Drug Policy

News

The United States is at a crossroads in its drug policy. In our effort to quell the drug trade, we have greatly increased patrol and inspection on our nation's borders. We have increased arrests for violation of drug laws and lengthened sentences. We have stripped away the rights of drug offenders and introduced drug testing in our nation's schools and workplaces. We have poured billions of dollars into overseas anti-drug paramilitary operations that commit violent human rights abuses. And in the process of trying to eradicate illicit coca crops, we have destroyed over a million acres of land in Colombia alone. Since 1990, more than half of the federal prisoners in America are serving time for drug offenses. The availability and purity of drugs has steadily increased over the past twenty-five years. The violence in the drug trade remains excruciatingly high and surges from year to year and city to city. Meanwhile, there remain a myriad of social issues as a result of drug abuse. The use of drugs, and the enforcement of the anti-drug laws, effects all subpopulations in the U.S., all sectors of the economy, and many aspects of the legal system. Whether we are talking about violence, poverty, race, health, education, community development, the environment, civil liberties or terrorism, the illegal drug market is an important factor in the conversation. We have tried to use force, prohibition and incarceration to control the drug market, but our efforts have actually led to a more efficient drug trade and a hugely profitable drug market. It is time to rethink our strategy and redefine our goals. This section holds articles and speeches given by CJPF that address drug policy in all of its forms and effects. In this, we strive to provide a comprehensive framework for rethinking the war on drugs. Read more about the failure of the drug war.

CONTEXT OF DRUG POLICY

Human beings have used various substances to affect their mood and feeling for 6000 to 8000 years. The use of alcohol, opium and cannabis precedes written history. Tea and peyote (and probably tobacco) have been used for over 1000 years. The use of tobacco and coffee (both addictive, mood affecting drugs) have been used widely around the world since the Eighteenth century.

Controls on the use of these drugs, through prohibitions and taxes, have been implemented only in the past couple hundred of years. Contemporary drug policy, expressed formally in the Controlled Substances Act, attempts to control the distribution and prevent the use of stimulant, depressant and "hallucinogenic" compounds that can be "abused". At the same time, the Act seeks to assure that such compounds - when they have a use in medicine - are available to patients through a tightly controlled distribution system.

Despite such attempts at control, the government estimates that at least $65 billion is spent annually on the illegal purchase of controlled substances. Recent data says that about 19 million Americans use illegal controlled substances at least monthly. A great variety of such substances are reported by high school students as being easily available. Indeed, the availability and purity of many common illegal drugs is now greater than 30 years ago.

To curb the illegal distribution of such drugs, the government arrests 1.5 million persons per year. In 2002 alone, 340,000 people were convicted as felons for drug offenses. There are currently between 400,000 and 500,000 persons imprisoned in the U.S. for violating the drug laws; this is more than all the prisoners combined in the European Union, even with its substantially greater population. The federal prison population is now roughly nine times the size that it was when the Controlled Substances Act was enacted.