Rally & Concert to end the war on drugs - MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, November 3, 2011. (Flickr Creative Commons / Courtesy of Neon Tommy)

 

Among the many wars that America has been involved in over the years, the war on drugs has perhaps had the largest and most negative effect on civilian lives to date. Rather than protecting people from the dangers of life-threatening drugs, the continuation of criminalizing virtually harmless recreational drugs has only increased incarceration rates and ruined the lives of casual, nonviolent users.

Most of the currently illegal drugs in the U.S., such as marijuana, opium, coca, and psychedelics have been used for thousands of years for both medical and spiritual purposes, yet many of today’s politicians and members of pre-millennial times only associate drugs with violence, crime, and danger.

It is true that, when given to the wrong person in the wrong place and time, these drugs can cause severe damage to both the user and those around them, but shouldn’t there be a line drawn at some point?

Perhaps at throwing teenagers in jail for getting a little high before a football game and potentially ruining their lives forever? Or sentencing a pot dealer to 10 years in prison while a killer cop goes free without as little as a trial?

America has been involved in the “war on drugs” since 1971 thanks to President Nixon, and Americans have been on a rollercoaster of ideas and movements involving the decriminalization of certain recreational drugs, ever since, with marijuana at the top of controversy.

Since then, “23 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form,” according to Governing Magazine but only four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

When addressing the issue of drug use in America, many enjoy bringing up the supposed moral and ethical aspect of it, though they seem to have no moral standing with having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are currently in jail or prison, a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years. “These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.”

Of that 2.2 million, more than half of federal prisoners have been incarcerated for drug crimes since 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number had only just gone below 50 percent in 2011.

The number of those in federal prison for drug offenses went from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice despite the spreading of more relaxed attitudes toward nonviolent offenses among the public.

“The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance estimates that when you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison,” The Huffington Post reported, “the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Over four decades, the group says, American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war.”

So, it’s safe to say that mass incarceration for petty drug use is not the answer to saving America from drug-infested hell.

But completely ending the criminalization of all drugs cannot be the answer either. Humans have proven on multiple occasions that certain drugs can cause serious damage, and even death.

America needs to take a really long, hard look in the mirror and reevaluate its perception on drugs in general.

Actually having a detailed education on different kinds of drugs and their effects can have a much more positive impact on society than teaching the future of today that all drugs are bad and will kill you and then hastily throwing them into jail for smoking a joint in an attempt to relieve the never ending stress of college.

Better yet, decriminalizing certain virtually harmless recreational drugs altogether so that our tax dollars won’t be wasted on the cruel and meaningless incarceration of such users who are just trying to have a good time and feel at ease for once in their lives may go a long way too.

Right now, the only certainty Americans have is knowing that you’ll probably serve more time in jail or prison for smoking a blunt than someone charged for rape, child molestation or manslaughter.

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