The War on Drugs


The US War on Drugs started in earnest during the 1970's. The US Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970, following the spread of recreational drug use during the 1960's and of drug addictions of US soldiers serving in the Vietnam War. Particularly troubled by the addictions of US soldiers, in 1971 US President Richard Nixon declared, "America's public enemy number one in the US is drug abuse" and announced his plan for an offensive against drugs. He requested that Congress increase the US budget to enforce anti-drug laws and treat drug addiction from $195 million to $350 million. By 2013, the US government spent over one trillion dollars fighting a war on drugs.

In the decades since Nixon launched the War on Drugs, the US has fought against drugs both abroad and at home. The Drug Enforcement Administration, created [PDF] by Nixon in 1973, established bases in foreign countries to combat the drug trade. The most prominent foreign theater of operations has been Latin America, where the US has maintained a harsh anti-drug policy that discouraged legalization or reduced penalties. By 2013, Latin American leaders voiced their opposition to the anti-drug policies of the US and blamed the high demand for drugs within the US as a contributing factor to failed initiatives. Though reports about the spillover of Mexico's drug-related violence into the US remain contested, the increased activity of US border patrols for security purposes calls into question the overall success of the war in Latin America.

The most critiqued theater of the War on Drugs, however, has been the home front. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, domestic drug enforcement operations disproportionately affect persons of color. In comparison to the white population, African-American males are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Certain laws also target drugs that are predominantly used by minority populations, such as crack cocaine. The debate continues in the US. In September 2013, Senator Rand Paul compared the War on Drugs to Jim Crow laws because of its disparate impact on racial minorities.


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