The war on drugs can be defined as the use of the criminal justice system to prohibit possession, use, production, sale, import, and export of certain drugs. The term “war on drugs” was first used by president Richard Nixon in 1971. Drug abuse, said the president, was public enemy number one. Nixon’s use of the word “war” was no accident. From the outset, Washington’s approach to the problems of drug use and addiction has been overtly militaristic in nature. The US government has given local SWAT units access to highly sophisticated equipment, encouraging its use in an ever-more aggressive war on drugs. Beginning with the Military Cooperation and Law Enforcement Act of 1981, the Pentagon gave local and state police access to surplus military equipment for purposes of drug interdiction. By 1997, local police departments around the US had purchased 1.2 million pieces of gear, including thousands of military-style M-16 automatic rifles, body armour, helmets, grenade launchers, night vision goggles, even armoured personnel carriers and helicopters. There are more than 50,000 police paramilitary raids in the United States each year – more than 130 every day. Virtually all are for prosecution of drug warrants, the vast majority involving marijuana. Many jurisdictions use SWAT teams for execution of every search warrant for drugs.
In Canada, the war on drugs has given rise to a number of anti-drug campaigns such as “Drugsnot4me”. The Government of Canada has committed approximately $102 million in new funding over five years to implement the Enforcement Action Plan. This Plan provides funding to the RCMP so they can expand their anti-drug teams to investigate organizations involved in the production and distribution of illegal substances.
However, current drug policies also lead to the corruption of governmental officials and police departments. In 1998, the United Nations Drug Control Program predicted the inventible risk of drug-related police corruption. The report suggested that “wherever there is a well-organized, illegal drug industry, there is also the danger of police corruption”. According to Maurice Punch (2009), police corruption relates to abuse of power and trust. Corruption can occur in a small groups or even throughout the entire organization. Punch (2009) emphasizes that in some forms of police corruption there is no financial gain.
Research demonstrates that the war on drugs has institutionalized racism in law enforcement, created the wholesale corruption of government officials and police departments, increased violence, and criminalized the poor (Chambliss, 1995; Oscapella 2001; Skolnick, 1992). Several investigations of drug-related police corruption found on-duty police officers engaged in selling drugs, protecting drug operations and providing false testimonies. Although material gain was found to be a motive common to drug-related police corruption, New York City’s Mollen Commission identified power and vigilante justice as two additional motives for drug-related police corruption.
In the article “Another lost war: The cost and consequences of drug prohibition”, William Chambliss argues that current drug policies have not worked because the incidence of drug use and the availability of drugs have not changed significantly since the war on drugs was instituted. Current drug policies make it inevitable that individual police will be tempted to accept bribes. Equally important, however, is the organizational pressure on police units to cooperate with drug dealers. Maurice Punch (2009:1) writes: “It is sociologically unsound to speak of ‘individuals’ in organizations, for there are none”. It is important to consider that the nature of police work, organization, and culture can conspire to encourage the diverse forms of police deviance.
Eugenne Oscapella claims that mass demand for prohibited drugs creates a black market that feeds organized crime, increases violence, corrupts enforcement and wastes police recourses. Oscapella (2001) argues that the War on Drugs is a political war, waged not by scientists and doctors, but by police officers and politicians. William Chambliss (1995) suggests that crime and drugs have been used as the weapon by conservative governments to gain political advantage. Chambliss (1995:9) notes that, “crime and drugs were joined on the political agenda, thus making it nearly impossible to argue for decriminalizing drugs without appearing to support crime”. Therefore, the war on drugs has been one of the biggest winners in political history for politicians.
A number of studies demonstrates that the war on drugs increases incarceration rates and creates economies that are drug dependent (Oscapella 2001; Skolnick 1992). Chambliss (1995) notes that the war on drugs in America is a war between the police and minority youth from the “ghetto underclass”. African American, Latino and Aboriginal people are particularly hard hit by the systematic racism inherent in the enforcement of drug laws. Drug arrests and incarcerations are the major contributor to the unprecedented number of people in prison. For instance, in 1992, 58% of the US inmates in federal prisons and over 30% of state prisoners were sentenced for drug offences (Chambliss, 1995). Approximately one-third of these were sentenced for marijuana, with another two-thirds for heroin and cocaine.
There is almost universal agreement that the war on drugs has failed.The article ” The War on Drugs is a failure” notes that this is an ineffective strategy that has to be replaced with more humane and efficient drug policies. Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy argues that the war against drugs violates human rights, damages environments and fills prisons with drug users. War on drugs takes away police time from pursuing “real” criminals and requires the police officers to treat addicts as criminals.
William Chambliss (1995) states that prohibitionist policies based criminalization of consumption have not worked. The author suggests to it is time to replace an ineffective strategy with more humane and efficient drug policies. According to Chambliss (1995), the Netherlands has been a leader in the search for alternatives for policing as a solution to social problems associated with the use of drugs. The Netherlands decriminalized possession, use, and sale of marijuana and other drugs. The main rule that governs police enforcement of anti-drugs laws is that the police are a bridge between drug addicts and treatment services (Chambliss, 1995:2). Research conducted by the Public Health and National Police in the Netherlands found that decriminalization of the use, sale, and possession of some amounts of drugs has not led to any increase in usage and has decreased the amount of crime.
Insite is North America’s first legal supervised injection site. It is located on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. This is a safe, health-focused place where people inject drugs and connect to health care services. Research shows that fatal overdoses within 500 metres of Insite decreased by 35% after the facility opened compared to a decrease of 9% in the rest of Vancouver; Insite, clients develop trusting relationships with health care and social workers, making them more likely to pursue withdrawal management, addiction counselling and other addiction treatment services.
These data from experiments with the decriminalization of drugs and safe injection sites suggest that alternative policies less dependent upon prohibitionist methods are likely to prove more effective.
Chambliss, W.J “Another lost war: The cost and consequences of drug prohibition” , 1995, Social Justice, Vol. 22, p 1-15
Oscapella E. “Witch Hunts and Chemical McCarthyism. The Criminal Law and Twentieth-Century Canadian Drug Policy”, 2001, Fraser Institute Digital Publication, p.1 -26
Punch, M. Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing, 2009. Devon: Willan Publishing.
Skolnick J.K. “Rethinking the Drug Problem”, 1992, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences