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The Failed War on Drugs

America's Lost War

Prohibition does not work. It never has, and it never will. It did not work with alcohol in the roaring 20’s, and it will not work with marijuana in our modern-day society.  The fact that marijuana is illegal does not matter. If people want to smoke it, they will smoke it.   Legal or not, children are still going to experiment with marijuana, just as they do with alcohol, tobacco, and other “soft drugs”. Alcohol and tobacco are not easy for minors to acquire because they have age restrictions, and the government controls them. Marijuana can be found and purchased on any street corner. Which ‘soft drug’ do you think your children will choose when they decide to experiment? When you think about this problem logically, it is quite simple.  Since we have already lost the “War on Drugs,” marijuana should be legalized so it can be controlled.

There are those who will immediately exclaim that this is not true, the “War on Drugs” is succeeding beyond their wildest expectations.  There are more drug arrests every day, and more drug dealers are behind bars. There are many who believe that drugs are the scourge of the earth and must be prohibited at all costs.  They believe that the “War on Drugs” must continue if our children are ever to be safe.  A safer tomorrow for the children of the world is a common goal, but the current marijuana policies are not working.  We must take back the control that the “War on Drugs” has failed to produce.

We have already lost the “War on Drugs”. We are just not ready to admit it yet. In a 2002 interview, ex-DEA Agent Michael Levine, told LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) writer Michael W. Lynch that “the “War on Drugs” has become murderous,” and “has succeeded in militarizing police against their own people.” (Lynch 5) Levine also admits that the DEA cannot touch the biggest drug dealers in places like Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Mexico. The CIA and the State Department protect them, often facilitating drug traffic by looking the other way. (Cole 9; Lynch 6) What is the point in fighting a war if the leaders of the opposite side are untouchable? If marijuana were legalized, and grown in the United States, it could be regulated. The drug-lords in far away countries, those factions that terrorize and kill people for their product, would have to peddle their goods somewhere else.  (Cole 9; Lynch 5-6)

Because of the “War on Drugs,” there are more drug-related arrests every year, but these figures do not accurately reflect the trend. Michael Lynch also interviewed Orange County Superior Court Judge, James P. Gray that day.  Judge Gray, another respected member of LEAP, tells us, "We're flooding our courts with these cases that aren't making any difference whatsoever."  Judge Gray also asserts that our prisons are full of small timers.  These are small time users and dealers, typically arrested for buying or selling small quantities to support their personal habits. (Lynch, 9)

Former Police Chief Joseph D. McNamara, the third member of LEAP to be interviewed by Michael Lynch that day, saw the effects, and the failures, of the “War on Drugs” daily.  McNamara says that police have had to resort to informants, illegal searches, and perjury in this ill-fated war. Drug seizures are being used to raise revenue, and attaining these funds is taking precedence over law enforcement. McNamara also says that the 700,000 marijuana arrests made each year take the resources away from crimes that need more attention. Crimes like molestation, stalking, murder, etc. (Lynch, 1-4) With this being the case, it seems that the United States government is wasting billions of tax-payer dollars each year by arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning petty, small time “pot-heads”. That money could be used far more effectively for education, health care, social security, drug treatment centers, or the preservation of our natural resources. (Lynch, 1-4)

It is even possible that the “War on Drugs” is responsible for the drug problems our country experiences today. In a Radio One interview with Hamish McKenzie, Jack Cole, founding member of LEAP, and former soldier in the “War on Drugs”, tells us “The “War on Drugs” was really responsible for about 99% of all the things that we attribute to the, quote, drug problem.”  Because prohibition made the selling of these drugs illegal, it became an underground market, and the value of the product was grossly exaggerated. (McKenzie, 1)

Jack Cole was once a staunch defender in the “War on Drugs”, and “was absolutely convinced that drugs were the scourge of the earth,” but it didn’t take long for him to start questioning his own beliefs. Only three years into his work as an undercover agent, Cole began to realize that the people he was targeting were not the monsters they were made out to be. He says, “I came to understand that this is not a “War on Drugs” - it's a war on people. In the United States over 87 million people above the age of 12 have used an illegal drug - that means that this is literally a war on people. It's a war on our children, a war on our parents, a war on ourselves."  (McKenzie, 2)

Most shockingly of all, Cole tells us that the “War on Drugs”, first coined by Richard Nixon in 1968, was purely a political line designed to put Nixon in the White House. At the time, there was no real drug problem. “Soft drugs” were consumed among friends in social gatherings, and hard drugs were rarely seen. Once Nixon was in the White House, law enforcements agencies were bombarded with federal monies to fight this alleged “War on Drugs”. Because there was not a lot of drug crime at the time, police and the media would highly exaggerate the details of these ‘busts’, making them sound larger than life. This free advertising created a market for those looking to make a quick buck in the suddenly flourishing drug trade.  After all, everyone else was doing it.  Drug crimes escalated with the emergence of the “War on Drugs” and continue to grow today.  (McKenzie, 4-6)

Every year the US government spends sixty-nine billion dollars fighting the “War on Drugs”. In 34 years, that’s a half a trillion dollars spent to fight a battle that only continues to grow larger. The court systems are clogged prosecuting non-violent drug offenders, and jails have become big time business. Do you remember what happened when alcohol was prohibited? The crime rates were higher than ever before. Political corruption rose to never-before-seen heights. These statistics dropped dramatically when prohibition was repealed.   (McKenzie, 10)

The “War on Drugs” is not working, and it is time we look to something that will.  Marijuana is a soft drug.  It should be categorized with the other “soft drugs” we use in our lives.  Many people do not think twice before using caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, sugar, diet pills, chocolate, or even aspirin. All these substances have narcotic, or addictive effects on the user, and they could all be considered “soft drugs”. The government, through age restrictions and consumption limitations, controls alcohol, which has effects that are very similar to the effects of marijuana.  If marijuana were legal, it could be controlled the same way, with age restrictions and consumption limitations.

These days, because of the “War on Drugs,” it is a crime to buy, sell or possess marijuana, but people still use it. They will continue to use it, legalized or not. If marijuana were legalized, it could be regulated, and therefore controlled by the government. Crime rates would go down, the jails would not be so crowded, and the police would be able to concentrate on the crimes that threaten our lives. We would no longer be wasting time, and money, on a war we cannot win. Legalizing marijuana is the first step in a long overdue change of policy. I say it is time we take that first step.


Cole, Jack A. “End Prohibition Now!”, Essay, LEAP < > 2002

Lynch, Michael W. “Battlefield Conversions”, interview of Michael Levine, Joseph D. McNamara, James P. Gray    LEAP  (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)  <> 2002

McKenzie, Hamish “The War on the War on Drugs”, interview of Jack Cole.  LEAP <> 2004