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LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

Literature Review of the Drug War in the United States


Trenton A. Ware
University of Texas at El Paso

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

Abstract
This report endeavors to educate the reader on the Drug War in the United States that has been
prolific in policy and society since 1971. Leaders in the United States have for many years taken
a stance against drug abuse that involves offensively attacking the suppliers of drugs to people
rather than pouring focus into rehabilitation of those affected by those drugs within their borders.
This report is intended to determine and reveal the positive effects that decriminalization and
rehabilitation can have on a population and the effects that current drug policies have on those
people who have been subjected to that enforcement.

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

Literature Review of the Drug War in the United States


Introduction
Beginning in 1971, Richard Nixon as the President of the United States of America stated
that Americas 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. (Sharp, 1994, p.1) In
1973 the Drug Enforcement Agency was created to help stem the flow of drugs into America
after a failure to pressure Mexico to regulate marijuana growers in 1969 (Brecher, 1972). In the
last 40 years, an estimated 1 trillion dollars has been spent on fighting drug abuse via the
methods of controlling supply (Mendoza, 2010.). The number of people incarcerated in the
United States in the last four decades has gone from 38,000 people to more than 500,000 in 2002
(Caulkins, J.P. and Chandler, S, 2005 P.8) and has since increased to 2,224,400 in 2014 (Drug
Policy Alliance, 2015.). Estimates around 2004 suggest that the lost productivity of the prison
population at this time hovers around 40 billion dollars (ONDCP, 2004.) It is important to note
that the stance taken by the government has thrown billions of dollars into enforcement and
protection of borders against illegal drug smuggling. For decades, enforcement budgets have
increased but drug markets have expanded and usage of drugs has continued to rise (UNODC,
2010.) In order to effectively research the Drug War, the researcher for this paper asked three key
questions in addition to conducting an online survey of 93 people:
1. How are Drug Laws currently enforced in the United States?
2. Are current drug policies effective?
3. Would the decriminalization of drugs in the United States have a positive or negative
effect?
This report focuses on the economic and social effects that the global War on Drugs has had
on the United States specifically. Its purpose is to inform the reader of the monetary values

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

assigned to an enforcement-centered stance on the prohibition of drugs in the United States


versus those of a rehabilitation-centered stance. This review will analyze the costs, both social
and economic, associated with attempting to prevent populations from using drugs and reveal the
successes and failures of such an endeavor.

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

How are drug laws currently enforced in the United States?


Last year, on a trip between El Paso and Austin, Texas, two friends reached mile marker 100 and
passed into a U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint. The friends slowed to a stop where their car was
run-around by a police officer and his K-9 Unit. The dog alerted on the vehicle and the two were
asked to pull over into a specially created search area within the checkpoint. With the car in park,
the officers began to ask the two to leave the car, and upon reaching for a wallet, began to scream
at the driver of the vehicle, telling him to step out of the car immediately. The driver and
passenger complied, despite knowing nothing of any wrongdoing they had committed. They
were ushered into the building at the checkpoint and sat onto benches while the officers searched
the car for drugs.
After the search was complete, they asked for the passenger to go outside to speak with
an officer. The officer asked the passenger if he likes to smoke weed on the weekends and told
him Look, everyone smokes a little weed, am I right? The passenger vehemently denies these
accusations, prompting the officer to procure a small pink bag. The contents of this bag were
pipe screens, marijuana seeds, rolling papers, and a small container. The passenger denied ever
having seen this bag before, and told the officer that the bag was not in the car when he exited it.
The same process was repeated with the driver, who also denied any knowledge of the bag or its
origin. The officers, seemingly confused as to what to do, allowed the two friends to leave with
the stipulation that they take the bag with them as it would drive the dogs crazy if left in the
trash can.
This is a not-so-rare interaction with the U.S. Border Patrol. When this recounting was
shown to a former Air Force Security Force MP, the former officer said I've never heard of
someone doing that, but it honestly doesn't surprise me that it happens. (C. Vaughn, 2016.) This

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

attitude, according to him, is prevalent amongst law enforcement officers. In a survey conducted
by the researcher of this paper, 37% of people surveyed reported having been asked if they had
any illicit drugs in their possession, and 11% reported having been detained by police as a result
of suspected drug possession. Meanwhile, 45% of people surveyed reported that they or a family
member had been incarcerated as a result of drug possession. In Texas, incarceration comes with
possession of a drug. Possession of any amount of a controlled substance is punishable by up to
180 days in jail and a $2500.00 fine. (Texas Drug Possession Laws, 2016).
The way drug laws are enforced now is also reflected in federal budgets. In 2013, The
Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection at Ports of Entry had an
increase of $53.2 million dollars,
totaling $946.7 million. Domestic
Law Enforcement was
appropriated $9.4 billion dollars
(an increase of 61.4 million
dollars from fiscal year 2012).
Interdiction efforts totaled in at
3.7 billion, a 2.5% increase over FY 2012.
The federal government has taken a supply-side enforcement approach and attempts to limit the
amount of an illicit substance that enters the United States via massively funded law enforcement
initiatives. This idea is that with less drugs, less people will have access to the drug and therefore
fewer will abuse illicit substances.

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

Are current drug policies effective?


According to the National Drug Assessment 2010, 1,493,096 kilograms of marijuana
were seized at U.S. Borders (National Drug Assessment, 2010.) In 1978, A DEA operation that
had been ongoing for 3 years had seized only 453,592 kilograms of Marijuana (DEA History,
1975). That marks an increase in marijuana smuggling of over 300% in the 40 years since the
Drug War began. Despite increasing funding by multiple percentage points per year, as seen in
the last section, we have seen an apparent increase in drug trafficking. The theory of supply-side
enforcement creates shortages in communities around the United States, and when a shortage of
drugs happens, prices go up. When prices go up, addicts commit more crimes to support their
habits. Estimates suggest that the social cost of drug-related crime is double the health-related
costs of drug abuse. (Dobkin, Carlos, Nancy Nicosoia, 2009.)
The prohibition of illegal substances has created an underground black market in which
criminal enterprises are able to turn incredible profits. Jaime Herrera-Nevares was one such
criminal, who as early as 1957 ran a family-operated farm-to-the-arm opium ring making over
$1 million in profit. By 1980, that same family had moved on to cocaine and turned profits of
over $200 million dollars per year (DEA History, 1975). By seizing and restricting drugs,
American policy and enforcement have created an environment in which huge profits are to be
made and therefore people are willing to try more and more audacious methods to smuggle drugs
into the United States. In 2011, a group of drug smugglers were observed via night-vision
cameras near Tucson, Arizona launching packages of marijuana across the border with a
homemade catapult attached to a trailer. The group escaped in a humvee after U.S. agents
contacted the Mexican military to intervene on their behalf (Drug Catapult discovered, 2011).

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES


The enforcement of drug laws in the United States has only pushed the envelope further
as to how those drug smugglers get their product into the United States for sale. The attitude of
eliminating supply has created more demand and only pushed those who sell the drugs to more
ingenious methods of delivery.

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

Would the decriminalization of drugs in the United States have a positive or negative
effect?
Those who advocate for decriminalization of drugs decry the enforcement-centered
policy stance and supply-side enforcement look to countries such as Portugal who in 2001
decriminalized all drugs. The percentage of people in prison for drug-related offences in Portugal
decreased from 44% of the prison population in 1999 to under 21% in 2012 (Murkin, G. 2014,
P.3) This drastic decrease in drug-related imprisonments is telling. To take it a step further, we
look to Colorado, a state who on November 6, 2012, passed Amendment 64 which legalized
medical and recreational marijuana in the state of Colorado. Marijuana possession arrests in
Colorado have dropped 84% since 2010, violent and property crime rates plunged 2.2% and
8.9% respectively. Total tax revenue between January 2014 and October 2014 amounted to 40.9
million dollars whose funds are being appropriated to rehabilitation and education. Traffic
fatalities showed a 3% drop, while Colorados unemployment rate is at a six-year low in the
fastest growing economy in the United States. (Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, 2015).
Looking to Washington we find the same patterns as in Colorado. In December, 2012,
marijuana possession and use by those 21 years and up was legalized in Washingtonthe first
marijuana dispensary was open by July 8, 2014. (Marijuana Legalization in Washington, 2015.)
$80 million in tax revenues has been reported in the state in just one year. According to the
Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, low-level marijuana offenses of 21 and up
individuals have dropped 98%. Marijuana law violations have decreased 63% since 2012, and
marijuana related convictions have dropped 81%. To contrast this, the state spent over $200
million on marijuana enforcement between 2000 and 2010 at a $1000-$2000 price tag per person
prosecuted. The overall violent crime rate in Washington is at a 40-year historic low. This

LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES


evidence suggests that the decriminalization (if not legalization) of drugs could have an
incredibly positive effect on the social and economic environment within the United States.

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LITERATURE REVIEW OF THE DRUG WAR IN THE UNITED STATES

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Conclusion
The researcher finds that the Drug War has had an explicitly negative effect on the social
and economic environment of the United States. Supply-side enforcement has been shown to be
ineffective in stemming the flow of drugs into the country as well as ineffective in preventing
those addicted to illicit substances from obtaining and abusing their drug of choice. Current drug
laws are ineffective in that they cannot be proven to have decreased the amount of drugs entering
the US nor can they show any evidence contrary to the statement that they have actually
increased the prevalence of illicit substances in the US. Decriminalization and legalization of
drugs has shown throughout the world and even in the US itself that it is not only profitable to
focus on rehabilitation versus enforcement, but socially responsible as well.

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Sharp, Elaine B. 1994. The Dilemma of Drug Policy in the United States. New York,
NY: HarperCollins College Publishers
Brecher, E. M. (n.d.). The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs. Retrieved March
27, 2016, from http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/library/studies/cu/CU59.html
Mendoza, M., U.S. drug war has met none of its goals, MSNBC, 13/05/2010.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37134751/ns/ us_news-security/t/us-drug-war-has-metnoneits-goals/#.T6PiJeiJeVo
Caulkins, J.P. and Chandler, S., Long-Run Trends in Incarceration of Drug Offenders in the
US, 2005, p. 8. Heinz Research. Paper 21. http://repository.cmu.edu/heinzworks/21
Drug Policy Alliance | Guiding Drug Law Reform & Advocacy. (n.d.). Retrieved February
10, 2016, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the
United States: 19922002, Washington, 2004.
United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC), 2010 World Drug Report
(http:// www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/ WDR-2010.html), ODCCP, Studies
on Drugs and Crime: Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002 (http://
www.unodc.org/unodc/data-and-analysis/WDR. html), and Reuter, P. and Trautmann, F.
(Eds), A Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998-2007, European Commission,
2009.

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Murkin, G. (June 2014). Drug decriminalization in Portugal: Setting the record straight
[Abstract]. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from
http://www.tdpf.org.uk/resources/publications/drug-decriminalisation-portugal-settingrecord-straight
C. Vaughn, personal communication, March 30, 2016.
Texas Drug Possession Laws - TX Drug Possession Penalties. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2016,
from http://www.drugpossessionlaws.com/texas/
(U) Drug Movement Into and Within the United States - National Drug Threat Assessment 2010
(UNCLASSIFIED). (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from
https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs38/38661/movement.htm
Drug Enforcement Administration History. (1975). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from
http://www.dea.gov/about/history/1975-1980.pdf
Dobkin, Carlos and Nancy Nicosoia, "The War on Drugs: Methamphetamine, Public Health and
Crime", American Economic Review, volume 99, number 1, March 2009, p. 340.
Drug catapult discovered on Mexico border. (2011). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41282726/ns/world_news-americas/t/drug-catapultdiscovered-mexico-border/#.Vv3NoRIrJE4
Marijuana Legalization in Colorado After One Year of Retail Sales and Two Years of
Decriminalization. 2015. Drug Policy Alliance | Guiding Drug Law Reform & Advocacy.
(n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2016, from
https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Colorado_Marijuana_Legalization_One_Ye
ar_Status_Report.pdf

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Marijuana Legalization in Washington After 1 Year of Retail Sales and 2.5 Years of
Legal Possession. July 2015. Drug Policy Alliance | Guiding Drug Law Reform &
Advocacy. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2016, from
https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Colorado_Marijuana_Legalization_One_Ye
ar_Status_Report.pdf

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Appendix A

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