One in every three Americans are certain that America’s four decades war against drugs policy has been unsuccessful. This view of the average American citizen reveals significant displeasure of the people with the US government as regards anti- drug policies. The notion of the US anti-drug policy reported in a Zogby International survey in 2008 establishes that the American citizens are dismayed that the countries anti-drug policy has yielded no significant impact in the curtailing of drug manufacture, use and distribution. It is evident that new or improved polices are needed to yield positive implications on the war against drugs in America. The cost as well of increasing criticism against the American anti- narcotics strategy across the Latin American region has been of no great impact as the American debate on drug policies remains in the dark. There has been no relevant debate of the inefficient polices coming from the nation’s capital. Most Americans believe the situation is the way it is because there has been no viable solution or alternatives to this problem. This paper critically looks into the flaws of the present war against drugs policy in the United States, it reveals the implications of this policy in the past four decades and tries to proffer solutions and alternatives aimed at improving such policies.
Statistics depict that one in every three Americans are certain that America’s four decades war against drugs policy has been unsuccessful (Stevenson, 2011). This view of the average American citizen reveals significant displeasure of the people with the US government as regards anti- drug policies. The notion of the US anti-drug policy reported in a Zogby International survey in 2008 establishes that the American citizens are dismayed that the countries anti-drug policy has yielded no significant impact in the curtailing of drug manufacture, use and distribution. It is evident that new or improved polices are needed to yield positive implications on the war against drugs in America. Recent Congressional approaches to review the American anti-drug policy illustrates that the US law makers are conversant with the rising need to restructure and re-think the current position of the nation’s anti-drugs policies. In the Latin American region, the notion of the inefficiency and incompetence of the anti-drug policies initiated by the US has continued to grow. In a highly regarded report forwarded by a committee headed by three of the Latin America’s most respected former presidents, the committee called for an unbiased and approachable search for alternatives or solutions to improving anti-drug policies in a bid to reducing the implications of trafficking and abuse.
Although there is practically no absolutely objective measure in evaluating the success or failure of the current anti-drug policy of the US, it is however unknown as to what consequences or impacts a different policy would have produced. The outcomes could as well be more negative than it is at present. However, obtainable evidence suggest that the American war against drug policy in the last twenty years, which has been centred on drug production prohibition, embargos on trade as well as consumption and punishment on those involved has yielded inadequate results to diminish the challenges they were created to address. They have neither mitigated the supply of drugs nor curbed the consumption of such illegal drugs in the United States of America. Around the world, drug related problems, such as syndicate or organized crimes, corruption and violence have reached an alarming rate. These drug related problems in certain nations of the world have posed as threats to the social, economic and political stability of such states.
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It should be noted that in recent times, moderate alterations have been introduced into the American drug laws and regulations, the changing attitudes of the American general public and other parts of the world might now be paving ways for more substantial improvements to these policies. The Obama administration has taken a bold step in acknowledging the short comings and limitations of the Washington’s drug policy. It has gone further to develop strategic approaches that are aimed at regarding drug consumption and addiction more as health matters or concern than as criminal activities. The Obama initiative shifts its emphasis from law enforcement to a more prevention and treatment approach. Some individuals in congress have equally begun advocating for critical review of the present drug legislations and a systematic approach to the consideration of alternatives. Several states within the USA and outside have had their drug laws already revised while others are still contemplating change. Marijuana is presently sold legally for medicinal purposes in no less than twelve states.
More evident presently than in the past, opportunities are beginning to be emerge for serious addressing and restructuring of the US anti-drug policies. Yet, there is still the barrier to anti-drug policy improvements and reforms in the silent tolerance of inefficient, socially contradicting and damaging regulations and policies due to the fact that no stipulated or specific policy reform strategy has been attributed with significant political or public support.
Till date, the anti-drug policies have not reduced or diminished the production or use of illegal substances in America or overseas nor have the nation’s initiatives been relatively successful in reducing the negative effects associated with drug distribution. It has been established that in certain regions of the country, the anti-drug policies themselves are rather expanding and complicating the problems, thus creating international complications for Washington. It is a general consensus that what is desired now is an extensive and serious national debate to look into the effectiveness and the social, economic and political implications in terms of cost of the American anti-drug policies and an intensive search for alternative or improved approaches that could aid in reducing the negative impact of drug trafficking and abuse.
A vast number of surveys claim that statistics on drug consumption in America is not substantially reliable, the available figures indicate that use of cocaine and marijuana has been relative stable for some years now, although evidently reduced from its peak in the 70s and 80s. It is also evident that the United States consumes more illegal substances at a given rate of three times higher than the rate of consumption of the entire continent of Europe (Kleiman, 2011). Though the consumption of illegal substances in the EU is rapidly growing, a few countries within the region actually consume more per capita than the United States. In America and Europe, wholesale street prices of both cocaine and cannabis have reduced in the past several years, resulting in higher potency and steady demands. In a recent European Union Commission’s study, it was concluded that world drug production and consumption have relatively remained stable between the periods of 1998 and 2007. Across the globe illicit drugs continue to be available at declining or stable prices.
In the United States, the two principal building blocks to eradicate drugs from the nation, interdiction of illegal narcotics shipment and complete eradication of source crops have significantly lost their credibility. These polies have been criticized to be ineffective in curbing the supply and distribution of drugs within the United States as well as other international markets. Individual nations, single handily, from time to time have achieved some crucial declines in the cultivation, production and movement of illegal drugs within its territories, but invariably, these have been offset by relative increase of such substances in other countries resulting in the balloon effect. In Peru and Bolivia, extensive eradication resulted in the dramatic diminishing of coca leaves, the effect of the eradication, rapid expansion and cultivation in the nation of Columbia. Another case of the balloon effect can be illustrated in America’s notable success in the shut-down of drug transit routes through the Caribbean, the shut-down led to the rerouting of the cocaine shipments through Mexico and Central America (Wyler, 2012).
The negative implications implemented by the production and distribution of illegal drugs and the ever increasing documentation on the collateral damage caused by the anti-drug policy has now extended throughout North and Southern America. Illicit substances as well as increased associated criminal activities are critical challenges for all nations in the hemisphere. Caribbean and Latin American countries are no longer deemed as transit points or mere producers of these illicit drugs, rather they have joined the band wagon of major consumers, though still at a much lower per capita rate that the EU nations and America. No country is left out from the implications of drug distribution and consumption. Its effects are evident in every part of Northern and Southern America. Violence, delinquency and corruption are facilitated by illegal drugs. Democratic stability is threatened in certain countries as is the fact that citizens now point to vigorous street violence and criminality as the biggest challenge faced by their countries.
It does not come as a shock that the Caribbean and the Latin American nations have become excruciatingly more critical of the United States’ anti-drug policies. The governments of these nations have categorically blamed America’s drug consumption for the unending waves of increased crime and violence in their regions. Washington’s war against drugs policies, now more than ever is viewed, not only as having failed but has been a catalyst for the associated challenges. Recently discussed was this point of view in the Latin American Commissions report (Fernandes, 2008).
In the years gone by, the American anti-drug policies have been responsible for provoked tensions and hostilities between Washington and Latin America. The Latin American government have openly criticized and shown resentment towards the United States inflexible approach to combating and eradicating drugs and its persistent efforts in imposing this same approach on the rest of the neighbouring nations.
These other regions are puzzled and frustrated that the American government have failed and still unwilling to probe Washington’s long standing initiatives. It is surprisingly unpleasant that they have refused to begin considering alternatives to improving the anti-drug policies regardless the mounting evidence that the American drug policies are ineffective and stagnant in a variety of situations and circumstances. It is very well known to the Latin American government that given the size of the American drug market and the dominant and influential role played by Washington in structuring international anti-drug policies, no strategy or initiative in a bid to revise the current anti-drug polices can effectively function without the support and leadership of the United States. Without a shift in the American war against drugs policy, there is evidently little or no room for other nations in the hemisphere to improve on their own drug policies.
Some certain literatures have asked why there has been no significant alternative approach to drug policies or why have the approached been strongly resisted, it is believed that no policy in existence offers options of solutions to the challenges. No credible analyst claim that illegal drug consumption can be completely eliminated or even mitigated to a substantial figure. The alternative model or framework that has received most attention is not significantly centred on elimination of drug consumption. Rather it is directed towards identifying and putting laws, policies and practices that diminish the negative implications associated with drug use and the anti-drug measures on individuals, families the society and the nations as a whole. Many argue that such an initiative rather than lessen the impact of the inflictions of drugs on the people. It may even lead to an increased rate of consumption.
Anti-drug policy reviews that are not centred on curbing or reducing consumption have little or no appeal to American citizens whose primary interest is to keep their children away from drugs. It is even less appealing for Americans who view drug use through a moral lens and stand in favour of the no tolerance model that have been the structure of the American anti-drug policy strategies. Policy strategies which are more focused on harm decline or reduction are often complex and incomprehensible to the average American citizen who just wants drugs of the streets. Such policies are often easy targets for criticisms, and in most cases provoke fervent opposition as they do not inspire much enthusiasm. Theorist argue that these sort of policies are short on principles, appear nakedly pragmatic and are viewed as a sign of weakness and resignation. It is said that such policies need trade-offs as well as choices citizens and the government do not desire to make. Also on a political notion, it is argued that there is really not much advantage in advocating these policies, yet to some they are currently the most viable option.
Another significant barrier to anti-drug policy review is the political and bureaucratic interest in the American system which has developed and become critically rigid over the years. Today it staunchly stands on the status quo and is consistently resistant to any fundamental policy shifts. The powerful anti-drug agencies within the United States have been largely impervious of policy shifts or new ideas. For over ten years or even more, debates and dialogue on anti-drug policy reviews have been kept silent, the states initiatives have not be scrutinized or rigorously examined. The basic information required for the assessment of the challenges and evaluation of policy impacts have not be collected, analysed or even made public (Winterbourne).
The way forward
Despite the many limitations, there is the increased convergence of anti-drug policy experts on the fundamental elements of review strategies for addressing the growing challenges associated with illegal drug abuse. Liberal and conservative analyst have basically agreed on the same conclusions, there is no partisan differences and thy ground is intellectually set. Reflecting on this move, Latin American Commissions study and report has set out specific guidelines and frameworks towards the development of a reviewed, more effective drug policies for the region. This ever increasing consensus still faces political resistance to changes in the United States drug policy which is still formidable. Though there is a general belief that the drug war policy of the United States has failed and the fact that the Obama led administration has sprung a series of promotions on alternative approaches, there has been no significant discussions on drug policy review. The issue was hardly brought up in the 2008 presidential campaign and politicians in the US avoid taking a firm standpoint on the issue.
The major problem for the American anti-drug policy is obtaining the relevant issues into the political sphere and agenda, thus subjecting them to critical evaluations and dialogue. Even if most Latin American governments would applaud policy shifts on the path of the United States, the core objective of the reviewed initiatives would be to primarily serve or focused on the American people. It would focus on dealing with drug related problems in manners that are less harmful to citizens and society and would give Washington room to work more effectively with other countries in addressing a regional and global challenge.
A more intellectual anti-drug initiative could facilitate the removal of a major irritant in relationship between the United States and other nations in the region. General perception in Latin American nations indicate that they are paying a huge price in the form of increased violence, insecurity and crime due the American appetite on illegal drugs.
Changing the perspective and attitudes of the general public as well as the American political context along with alterations in Latin America and Europe may just be the measure required to set the platform for a shift in the anti-drug policy. There are evidences of better prospects than any time in memory for strategic considerations of reviews and alternatives policy proposals, though there are still no debates on the issues. A growing number of American citizens have begun advocating for significant changes in the US initiatives. Polls show that almost fifty percent of the US citizens are in support of the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for domestic use, though less than thirty percent favour its full legalization (Reuter, 2008). According to the Zogby polls of 2008, citizens are positive that legalization might just be the best course of action in combating both international and local hard drugs trade. These shifting views seem to be taking its toll on influencing state level policies in the US.
Data on drug consumption is required to be made available and brought up to standards expected for the major medical and health challenges confronting the US and other countries. Anti-drug initiatives or policies should designed to assure that results can be thoroughly assessed and reviewed. The agencies burdened with result collection and dissemination should be totally independent of those carry out the scheme. It would be significant in the short run if the American government can outline the most promising anti-drug initiatives at the local, states and federal levels in regions that are deemed as critical. Initiatives aimed at reducing drug consumption and addictions and lowering health associated risks, reducing drug related crimes and increasing the opportunities to train and educate convicted drug offenders are highly welcomed. Efforts to critically monitor and intensely assess these types of policies should be put in place as well as scaling up strong programs so they can be evaluated among wider populations. The US government should equally encourage foreign governments, international agencies and academic bodies to carefully scrutinize the cost and implications of policy alterations. For example Columbia’s efforts to promote alternatives to rural development programs in regions of extensive cultivation of coca leaves or Portugal’s decriminalization of the use of small amounts of these substances.
Another guideline would be for the United States government to facilitate and promote an international task force on drugs specifically sponsored by an independent organization, in a bid to reviewing global initiative efforts on drugs. The objectives and goals of such a task force would be to assess the effectiveness of current policies and guidelines of multilateral agencies and bilateral schemes aimed at combating the illegal drug problems.
It is highly significant that a clear and concise understanding on the implications of the illegal drug problems on individuals and the general society. The effect of different responses and the identification of new measures to mitigate harm. Increased focused should be targeted towards understanding the diverse issues involved with combating criminal syndicates, violence, corruption and all other negative implications they perpetrate. It is essential that strategies are regularly reviewed and evaluated both on a national and multinational level for dealing with the challenges posed illegal drug production, distribution and consumption as well as ineffective drug policies of nations.