By Indri Schaelicke | United States
Since the passage of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, the War on Drugs has destroyed countless lives. This campaign often oversteps constitutional restrictions to searches and seizures without warrants or probable cause. Worse than this, however, is the pain it inflicts upon families. For mere use of an illicit substance, the state takes people away from their loved ones.
Impact on Family Structure
The War on Drugs has had significant impacts on the family structure. It also disproportionately affects the black population. According to the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, in 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population. This far exceeds their less than 15% makeup of the general population.
Mass incarceration has shattered the black family structure. In 2014, 66% of black children lived in a single-parent family. Of course, incarceration is not the sole reason for this statistic. Nonetheless, when imprisonment of many members of a community becomes the norm, the loss of one parent becomes more acceptable. Mass incarceration has created a culture of broken families, which passes through generations. Family structure within a society is immensely difficult to rebuild once it falls apart.
Single-parent Households and Wealth
Obviously, single motherhood has effects on wealth. Half the potential income is being brought in, while many of the same needs of a typical “nuclear family” still apply. For example, that mother must solely still supply food, schooling, and housing. With one parent gone, income drops off greatly, limiting the family’s financial opportunity.
The War on Drugs Helps Gangs
The War on Drugs not only affects individual users but also impacts entire groups who traffick illicit substances. Illicit drug trade often involves murderers, conspirators, money launderers, and many other dangerous criminals. This makes sense, as the promise of imprisonment scares away safer and more reliable businessmen. The underground drug ring often creates tension that sparks frequent violent acts.
The legalization of all drugs, however, would eliminate the need for cartels. Gangs would not need to supply them, as the market would likely do so at much cheaper rates. Thus, gang violence would drop drastically, allowing inner-city communities to grow.
A Faulty Mission
The initial reasoning behind drug criminalization was that it would help to curb people’s addiction problems. However, this mission has clearly failed.
Since Drug Prohibition began in 1970, drug addiction rates have not changed. Yet, the taxpayers throw more and more money at the problem. The government has entwined itself in the false notion that it can regulate personal choices. if someone wishes to use drugs, they will find a way to. The government, thus, simply cannot get rid of all drugs in existence and end drug use completely.
Instead, federal drug policy should focus on the rehabilitation of the victims of drug abuse; jailing someone for the victimless crime of drug use does not address why they are using in the first place. In fact, those in jail for drug use are likely to use drugs again once they get out. In many cases, prison even serves as a gateway for more severe crimes.
…One-half (50.0%) of federal drug trafficking offenders released in 2005 recidivated by being rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions. – United States Sentencing Commission, “Recidivism Among Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders“, 2017
While in jail, users connect with those who have committed far worse crimes. This inducts them into the world of crime. When they leave jail, these users reenter society with new connections to cartels, mobs, and other criminal organizations.
Basic Human Autonomy
Drug prohibition violates the principle that one should be allowed to do as they please with their own body, so long as they are not harming others or their property. When someone consumes a drug, they are willfully and knowingly accepting the potential for harm that may occur. Few people use drugs without awareness of the strongly negative impacts. The choice to use a drug does not necessarily affect others. Therefore, it is a victimless crime. Imprisoning people for their personal choices is both disruptive to society and highly immoral.
Ending the War on Drugs
Ending the War on Drugs has several practical benefits. One of these is the decreased cost of the massive prison and jail system in the U.S. today. If the federal government deregulated all drugs, they would not need money to jail people for their personal choices. Thus, they could greatly reduce taxes without adding to the deficit. The federal government currently spends about $182 billion each year on the justice system. Of that, $80.7 billion goes towards prisons and jails. A further $12.3 billion goes to health care for prisoners.
41.6% of all inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug-related offenses, the largest group of any offense. Removing 41.6% of a federal prison population of 181,193 would give over 75,000 inmates the justice they deserve. Moreover, it would drastically decrease the amount of funding jails would need to operate.
Limited Steps Forward
Thankfully, some people are realizing the downfalls of imprisoning people for marijuana, at least. Since 2012, 9 states have fully legalized the use of marijuana for any purpose. The first two states to do so, Colorado and Washington, achieved this via a ballot initiative. Clearly, societal perceptions about the use of weed are changing. Canada also recently became just the second country to legalize marijuana nationally, after only Uruguay. Furthermore, some towns are actually working towards legalizing psilocybin mushrooms, a psychedelic drug.
Regulations and Setbacks
The issue with much of the recent legalization legislation is that the government has enacted many regulations which dispensaries must follow. This imposes extra costs on the business, which raise the final sell price of marijuana. Legislative taxes are fairly easy to skirt anyways, defeating their purpose and harming the few who pay. This phenomenon has been more recently witnessed in Canada, where marijuana became legal on October 14th. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the C.D. Howe Institute believed that suppliers would only meet between 30-60% of demand.
Legalize All Drugs
The legalization of marijuana has seen large success in terms of decreasing prison populations and requiring less revenue for running jail facilities. It’s time for the U.S. to take a more compassionate approach to dealing with addiction and substance abuse. The best way to do so? Legalize all drugs.
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