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Illegal drugs and the US government Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 26th, 2019


The US government’s policy against illegal drugs has been ineffective because of its ambivalence. The lack of a common understanding about drugs and how to deal with it among policy makers has paralyzed efforts in this area.

The report will demonstrate this indecisiveness through the history and the current failures of divergent illicit-drug policies in the US and the world, as well.

History of illegal drugs and the US government

Illegal drugs first entered the US market in the eighteenth century after the British government brought opium into the country. They obtained the product from Asia, or China in particular.

In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, medical practitioners started using opium as a pain killer but later found out that it was addictive. They substituted opium with cocaine and heroin only to realize that the latter drugs had the same addictive effects as opium.

The government responded to increased use of these drugs by passing the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914.1 However after suppressing the use of one drug, another drug became popular and detrimental as well; marijuana.

The government eventually created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s in order to curb the use of marijuana and other outlawed drugs. In the 1950s, Congress passed many legislations intended on minimizing illegal drug use. Perhaps the toughest decade for illegal drug stakeholders was the 1970s.

At this time, President Nixon declared a war on drugs, which would eliminate supply and curb use. Later on in 1986 and 1988, Congress passed Antidrug Abuse Acts intended on controlling the prevalence of crack cocaine.

These Acts resulted in tougher prison sentences for drug users, dealers and manufacturers. In the 1990s, President Bush also declared another war on drugs that manifested in tough Legislations.

Currently, the Obama administration still affirms its commitment to the drug problem. However, it appears to depend on methods of the past save for a few changes such as dealing with recovery.

US government policy regarding illegal drugs today

One may fight illegal drugs through preventive or reactive mechanisms. President Obama’s government mostly focuses on minimization of demand for illegal drugs. However, the country still lacks an aggressive campaign against the issue.

This administration also supports treatment centers that substitute heroin addiction with methadone. Advocates claim that it minimizes death as well as drug abuse. Currently, the government has eliminated funding for a youth media campaign against drugs thus making the youth vulnerable in subsequent years.

In 2011, Representatives passed the Synthetic Drug Control Act which aimed at fighting the use of synthetic drugs. In the current market, manufacturers are mimicking the active substances in common drugs like marijuana and selling it to teenagers.

The government responded to this trend through the above Act. The government also supports a HOPE program which searches probationers for the use of drugs. If judges find them guilty, they must immediately pass a short sentence.

The government also supports the use drug courts which focus on handling drug offenses sustainably. 2

Treatment of the problem as negative or positive

The treatment of the problem is negative because illegal drugs are becoming prominent in the market. Statistics show that the US government has spent over 20 billion worth of taxpayer’s dollars over the past four decades since Nixon’s war on drugs.

However, little exists to prove that these expenditures were successful. Experts state that illegal drug shipments have increased by 39% since the 1970s. Additionally, a 16% increase in the prevalence of the coca plant is evident in the late 2000s. 3

This has occurred regardless of the fact that the US government has invested a lot in South American herbicide-control programs. The plan entailed spraying herbicides across the Andean mountains where most coca plants can be found.

In addition to the above failures, the current attitude towards drugs has contributed to overcrowding in prisons. The Obama administration still ascribes to minimum sentencing laws passed in the 1980s.

Consequently, judges have no discretionary power when passing charges as they must abide by these laws. Many of them would prefer to release suspects with less serious drug offenses, but they cannot. About 20% of all inmates in the US penitentiary system are there for drug-related charges.

The government allocates about $24,000 annually to maintain inmates in prison. As if this is not enough, released inmates still end up committing the same crimes when they get out. Many of them keep selling drugs or commit violence in order to sustain the habit. Therefore, one can assert that the current system is not effective.

The government’s approach to the drug problem is still unsuccessful because various states have found a way of making their own laws. It is legal to use marijuana in some states for medical purposes.

These federal states have argued that they can save on a lot of taxpayers’ money that law enforcers use to deal with the cases. However, the American Academy of Pediatricians and other health organizations assert that such an approach sends the message that there is nothing wrong with using drugs.

A group (the Drug Enforcement Agency) that firmly opposes legalization of medical marijuana in some states has shown that drug use has either increased or remained constant in these states, which is highly undesirable.

Even the relatively new approach of harm reduction is not yielding effective results. The latter policy emphasizes the use of rehabilitation or treatment facilitates for drug users in order to minimize reuse, arrests, and incarceration.

The logic is that it will minimize the cost of prosecutions as well as crimes that the habit creates. It is these locations that use methadone as a replacement drug. However, even this strategy has not delivered in its promise.

Immense bureaucracy and paperwork characterizes most treatment centers, thus putting off potential drug takers. In fact, only 10% of drug users use these facilities. Further, some heroine drug addicts are unwilling to replace their drug of choice with methadone.

The government’s policy on harm reduction has not improved because some opponents believe that the facilities will encourage further drug use. 4

The government’s support for drug courts may also be misguided. Statistics indicate that drug courts have been effective in reducing crime, as 78% of them have altered participants’ lives. However, these figures do not show what goes on behind the scenes.

Judges in drug courts often cherry pick cases so as to increase perceptions of success among the public. Several of them turn violent or habitual offenders away and thus fail to reach those individuals who need the program genuinely.

The Obama administration’s lack of baseline standards for all drug courts makes these results misleading and dependent on a judge’s decisions.

While the government has done an admirable thing to focus on recovery of addicts, it still needs to iron-out some of the anomalies in these systems.

For instance, it has introduced residential treatment programs so as to minimize resource usage. However, these programs still have a number of fiscal challenges that minimize their effectiveness.

The US government policy on illegal drugs as negative or positive for the world

The policy of the current government against illegal drugs is still not favorable for the world as a whole. The Obama administration opted to focus on the demand side of the drug problem, yet the supply-side is still unchecked. Latin American nations import most illegal drugs into the country.

Few Americans know that their drug taking habits have a direct effect on the well-being of ordinary citizens in those countries. Drug trafficking in Mexico has created thriving drug cartels and criminal organizations. Many of them use violence and murder to deliver their shipments into the US.

About 10,000 deaths occur annually in Mexico owing to this trade. If the Obama government merely dwells on the demand side, it will not address such issues in source countries. In fact, few drug users in the US know about the effect of their habits on transit and source countries.

The US government can learn from countries, such as Colombia, which carry out mass campaigns on the holistic dangers of the drug trade.

Since the United States is one of the most notorious users of illegal drugs, such campaigns would translate into crime reduction in supplying nations. 5

Statistics indicate that the growth of opium in Afghanistan has grown tremendously over the past decade. Choosing to focus on demand in the US implies that countries like Afghanistan will continue to operate in this manner without facing the consequences of their actions.

Some terrorist groups around the world depend on funding from drug cartels in order to survive. The US government has relaxed on supply-side drug policies, yet these countries could terrorize the US and other nations using earnings from international drug trafficking.

The US is a world leader and has always been regarded as a crusader for moral issues. The country has taken upon itself the responsibility of speaking out against injustices and other troubling issues.

Although not all people share this perspective, a reasonable number of advocates still have a lot of confidence in the American legislative systems as well as its commitment to right and wrong.

Currently, some states are legalizing the use of medical marijuana, and some groups are even advocating for the decriminalization of the same. If the government continues to follow this path, then people in the rest of the world will lose confidence in the country’s role as a crusader.

Legalizing one illegal drug could pave the way for the legalization of other drugs that are in the market. Additionally, this liberal approach to drug use may also lead others nations to follow suit and thus perpetuate increased use of drugs.6


US policy against illegal drugs depicts a myriad of approaches that lack a comprehensive direction. Sometimes policies may focus on the supply side or the demand side. In other scenarios, legalization of marijuana may occur while others may oppose it. The country lacks a unified view of the drug problem, and this has created all the failures in policy implementation.


Barton, Lee. Illegal Drugs and Governmental Policies. NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2007.

Isralowitz, Richard & Peter Myers. Illicit Drugs. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2011.

Manski, Charles, John Pepper & Carol Petrie. Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

Thoumi, Fransisco. Illegal Drugs, Economy and Society in the Andes. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003.

US Senate. “.” Senator Feinstein’s Caucas. 2012. Web.

Worth, Richard. Illegal Drugs; Condone or Incarcerate? NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010.


1 Fransisco Thoumi, Illegal Drugs, Economy and Society in the Andes (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003), 33.

2 US Senate. “Reducing the US Demand for Illegal Drugs.” Senator Feinstein’s Caucas. 2012.

3 Richard Isralowitz & Peter Myers. Illicit Drugs (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2011),19.

4 Richard Worth, Illegal Drugs; Condone or Incarcerate? (NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010), 55.

5Lee Barton, Illegal Drugs and Governmental Policies (NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2007), 78.

6 Charles Manski, John Pepper & Carol Petrie, Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us (Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2001), 8.

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