‘War on Drugs’ and Adverse Social Impact

Subject: Law
Pages: 4
Words: 1296
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: Bachelor

The illegal possession of drugs has been seen as an issue by policymakers, who attempted to address it with the ‘war on drugs.’ This term describes a set of policies and laws that the government in the United States implemented in 1971 to address the high incidents of drug abuse. The ‘war on drugs has not been effective in addressing drug-related crimes and has led to the increase of criminal activity in general.

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The ‘war on drugs’ policies have existed for over fifty years, yet the effect of them has not been significant. According to Wells (2020), since the inception of anti-drug laws in 1971, the United States recorded 150,000 drug-related murders in Mexico in 2007. Considering this, the United States and Mexico continue to cooperate to address the high number of drug abuse incidents; however, these efforts are currently not effective and do not allow the policymakers to reach the desired results. Hence, the high number of murders linked to the production and distribution of illegal substances is one argument supporting the idea that the ‘war on drugs had a negative social impact.

Some issues that lead to the failure of the ‘war on drugs’ are linked to the types of policies that the governments favor when addressing drug-related crime. Wells (2020) states that this is either a seizure of these substances or arrests of big-scale drug traffickers who sell the illegal substances to the people. Evidently, these policies do not concern the drug cartels that control drug trafficking. Wells (2020) cites a study by Castillo and Kronick where the analysis of these policies has proven that they are ineffective and lead to an increase in crime rates in general. This issue is a result of several effects that the policy targeting cartel leaders have. Firstly, these individuals become impatient and try to make as much money as possible in the nearest future since they fear that they might be arrested (Wells, 2020). Secondly, this policy intensifies the conflicts within cartels that lead to more violence in the streets. Thus, the existing policies that aim to diminish drug-related crime, in fact, result in more violence and drug trafficking.

Anti-drug laws lead to more incarcerations; however, not all arrests are linked to the sale or possession of illegal substances. Grossi (2020) analyzed panel data collected between 1975 and 2002 and argues that there is a correlation between increased presence of police and higher prison admission resulting in an increase in the overall crime rate. This means that the correlation analysis by this author supports the idea that the ‘war on drugs has had an effect not only on the number of incarcerations linked to the possession of illegal substances but also resulted in higher incarceration rates for other crimes as well. As the result of the ‘war on drugs’, the number of drug arrests increased, but also, there were significantly more arrests linked to proper and violent crime. However, Gross (2020, p. 1), ‘with the exception of determinate sentencing, individual War on Drugs laws, such as minimum sentences, habitual drug laws, and severity levels have mixed results, with no consistent effect on crime rates.’ Hence, although the ‘war on drugs’ has had a significant effect on the crime rates and incarceration, based on data from 1975, it affected only some types of crimes.

The prohibition as a policy has not been successful when addressing other types of crime, and it has not allowed the policy makers to achieve the desired results. Coyne and Hall (2017, para. 2) state that ‘proponents of drug prohibition claim that such policies reduce drug-related crime, decrease drug-related disease and overdose, and are an effective means of disrupting and dismantling organized criminal enterprises.’ The prohibition policy as a way of addressing some criminal activity has been routinely used by policymakers; however, the effects of this approach have not been effective. Coyne and Hall (2017) report that the ‘war on drugs’ has increased the number of overdose incidents and promoted the establishment of powerful drug cartels. Hence, the goals that these policies aimed to achieve were not sustained, and the ‘war on drugs’ has made the drug traffickers more powerful, allowing them to engage in other crimes as well.

Prohibition leads to the opposite effect, which the United States government has experienced before the ‘war on drugs’ when the legislation addressing alcohol use was introduced. The anti-alcohol policies allowed to decrease the consumption initially, but shortly after the legislation, the consumption levels returned to the previous ones, and soon the amount of alcohol consumed by the citizens increased (Colson, 2019). Moreover, these policies, which preceded the ‘war on drugs’ have led to the establishment of illegal alcohol production and sale. Moreover, due to the unregulated production, the quality of the product varied, and some consumers were poisoned or suffered from adverse health consequences (Colson, 2019; Coyne and Hall, 2017). Therefore, the previous policies that target the prohibition of some substances serve as an example that this approach to addressing crime leads to a variety of unpredictable adverse social consequences.

Organizations that manage crime and criminal activity have become stronger. Count the Cost (n.d.) organization argues that the ‘war on drugs’ has led to the strengthening of organized crime because the market provides a plethora of financial incentives for the criminals. Additionally, the street-level crime has also intensified due to the dealers protecting their territory and aiming to deliver the products to consumers. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (n.d.) also supports the idea that the prohibition has resulted in consequences that are opposite to the intended results. Hence, since the ‘war on drugs’ has not been effective and in fact resulted in more adversities for the society, such as the strengthening of cartels, the increase of violent crimes, and the inability of the government to control drug trafficking, the existing laws should be altered to address this issue.

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Some of the ways to address the flaws in the ‘war of drugs’ involve allowing the drug cartels to coexist and share the market peacefully instead of arresting some of their leaders. According to Wells (2020), this logic is followed in the Mexican drug war. Mexican cartels developed amicable arrangements to share the drug market before Felipe Calderón became president of Mexico in 2006 (Wells, 2020). Calderón used a ‘decapitation’ plan to target cartel leaders at the request of the United States, which resulted in a high number of violent crimes, such as murders. The cartel leaders became more violent, and this has had a negative effect on the number of crimes committed in general. Since currently, a more pressing concern for the policymakers is the increasing number of violent crimes, they should address this problem through targeted action against the cartel leaders.

In summary, this paper addresses the flaws in the ‘war on drugs policy. The ‘war on drugs has not been effective in addressing the increasing number of illegal substances being sold to people. Moreover, this set of policies has resulted in an increased number of incidents of crime, more specifically, properly crimes and violent crimes.

Reference list

ACLU (n.d.) “Against drug prohibition’, ACLU.

Colson, R. (2019) ‘Fixing transnational drug policy: drug prohibition in the eyes of comparative law’, Journal o Law and Society, 5-50.

Coyne, C. and Hall, A. (2017) ‘Four decades and counting: the continued failure of the war on drugs,’ CATO Institute. 

Count the Costs (n.d.) ‘War on drugs’, FileSaver.

Grossi, J. (2020) ‘The relationship between the War on Drugs and crime’, SSRN Electronic Journal, 1-10.

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Wells, N. (2020) ‘How the war on drugs increases violence and rewards cartels,’ Political Science Now.