CRF Blog

Everything You Need to Know About the War on Drugs

by Bill Hayes

In 23 short cards, Vox tells you Everything You Need to Know About the War on Drugs. Here is the first card:

“If we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely in time destroy us,” Nixon told Congress in 1971. “I am not prepared to accept this alternative.”

Nixon inaugurated the the war on drugs at a time when America was in hysterics over widespread drug use. Drug use had become more public and prevalent during the 1960s thanks in part to events like Woodstock, and many Americans felt that drug use had become a serious threat to the country and its moral standing.

Over the last four decades, the US has committed more than $1 trillion to the war on drugs. However, the crackdown has failed to produce the desired results: the effort hasn’t significantly decreased drug use, and it didn’t cause drug prices to rise. The war on drugs is also blamed for several unintended problems, including the proliferation of drug-related violence around the world.

While Nixon began the modern war on drugs, America has a long history of trying to control the use of certain drugs. Laws passed in the early 20th century attempted to restrict drug production and sales. Some of this history is racially tinged, and, perhaps as a result, the war on drugs has hit minority communities the hardest.

Given the failures, unintended consequences, and racial disparities, many drug policy experts and reformers have called for reforms ranging from a larger focus on rehabilitation to the decriminalization and legalization of all drugs. But so far, few steps have been taken in that direction — and the US continues spending $51 billion on the war on drugs each year. [more]