In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared his War on Drugs campaign. Drug use in the United States was rising with each year and the publics concern followed. Some believe that Nixon started the war on drugs initially to gain a larger following in order to win the upcoming election, and if that was the plan, it worked. The United States was in a heroin epidemic and Nixon felt pressure to make a move. With fifteen to twenty percent of soldiers in the Vietnam War addicted to heroin, the public was in an outrage. Paired with the Vietnam war, was a rebellious movement within the youth of america that brought with it a rise in drug use such as Marijuana, LSD, and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms. Many people were scared by this new era of increased drug use which made it the perfect time for Nixon to declare drug abuse as “public enemy number one” and have the rest of the nation rally behind him. But at this time nobody anticipated how much money would eventually be spent on this drug war. Judges, trials, prisons, materials, education, police officers; it all requires money, and lots of it. Many people believe that the War on Drugs is not winnable and is therefore an economic drain that cannot net the results it seeks.
A war is unwinnable when the enemy is unknown. Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one,” but who is the target in that statement? the corner dealers? the users? the kingpins? Regardless of the criminality of people at each of these levels, they all have the same fate; they are thrown in prisons throughout the United States. Statistics show that most of the people in prison are non violent offenders getting five years for selling small amounts of crack. Out of the 2.4 million Americans incarcerated today, over 50% are in prison for drug offenses. This leads to overcrowded prisons and millions of taxpayers money being pumped into the Criminal Justice System. It costs between 20,000 to 40,000 dollars to house an inmate for a single year, and with over 210,000 people in prison for drug charges the costs can add up.
With the prison population growing and more money being pumped into the War on Drugs, many feel that marijuana should be legalized. Not because they support recreational use of the drug but because economically the pros outweigh the cons. In 2012 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations and 88% of those arrests were for possession. Many people have reached the conclusion that legalizing marijuana would not only save money by keeping non violent criminals out of jail, but it would also create enormous amounts of tax revenue. The estimated annual revenue California alone would make for taxing and regulating marijuana is 1,400,000,000 dollars. For a drug that is on the edge of legalization many believe that these statistics should be enough to push it past that point and legalize marijuana.
When Ronald Reagan was elected and the crack epidemic broke out, arrests skyrocketed because his harsh drug policies continued to rise at a rapid rate. Crack was a new found form of cocaine and because of the lack of knowledge about the drug, the media went crazy with crack epidemic stories. This hysteria reflected the days of “Reefer Madness” when Marijuana was slandered as a satanic drug that would drive users insane. While crack is a much more serious and damaging drug, at the height of hysteria, there were news reports of people with superhuman strength who were flipping cars and leaping incredible heights due to crack. So, because of this dangerous new “super drug,” Ronald Reagan did something drastic; he made the sentencing for crack versus cocaine 100:1. That means 5 grams of crack gets you the same prison time as 500 grams of cocaine even though they are essentially the same drug. So, now when crack users were getting locked up they were being put away for 5, 10, maybe 15 years. Now, while record breaking numbers of people are going into prison, nobody is coming out.
America has 6% of the world’s population yet 25% of the worlds prisoners. This is due to the American Criminal Justice system that encourages police to arrest as many drugs abusers as possible and put them in jail. Many police forces even give officers a cash bonus per arrest. Private prisons are thriving in this day and age and will do anything to keep those arrests piling up and filling their cells. Some of these private prisons have been accused of working with the local police and paying officers large sums of money to make more arrests. These prisons are flourishing and becoming more plentiful with each passing year. Many of the prisoners within these private prisons are being transformed into factory workers getting paid 25 cents an hour. Prison has become a way exploit people for cheap labor with no questions asked.
A decade ago private prisons were much more rare. Ten private prisons with 2000 prisoners turned into 100 with 62,000 inmates. Partnered with the growth of private prisons was the legalization of contracting prison labor for private corporations. Some of the biggest companies in America have their teeth sunken into the prison industry and most of the public is totally oblivious to it. Companies such as AT&T, Dell, Macy’s, Target, Telecom, Nordstrom, and many others would take a big blow if their prison workers were being paid an actual wage. Many Prisoners prefer to be in a federal prison where inmates can make up to $1.25 for more highly skilled positions.
If the War on Drugs had taken a different path, this country would be very different today. There has been very little focus by the government towards rehabilitation. Some estimates show that for each dollar invested in rehabilitation centers five to seven dollars are saved in reduced crime. Many people believe that for the War on Drugs to end, the United States police force must stop headhunting to incarcerating non violent criminals and make a paradigm shift toward rehabilitation instead of incarceration. Individuals who support this argument conclude that if the government wants to save the millions of dollars being wasted and put that money towards education, health care, scientific research, or anything productive for our country than we must shift the War on Drugs onto a completely new track and stop overcrowding our prisons.