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War on Drugs, Incarceration and Liberal European Policies

Essay by   •  June 14, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  2,835 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,144 Views

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War On Drugs, Incarceration and Liberal European Policies

In the year 2001 Portugal became the first country in Europe and the world to abolish criminal penalties for people in possession of any illicit drugs for personal use. When Portugal passed this law it was revolutionary across the globe and many nations and leaders criticized the nation and predicted it would become a catastrophe and that drug consumption would skyrocket and that the nation would become a nation of addicts. Fourteen years later to the shock of many experts and world leaders Portugal seems a less addict nation with drug consumption plummeting and the spread of deadly dieses such as AIDS decreasing. The success of the Portuguese system inspired larger European countries such as Spain and Italy to follow its example and implement similar policies. Other European countries such as Czech Republic and Switzerland also developed different but similar policies, decriminalization so far seems to of yielded positive results across Europe. Compared to the United States which pioneered the “War on Drugs” and used its power to export it prohibitionist policies across the globe still seems posed to continue on its current policy on a national level which have resulted in the highest incarceration rate in the world and has affected many minorities and lower class communities

Drug prohibition in the United States began in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics act which was passed by congress and was mostly focused on opium. The law was influenced by Canada which passed an identical law earlier in 1908. The law that would kick prohibition into overload and begin a policy of incarceration and draconian measure was the National Prohibition Act of 1920. The National Prohibition Act which was inspired by the temperance movement made every narcotic including alcohol illegal. At the times Narcotic use was not high when compared to alcohol, the effect of the law would have an effect on crime across the United States creating a huge underground black-market for alcohol. Alcohol related crimes increased and incarceration levels rose drastically. The prohibition on alcohol would eventually end in 1933 which lead to a significant drop in crime rates but the prohibition on narcotics would remain and become the focus of the authorities. Drug enforcement would remain a policy in the United States and not until the administration of Richard Nixon that drug related crimes became much harsher and more draconian. It was Nixon that would come to coin the term in 1971 “War on Drugs” and that would be used even till the present. Nixon’s policy would become the status quo of the United States and would also change U.S. foreign policy. The United States using its power and influence would begin a crusade to spread its drug policy across the globe, sometime by force if necessary sanctioning or punishing countries that did not follow U.S. doctrine in drug policy as was the case in Colombia or Panama. From 1971 when the war on drugs was declared the crime rate and incarcerations began to steadily rise, while around the whole country violent crimes were decreasing incarceration rates were rising. The “War on Drugs” has had a huge social impact in the United States and the world.

Cigdem V. Sirin (2011) argues that the current United States drug policy which has been in place since 1970 and billions of dollars spent with the intention of reducing drug consumption and drug related crimes has been ineffective. Even after 45 years since being implemented the drug war is far from over or has yielded the desired effects, apart from raising drastically the incarceration rate it has also resulted in racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Sirin (2011) mentions that the war on drugs is also a war on minorities because of the disproportioned incarceration of minorities when compared to whites which has led to grievances in minority communities, contributed to socio economic inequalities and has broken thousands of families. These reasons Is why Sirin (2011) is so against the war on drugs because she believes that it is an obstacle for achieving an egalitarian democracy and has contributed to the cycle of poverty that plaques our society.

Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes, Alex Stevens (2010) argument is similar to Sirin (2011) in one perspective they both have a negative perspective of the War on Drugs or drug prohibition in general. Hughes,Stevns (2010) make their argument by looking at Europe and how it is changing and liberalizing its drug policies. Hughes, Stevens (2010) make the argument that the biggest obstacle to decriminalization is political will and uninformed populace. Hughes, Stevens (2010) use Portugal as the basis of their argument as mentioned before decimalized all drug use in 2001, where it is now considered an administrative offence rather than a criminal one. Hughes, Stevens (2010) also focus on various studies performed and statistics taken throughout their research. Hughes, Stevens (2010) also give a fine example of my perspective which is Functionalism because in my studies I found out that for this issue to be solved all levels of society will have to work together and contribute and adapt to change.

From its beginning the war on drugs has targeted minorities because of the economic inequalities many minorities communities face. The access to resources has had a profound effect on minorities when relating to the war on drugs people of less education and resources facing a history of discrimination and with little social nets are more susceptible to being absorbed into the drug trade or drug use. This has contributed to police forces and law agencies to implement a culture of racial profiling Sirin (2011) that has also come to create much animosity among law enforcement and minority communities. 2/3 of people incarcerated come from minority communities which is a huge disproportion considering that they only make up about 30% of the population. Once incarcerated it becomes very hard for individuals once out of jail to succeed or progress in life as a criminal background is something that hunts people for the rest of their lives and becomes a huge obstacle that keeps many individuals in poverty.

Breaking down the incarceration rates and its effects the United States is rather startling James Braxton Peterson (2015) mentions how the United States currently spends 80-billion dollars on locking people up and totals out to a population of more than 2 million people not counting individuals in probation and parole. Peterson (2015) mentions how the United States only has 5% of the world population but has 25% of

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