Understanding the War On Drugs

Understanding the War On Drugs

You have likely heard the phrase “the war on drugs.” The term is in reference to a government-led initiative spanning from the 1970s to now, and it is focused on the deterring of drug use by the strategic targeting of drug dealers and users. The focus of the campaign was to increase the prison sentences for both users and dealers, essentially deterring further use by highlighting the consequences. While the program initially carried far-reaching support, recent years have seen that support waning, with many people questioning the original motives behind the political campaign.

Richard Nixon and the War on Drugs

While the battle against drug use in this country began before the 1970s, it was Nixon who coined the term “War on Drugs” in 1971. The presumption was that the rise in recreational drug use through the 1960s motivated Nixon to act, increasing federal funding and creating the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was quoted as saying that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.”

However, despite Nixon’s public declarations, in 1994, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy chief, suggested that the War on Drugs campaign was politically motivated. In an interview with Journalist Dan Baum, Ehrlichman indicated that the campaign was meant to target “the antiwar left and black people,” those less likely to vote for or support Nixon.

Ehrlichman’s interview catapulted a growing and continuing debate on drug sentencing and racially and politically motivated arrest. In his interview, Ehrlichman stated that it was impossible to make it illegal to be black or against the war, but that by publicly associating marijuana with hippies and heroin with blacks, it was possible to disrupt the communities.

Ronald Reagan and the War on Drugs

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan reignited Nixon’s anti-drug policies, expanding on the severity of sentences and increasing the number of convictions with regulatory changes. During his tenure, incarcerations for nonviolent drug crimes saw a massive increase.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, enacted during his tenure, established mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenses, which is now being ridiculed for its potentially racist ramifications. For example, crack cocaine, more often used by black Americans, carried a stricter sentence than the same amount of powder cocaine, more often used by whites.

Regardless of the motivations behind the “War on Drugs,” there is a growing discrepancy for the support of the restrictive and overreaching laws of the past. People do not want to see addicts forced into long-term prison sentences because of an illness. However, until laws change, the best option for those arrested on nonviolent drug offenses is to contact a criminal defense attorney, like from the Morales Law Firm.