed to various dangers from parents linked to illegal drugs. Governments worldwide have invested densely in pursuit of fighting illegal drugs for more than half a century with limited overall success. The war on drugs seems infinite and perpetually counterproductive necessitating governments and policy makers to find alternative measures to rework their tactics of fighting this social menace (Belenko, 2000).

Following the rise in the abuse of narcotics in the United States, the federal government was not hesitant to legislate and implement laws directed to the manufacture, sale and use of these drugs. The 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act, the 1930 Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the 1951 Boggs Act pioneered the federal fight against illegal drugs. Heavy penalties including death and life sentences were instituted to fight candidly illicit drug use. The Acts were harsh towards convicts whereby they suffered enormous consequences and were marginally eligible for bail. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics went even further to disrepute illegal drug use through literatures that associated drug use to criminal offenses such as rape, theft, murder, and child abuse. Nevertheless, despite the tremendous efforts and campaigns against illegal drugs use, there was amplified consumption between the 1960s and ‘70s, especially among the youths. To counter the increase in drug use the Federal Government in 1966 legislated the Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act. The Act’s main objective was the rehabilitation of drug addicts, but it also performed dismally as compared to the previous acts due to reduced funds against the overwhelming demand for rehabilitation (Acker, & Tracy, 2004).

What can be termed as literal “War on Drugs” was initiated in 1971 under the leadership of President Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon labeled drug abuse as the leading public enemy for the United States and vowed to wage war against it with the aim to annihilate it. All individuals involved in the drug supply chain were collectively subjected to thorough enforcement of the laws against drugs. By this time Mexico was a major producer and supplier of marijuana for the United States and the regime was determined to sever the supply (Wood et al, 2009). The current Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sprouted in 1973 with the aim to fight drugs imports and trade from neighboring and foreign countries. Through the DEA, the regime solicited the Mexican government to repress the production of the marijuana that ended up in the USA without success. The USA resorted to investing in the closure of her boundary with Mexico, which bore positive outcomes in reducing the cross-border trafficking of marijuana and terminating of other legitimate trade. The DEA has carried out the task of ridding of America from drugs and successive governments have invested trillions of dollars in this war. The current annual expenditure on the war against illegal drugs stands at approximately 26,336.7 million dollars. Demand for more funding is necessary owing to the sophistication in stealthy drug trafficking cartels and increasing demand (Rengert, Ratcliffe & Chakravorty, 2005).

Other nations have exercised laws that render the decriminalization of illicit drugs with varied levels of success. Portugal was the first to implement laws on the decriminalization of drugs following the unending struggle to control drug use and accompanying dangers. The law shifted the angle of considered drug abuse as a criminal offense but rather a health problem requiring the help of a health specialist and a psychotherapist. Whenever arrested, drugs are confiscated, and the culprit is required to turn up before the ‘Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Addiction’ for therapy and guidance on the dangers of drug use (Hughes, & Stevens, 2007). This has led to optimistic impacts including a reduction in the number of arrests and detentions concerning drugs offenses, reduced new annual infections in HIV/AIDS from 907 to 267 from year 2000 to 2008 respectively.

Drug decriminalization made drug treatment compulsory for all drug users as a substitute for jail term or community service leading to increased numbers of recipients from 23,654 in 1999 to 38,532 in 2008. Portugal has also realized a reduction in the number of new drug users among the youths and fewer deaths from opiates abuse (Friedrichs, 2010). The South America is the source of a significant amount of illegal drugs. Paraguay decriminalized the possession of heroin to a maximum of 2 grams in 1988.The impact of the decriminalization policy is manifest through the reduction in heroin use whereby the country boasts the least number of heroin-based drug users.

Decriminalization of drugs can help tackle the problems that stem from the war on drugs. The Department of Justice accounts for more than 1.5 million drug-related crimes annually. Decriminalizing possession and use at a checked amount of drugs would reduce these numbers. War on drugs has been marred by racial discrimination whereby the black Americans, Latinos, and Asians are treated more harshly than their white equals (Provine, 2008). Dr. Carl argues that the war on drugs has been used to propagate racial discrimination and victimization of the black people by the majority white authorities despite there being no difference regarding use across the different colors.  Spending a good chunk of one’s life span in jail for mere infractions hampers personal development. Some members end up being rearrested for the same drug-related crimes even after successfully exhausting their previous jail terms.

Drug taking populations are prone to contracting serious diseases including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. All users of these drugs suffer the inevitable side effects of the particular drugs that require proper treatment just like other conventional diseases. Access to treatment or proper care is limited under the current laws and, as a result, members continue suffering in their hideouts and eventually die. Decriminalization would otherwise reduce the fear of arrest and stigmatization and make treatment and rehabilitation compulsory, and, of course, harsher treatment such as jail terms or community service for those who oppose being treated and rehabilitated (Hankins, 2000).

Decriminalization should also recognize the need to prevent the spread of infections via unsound administration of these drugs. Decriminalization renders the administration of drugs safer by providing enhancing on the use of aseptic measures such as use of new needles for single injections. Users can easily access treatment and counseling that is crucial to helping determined users renounce this social vice.  Dr. Hart proposition requires the government to tackle the circumstances leading to drug use instead of waging incessant war on drugs. Inequality, racism, social injustices, and employment are few of the problems that when properly dealt with would save majority souls under these circumstances (Gettman, 2007).

Though decriminalization qualifies as a channel of getting us out of the drug maze, an equally vast number oppose it. Opponents advocate for tougher laws and penalties against illegal drugs citing their effectiveness in China, Japan, and Singapore. Decriminalization of drugs, as they put it, would render more harm as seen with tobacco and alcohol. Alcoholism, though legal, is already a major disaster in the American societies. Decriminalization of drugs would expose more children to drugs thereby jeopardizing the right of children to grow in a society free of drugs. Statistics shows that children as young as 12 years are indulging in drug use especially marijuana even in the place of existing drug policies. Decriminalization of drugs would make them easily attainable by a larger number of children (Naylor, 2004).

Currently, the society is overburdened with offering foster care to children affected by their parents’ involvement in drugs. Negligence and reduced child care are some of the effects of drugs on parenting addicts. Opponents argue that decriminalization of drugs will not change the suffering these children undergo; they will be abandoned, abused, raped, and lack parental love. Addiction to drugs consequently leads to an individual’s inability to work or perform normal tasks that can earn revenue. As a means of supporting their lifestyles, addicts resort to mugging, burglary, robbery, and prostitution among others. Decriminalization will not make the drugs any cheaper or encourage users to work for pay so as to support drug lifestyles. These crimes will remain and might even exacerbate given the possible upsurge in addicts due to drugs turning more readily available. Intoxication remains the major causes of road accidents in the modern USA. Decriminalization of drugs will give room for users to simultaneously use two or more drugs thereby increasing the chances of developing effects that could lead to more road and other accidents due to increased loss of sound judgment.  Opponents fear that decriminalization will lead to the availability of the drugs to the underage or otherwise ‘unintended’ members of the society (Huggins, 2005).

To close, seeing that our successive governments’ perpetual war on drugs has not provided sustainable solutions, adoption of decriminalization of illegal drugs should be the topic trending in the US and abroad. Setting a threshold amount that each drug user should have at any given time will help curb overproduction and illegitimate businesses that are marred with secrecy and feuds that turn fatal. Designation of specific zones for drug users may help curb the exposure of the younger generations from individuals taking the drugs. When illicit drugs are decriminalized, addicts in need of rehabilitation and therapy can freely visit hospitals without fear of victimization or arrests. When these fellows are provided with the care they require, it is possible to reinstate them to economically viable citizens. Rehabilitated addicts may serve as invaluable models for helping their colleagues to abandon the vice and can provide instrumental counsel for campaigns against drugs among nonusers.


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