In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon coined the term “The War on Drugs” when discussing his policies to prohibit drugs, often using military force to do so.
In 2017, we are still familiar with this phrase, and, aside from a few states legalizing marijuana, we are still perpetuating it. If our goal is to create a safer, healthier country, then I suggest we put this war on hold and try a new tactic to tackle harmful drug abuse.
To start, there is no such thing as a “war on drugs.” There cannot be a war on inanimate objects that are not fighting back. This means that the war on drugs is really more of a war on drug users. Since the ’70s, John Ehrlichman, the White House Domestic Affairs adviser under Nixon, has had no problem admitting that this really was the motive behind this supposed war.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” said Ehrlichman in an interview with Harper’s Magazine.
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
He went on to add, “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The goal was not to help Americans live healthier and safer lives, but minority- and liberal-free lives. Now I hope that the majority of Americans have moved past this and really do just want everybody to stop using drugs — like heroin — that have horrifying impacts on those who use them.
This assumption may be a bit optimistic, but if this is what we’re working toward, then I actually suggest we decriminalize all drugs. Why? Currently, if heroin abusers want to stop using and get help, there is a good chance that they will end up in prison for possession instead of rehab for help. After they are released from prison, they have a difficult time finding work, making it more likely for them to turn toward illegal ways of making money.
If we, instead, offered free, clean needles at health clinics to prevent the spread of disease, regulate the drugs so they cannot be cut with even more dangerous ingredients and, most importantly, offer help and support to drug abusers to help them toward recovery, we may be able to significantly reduce the amount of drug-related deaths.
This worked for Portugal, which decriminalized most drugs in 2001 and since has become the country with the second-lowest amount of drug-related deaths in the EU, with just three in every one million people dying from overdosing.
We need to put a stop to the disgustingly racist motives behind the war on drugs and explore other options, such as drug decriminalization, toward healing one of the most broken groups of citizens in America.