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Policy Impact and Implications

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Policy Impact and Implications

Over the past four decades, America through its policymakers has enacted numerous

counterproductive substance abuse policies primarily aimed at drug prohibition. However, these

systems share common grounds as they rely on law enforcement agencies such as criminal

justice system in taming consumption of certain drugs. Besides, the counterproductive measures

are addicted to the notion of abstinence as the only alternative approach to treatment and

prevention as opposed to other evidence-based interventions. Consequently, such zero-tolerance

actions have remained costly, punitive, overwhelmingly failing to meet the intended outcomes.

As a result, many social scientists and elites have converged that drug menace is a global

phenomenon that needs to be eliminated from the society in the interest of the greater good.

Literature Review

History of Drug Policy in the United States

Undoubtedly, drugs first surfaced in U.S. after the civil war, which made Opium popular

in the 1800s. Afterward, other stimulating substances such as cocaine and coca that were used in

drinks and health remedies followed the suit. Drugs performed different functions depending on

the prescription provided. In particular, the country first discovered morphine in 1906, which

was used for medicinal purposes. On the other hand, heroin and cocaine were prescribed to treat

respiratory illness and manufacture of soft drinks respectively. However, the country witnessed a

heightened awareness that abuse of psychotropic drugs such as opium and cocaine had a high

potential for causing addiction. Subsequently, the local government implemented measures to

ban the importation of opium (Thompson, 2015).

In fact, the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 envisaged and compelled all

physicians to label their medicines accurately. In addition, being the first federal drug policy in

the United States, the Harrison Narcotics Act restricted the production and sale of cocaine,

heroin, marijuana, and morphine. The enforcement of this policy resulted in the prosecution of

more than 5,000 physicians and pharmacists who violated the provision of the Act

(Thoumi, 2003). More importantly, the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics molded

substance policy, representing tenure where substance abuse was increasingly criminalized with

hiked penalties for marijuana use. It is worth noting that the Narcotics Control Act of 1956

ensured repressive and punitive legislation ever adopted by Congress with all discretion to

suspend sentences. As a result, only first-time drug offenders were confined in parole. On the

contrary, anyone selling heroin to minors could be invoked with a death sentence.

Thomson (2015) explains that despite the incarceration policies and billions spent to

reduce the menace, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent, and readily available with continued

persistence on its impact. For example, the racial disparities and overcrowding of prisons are

some of the effects associated with substance abuse. In line with this, the birth of a radical

movement in 1960 had popularized drug use. In short, the demand for drugs in America

skyrocketed in the 1960s, consequently leading to the enactment of the Narcotics Addict

Rehabilitation Act in 1966. President Nixon struggled to formulate a unified drug policy in a bid

to maintain the American safety along the streets and ensure that the countrys education system

outline the dangers of the drug of substance addiction. It is during this period that the United

States was flooded by cocaine from Colombia under the control of Pablo Escobar (Mosher &

Akins, 2007).

To another end, the creation of Drug Enforcement Agency during President Nixons

tenure aimed at controlling the flow of narcotics into the countrys territories. Remarkably, the

head of state authorized advertisement campaigns alongside tougher law to put foreign cartels

engaging in this form of illegal trade. By 1994, studies revealed that around one million people

had been jailed in America following the violation of narcotics laws (Mosher & Akins, 2007).

However, it is important to note that drug abuse has reduced significantly in the U.S. with

scholars attributing this change to community-based policies as opposed to government policy.

The Current Drug Policy in the United States

The funding of experimental methadone programs failed to realize its expected outcome

forced President Carter to propose for the decriminalization of marijuana in 1977, which yielded

the same results as the former. In extension, Clinton earmarked a small budget of $1 billion in

1995 to fund initiatives supported by the governments drug policy. Remarkably, Congress

significantly shaped the countrys drug policy by shifting towards prevention and rehabilitation

in the use of narcotics through education.

In 2011, America justice enforcement agencies approximately 1.5 million drug arrests

and those arrested were put in confinement with their bank accounts being frozen without any

trial. Furthermore, the country now incarcerates more offenders in both absolute and per capita

terms as compared to the rest of the world. This means that nearly 25% of the United States

population are incarcerated for violating drug laws, statistics that is ten times those arrested back

in 1980 (Webster, 2003). In other words, the current drug policies disproportionately influence

communities of color.

Recommended Changes in the Current Policy on Illegal Drug Use

Moreover, racial disparities in the justice system impede the achievement of the expected

benefits of the drug regulation. In other words, the disproportionate concentration of law

enforcement bodies, especially in communities of color, has resulted in egregious racial

discrimination concerning employment, housing, and education facilities. In addition, arrests

among drug users have increased drug-related deaths in urban areas. Overwhelmingly, these

inequalities in drug law enforcement and mass incarceration has contributed to extreme rates of

HIV infection among the people of color. From this perspective, a drug-free America remains an

unrealistic goal. Therefore, policymakers should take alternative and bipartisan measures, which

treat substance abuse as a health concern instead from a criminal justice viewpoint

(Thompson, 2015).

According to Mosher and Akins (2007) failures associated with the criminal justice

system in the means that the country clearly needs an exit strategy to mitigate challenges of drug

abuse. In practice, criminalization approach in solving substance addiction is unsustainable in

both human and fiscal terms to the American population. It is for this reason that setting a new

bottom line in the countrys drug policy becomes necessary. In fact, such policy should focus on

finding solutions as opposed to exacerbating that was synonymous with the failed approaches

over the last 40 years. When implemented, these programs would ensure better economy,

measured in terms of reduced death, crime, and disease rates. Hence, grading of health providers

should be based on the ability to improve the overall wellbeing of citizens. Similarly, law

enforcement policies should be ranked and allocate equivalent funds on the capacity to maintain

safe and free society. For instance, as Velten (2002) underscores, diverse states like California,

New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, New York, and Kentucky are now focusing on reducing public

wastages, racial inequities, promoting democracy abroad, and reducing poverty as the dynamic

macro variables contributing to substance abuse (p. 516).

Barriers to the Recommended Changes

Unfortunately, the current war on drugs faces financial constraints because of the

logistics involved in prosecuting and detaining offenders of the same. In the contemporary

American society, more budget allocation is reserved for the construction of schools and prisons

for rehabilitation purposes. For instance, in 1998 alone, the federal government allocated $ 16

billion to the programs meant to fight drug-related problems. Mosher and Akins (2007) argue

that the amount is astronomical because the returns on such mechanism did not go along with the

effort. Taken together, all the approaches to drug abuse have failed to realize their goals of

education, prevention, and treatment of victims, hence the need to sought alternatives. It is for

this reason that legalization though seems immoral and ridiculous, at the very least, deserves

consideration. Without an immediate fix to the current problem, then the United States will

forever remain in a vicious circle of drug and substance abuse.


Overall, from the history up to date, the United States policy substance abuse has failed

to achieve its goals and objectives for education, prevention, and rehabilitation of victims. This

has called the policymakers to consider alternatives approaches in this regard. Disparities in the

criminal justice of the country have undeniably failed to solve drug-related problems but instead

promoting discrimination against the people of color. This implies that macroeconomic problems

such as poverty, employment, and crime rates remain high and, thus posing threats to

rehabilitation programs in America. Therefore, without an immediate fix to the same, then the

United States will stick to a vicious circle of drug-related problems.



Mosher, C. J., & Akins, S. (2007). Drugs and drug policy: The control of consciousness

alteration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Thompson, O. (2015). Drug policy and intergenerational income mobility in the United

States. Contemporary Economic Policy, 34(1), 127-145.

Thoumi, F. E. (2003). Illegal drugs, economy and society in the Andes. Washington, DC:

Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Velten, E. (2002). A history of addiction & recovery in the United States. International Journal

of Drug Policy, 13(6), 515-516.

Webster, P. (2003). Learning from history: A review of David Bewley-Taylors the United States

and international drug control, 19091997. International Journal of Drug Policy, 14(4),