Opinions: America’s pointless war

Trent Gautney, Opinions Writer

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” Nearly 50 years later, we are still in America’s most pointless war.

From the very beginning, it was clear that this war had nothing to do with the health and safety of the American public. Nearly every law criminalizing drugs that we have in the US is connected one way or another to racism. 

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, opium was associated with Chinese immigrants as was cannabis with Mexicans. Cocaine laws were enacted to target and arrest black men. When Nixon entered office, he placed tighter restrictions on drugs that were associated with his “enemies:” antiwar liberals and black people.

This racist plan worked. According to the ACLU, black people are nearly four times as likely as white people to be arrested for possession of cannabis, even though it is used at the same rate by both races. The numbers only get worse depending on the state. In Iowa, African Americans are over eight times as likely to be arrested.

So why haven’t we ended these openly racist laws that have been disproportionately ruining the lives of minorities for years?

We almost did end them. During the seventies, eleven states decriminalized cannabis possession. President Jimmy Carter even campaigned on ending the war on drugs.

However, this progress, along with much of the other progress that had been made throughout the 1960s and ’70s was halted by one single president. Ronald Reagan.

Under the Reagan Administration, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This law established mandatory minimums for drug offenses and infamously included the blatantly racist provision that gave longer sentences for possession of the crack form of cocaine, which was largely used more often by black people. 

Consequently, incarceration for non-violent drug crimes went from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1997.

Even as we grow closer to legalizing cannabis, the mass incarceration of individuals in possession of drugs has not improved. In 2018, over 1.4 million Americans were arrested for drug possession. Each year, $47 billion is spent on this pointless war.

It is time to ask ourselves why we have allowed this travesty of justice to prevail for so long. Does it just not have the political will to gain any traction? Is it just not worth the extra time and resources?

We have known for a long time that this war has been fought on unjust grounds and led to the suffering of millions of Americans. Now, after half a century of letting this abhorrent cancer on our justice system continue to grow, it is time to say enough.

Americans need to call for more action to be done in ending the mass suffering caused by the war on drugs. We should be asking for federal legislation that not only decriminalizes the possession of these substances but also does not leave behind the hundreds of thousands currently incarcerated and millions who have been impacted.

It’s time to end this war. 


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