THE HISTORY OF DRUG PROHIBITON
“ America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”US president Richard Nixon, 1972
Despite advice to the contrary from both within and outside of his regime, Nixon pursued an agenda built around the links between drugs, crime and young people.
Nixon’s announcement was followed by a US$350 million commitment by his government towards supply reduction and treatment to ‘defeat this enemy’ – doubling the existing budget allocation.
Nixon’s statement and budget allocation drove an agenda: drugs and crime are intrinsically linked and should be defeated at all costs. The new ‘political capital’ in conducting a ‘war on drugs’ was born, and a ‘drug war industry’ grew with police, corrections, politicians and media all profiting from this new drug ‘offensive’.
And who was thrown in on the front line to fight the unwinnable ‘War on Drugs’?
Police and law enforcement officials – you!
Nixon’s policy of total war against drug abuse created an environment where police were pitted against everyday Americans who wanted to use drugs, just the same way others use alcohol and tobacco. As it became apparent that police couldn’t win this war, instead of re-assessing and taking a different approach, an escalation of more police with greater powers, tougher laws harsher sentences and more people imprisoned began and continues today.
The results of over 100 years of drug prohibition, including 40 years of the ‘war on drugs’, have been far-reaching, both in terms of direct and indirect negative outcomes.
Unfortunately because of the influence of the United States in global drug policy over the past 40 years, many countries, including Australia, have fallen into the trap of believing that the war on drugs is winnable.
It is not.
the rationale for drug prohibition
It is estimated that the annual global budget for the enforcement of drug prohibition is about US$100 Billion. The majority of this money is spent on resourcing police, the courts and prisons for enforcing drug laws. Despite police budgets continuing to increase illicit drugs are freely available in most communities.
How can a system that claims to be successful fail to prevent access to illicit drugs despite the amount that’s spent every year? We need to ask the question: what is successful drug law enforcement? You may respond to this question by saying: ‘look at the drugs that are seized’.
Have you ever questioned the effectiveness of seizures of illicit drugs by police and other law enforcement agencies?
Have you ever asked yourself why senior police continue to say ‘this seizure will make a big impact on drug availability’ when in reality it doesn’t?
We have seen over several decades police, customs and border patrol agents seize hundreds of tons of illicit drugs yet it is estimated that these seizures represent just a small percentage of all the illicit drugs imported. Seizures make no difference to the availability of illicit drugs and criminal networks that use the illicit drug market to make money continue to expand their criminal activities.
UNODC in 2008 identified five negative consequences of international drug policy:
- the creation of a huge black market along with all its attendant problems
- ‘policy displacement’ through which scarce resources are redirected from health to law enforcement
- the ‘balloon’ effect whereby rather than eliminating drug production, transit and supply, enforcement measures just shift somewhere else
- ‘substance displacement’ whereby rather than eliminating drug use, enforcement measures just cause users to consume other substances
- stigma and discrimination, which prevents drug users accessing treatment and support.
LEAP believes that the continued escalation of police budgets directed toward trying to eradicate illicit drugs is both ineffective and counterproductive to community safety.
Drugs and Society
Drugs are as much a part of culture and civilisation as any other tool that humans have developed to enjoy and ease the burden of life and deal with a range of ailments.
We know there are risks associated with most drug-taking, and few of us are not touched by the personal stories of lives ruined. Yet many of these risks are connected to the illegality of some drugs.