Definition Essay Rewrite- Sam Sarlo

In June 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” This movement has been fundamentally flawed since the very inception of its name, and it has accumulated more human casualties than many wars against enemy nations. His actions were sparked by a steady increase in drug use and drug arrests through the 1960′s, and surely his purpose was to lessen the damage done to the people of our nation by drugs and drug-related violence, but unfortunately it has led to massive bloodshed and sustained international organized crime. Thus far, our government has spent trillions of dollars and the lives of tens of thousands of citizens on regulations and enforcement measures that have been at best ineffective and wasteful and at worst dangerous and counterproductive. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, the number of drug-related deaths has fairly steadily increased since the inception of the war on drugs.

There are several categories of drug-related deaths, but the two main categories are overdoses and drug-related violence. There are people killed by drug users, drug users killed by police, police killed by drug users/dealers, drug dealers killing each other in territorial disputes, drug-funded gangs killing each other, and that’s not even considering what’s happening outside U.S. borders. Counterintuitively, the war on drugs actually causes more drug-related deaths to occur. It seems that the harder our government tries and the more money they spend to enforce drug laws, the more people die. An extremely low estimate of drug related deaths in this country for 2007 is 15,223 (Richardson). As I said, this is an extremely low estimate, it even excludes the roughly 60% of overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs, even though most of them should qualify as illegal drug overdoses because the pills were almost certainly illegally obtained or taken other than as directed. About 6,487 (Richardson) of these deaths are caused by drug-related violence.

Most drug violence is rooted in and perpetuated by the war on drugs and the legislation on which it is based. Our government has regulated drugs through prohibition since the 1930’s, and it has not and will never work. Just as the failed experiment of alcohol prohibition created massive black-market enterprises and put money in the pockets of violent criminals, the  war on drugs has only worsened and deepened the drug problem.

Another alarming aspect of the war on drugs is the billions of taxpayer dollars wasted on failing measures every year. Federal and state governments spend a combined $30.4 billion each year on incarcerating drug offenders, and that’s on top of the $21.9 billion spent on drug law enforcement. Even more tragic than these monetary figures is the tens of thousands of lives wasted in jail, and misguided law enforcement attempts that victimize innocent people. For example, Jose Guerena Ortiz, a US marine combat veteran, was fired upon 71 times in front of his wife and daughter by a SWAT team who broke down his door because he was “suspected of involvement in drug trafficking. Nothing illegal was found in his home, and to this day authorities have no evidence that Ortiz had ever been involved in the drug trade, yet none of the officers involved in his massacre have been charged or even disciplined. The war on drugs is successfully used as an excuse for such injustice by law enforcement every day.

The drug trade is simply an issue of supply and demand. Our government currently employs mostly supply-oriented efforts, such as arresting drug dealers and going after cartel leaders in Mexico. The harsh reality is that there will always be a huge demand for drugs in this country, and as long as drugs are prohibited here that demand will be met by criminals. The only way we can hope to remedy the drug problem and save tens of thousands of lives from drug violence is legalization and regulation of drugs. Other drugs should be treated just like alcohol, legally available to adults, quality controlled by the government, and regulated in their usage. This type of legislation would effectively crash the value of drugs and eliminate demand for illegal foreign drugs. No drug user would want to buy illegal drugs from some shady guy in an alley when he could simply go to a government-regulated store and buy drugs of guaranteed and consistent quality and purity without risking arrest and jail time. With no demand for illegal drugs, drug violence would nearly disappear. Drug dealers would be put out of business, police wouldn’t have to arrest responsible users, and the Mexican cartels would dwindle significantly. Regulation of legal drugs would also dramatically decrease the number of overdose deaths. Many overdoses happen because drug users don’t know the quality or purity of the substances they are obtaining, so they have no standard on which to base their dosage. Like alcohol, legal drugs could be required to label their potency so that the user can make an informed decision based on real knowledge of exactly what he is putting into his body.While the benefits of legalization are very clear to me, I realize that it will not solve the whole drug problem. People will still die of overdoses, and drug addicts will still commit crimes, possibly violent ones, to feed their habit. Using a small fraction of the money that we currently spend on the war on drugs, we could fund a comprehensive drug treatment program to help people overcome their addictions, or at least a better version of the current methadone clinic program that gives addicts enough to keep them sane and sated.


“A Radical Solution to End the Drug War: Legalize everything” by John H. Richardson

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