Reviewing The Effectiveness Of War On Drugs Criminology Essay

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During the 1990s the law enforcement pursued marijuana offenses with force.  Arrests for possession added up nearly all of the increase in drug arrests during this period. These low level marijuana users were disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs in these years. Persons with an arrest and conviction record face many of the same challenges and obstacles as people who have been incarcerated, such as denial of federal financial aid for higher education, lack of access to federal aid such as food stamps, denial of entry to public housing.  In addition to the institutional or formal challenges, there are also informal barriers for persons with a felony conviction, such as the difficulty to find employment with a criminal record.  All of these social issues are consequences of the drug war and exist whether one spends time in prison or serves a sentence in the community (King, Mauer, 2005).

In November 2010, Californians are voting to decide about legalization of marijuana. As we are approaching this event, the opinions and debates about this issue are heating up. Majority of the backing comes from young voters, while those 65 and older are mostly against the measure, polls show. The Obama administration along with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca among many other politicians who are opposing Proposition 19. ( Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2010: 1).

In this assignment the policy question being adresses is the following: Is marijuana legalization the right response policy to drug war's failure?

Policy Analisys

Marijuana is categorized as an illegal substance by federal law and gives criminal penalties for activities relating to its use. The distribution, posession or harvest of marijuana is also illegal under California state law. Penalties for marijuana related activities vary: marketing marijuana is a felony and may result in prison sentence, while for posession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine.

The War on Drugs is a campaign, led by U.S. federal government, with the help of participating countries, such as Mexico. The War on Drugs policy both defines and reduces the illegal drug activities.These are drug policies of the U.S. that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal substances.

Voters approved Proposition 215, in November 1996, which legalized the growing and posession of marijuana in California for medical purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal law could continue to prosecute California patients and providers who grow, harvest and use marijuana for medical purposes. The U.S. Department of Justice stated in March 2009, that the current administration would not prosecute marijuana patients and providers, if their actions are consistent with state medical marijuana laws (

Issues that necessitate the policy are regarding the growth of marijuana arrests and the impact on law enforcement and court processing resources.  We can argue that these arrests are made to maintain order, which leads to the suppression of more dangerous crime. The trend shows that the growth in marijuana arrests over the 1990s has not led to a decrease in use or availability, neither increase in value. Billions are being spent nationally on the processing of marijuana arrestees with no significant impact on the use of marijuana itself (King, Mauer, 2005). Disproportionate number of African Americans and Latino adolescents are currently being arrested for this low level crime. Not the drug cartels, but the arrest of the youngsters is alarming. Just like the alcohol prohibition didn't work, the prohibition on the cannabis, is seemingly not working. More lives and families have been torn apart by the prison system than by marijuana itself.

Proposition 19 would change the California law to legalize the harvest and posession of no more than one ounce of marijuana for personal use by individuals 21 years or older. Local governments would regulate the production and sale of marijuana. Also the local or state governments could tax marijuana. It would be illegal to use marijuana in the presence of minors, when driving or in public. Proposition 19 could result in increased tax revenues in several millions of dollars per year. Also correctional savings are estimated also in millions of dollars per year. Therefore, cannabis would be contolled like alcohol, billions of dollars in tax revenue would be generated and police activities would be channeled where they belong. These activities would remain illegal under the current federal law.

California is currently in $19 billion deficit. 400,000 residents already consume medical marijuana legally. Another 2 million do so illegally. We can assume how $1.4 billion in annual tax revenue, as the State Board of Equalization has predicted can help our budget deficit. In Oakland, California, where medical marijuana is already being taxed, community leaders state, that the funds will help save libraries, parks, and other public services.

Prop 19 would not change the current legislation that bans marijuana on school campuses, and the initiative maintains strict penalties for driving under the influence. Regarding the cannabis growing in apartment complexes, it will be just like with pets, they may not be illegal, but they can certainly be banned from apartments. No employer will be required to allow workers to smoke marijuana on the job. In California, addiction counselors are split on the legalization issue mainly because of their support of treatment over jail time and penalties for marijuana addicts. Nationally, public health experts mostly are against Proposition 19. These health experts state, that legalization will increase the number of people who become addicted to marijuana, this will lead to more car accidents and distrupts school performance. These experts agree that smoking marijuana causes short term memory loss, however they disagree on the overall cognitive effects of the drug. According to federal data,marijuana is addictive for about 9% of adults who use it, compared with about 15% who use alcohol . Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance in the country, therefore marijuana dependence is more common than addiction to either cocaine or heroin altough it carries a lower addiction potential. Several policy analysts predict a 50% increase while others say that the numbers are unlikely to rise because California's medical marijuana laws have already made the drug easy to obtain. Stephen Gutwillig is the California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that advocates for changes in the nation's approach to illicit drugs. Gutwillig supports legalization. "The bottom line is that marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes," Gutwillig stated. "It's far less addictive than either of them. People tend to use marijuana in smaller amounts. It does not have alcohol's association with violence and unresponsible behavior. And you can't overdose."

More than two - thirds of Members of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, in a recent survey, believe there will be an increase in the amount of marijuana addiction if the drug is legalized and almost 70% think there will be increased use by adolescents. This organization suggests creating restrictions to minimize minors' access to the drug, such as advertising and marketing rules, warning labels on marijuana products, use of fees from marijuana profit to fund marijuana addiction treatments, and treatment instead of legal punishment for adolescent marijuana users ( Rand Corporation/

Popple et. al. (2011) is emphasizing on one key issue, that the final analysis is always political regarding the policy. Regardless of its form, the analysis becomes part of the play of power. Karger and Stoesz are making a similar argument for the current policy on war on drugs. Drug enforcement did not resulted in less drug use. However it doubled the prison population from 1980 to 2008. The war on drugs resulted in prison overcrowding and increase in public expense for new prison construction. Wars on drug policies were unable to stop the availability of illegal drugs, but they resulted in decline of inner city communities ( Karger, Stoesz, 2010).

Policy Impact on Community

Proposition 19 will not have a big impact on military veterans. This is the client population where I would like to work as a military social worker, after I earn my MSW. The military culture and the US Veteran Affairs Department are slowly approving the use of cannabis for veterans who use marijuana for pain. Under a new law, health care provided to veterans by the federal government will no longer be at risk if they use medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Medicinal marijuana falls into an unusual category in the US. It is illegal in the country under federal law, but legal in 14 US states. Now with the Veterans Affairs directive, Washington agreed to ignore medicinal marijuana use by patients under the department's own care maintained restrictions. Veterans Affairs policy had stated that patients treated at VA hospitals and clinics could be denied pain medication if they were found in drug testing to have used an illegal substance. Now, says Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the VA's undersecretary for health, "if a veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the veteran from receiving opioids for pain management" in a VA facility (Woodward, 2010).

The resolution of this policy regarding the youth planning to recruit in the US Army, is that young people are experimenting, and if they make a bad choice, their conviction not suppose to backfire later in life. Mistakes made early in life, like a possession charge, can have a negative effect to the futures of these young people. Drug arrest can lead to the loss of a college scholarship, the ability to serve in the military, subsidized housing, and federal welfare like food stamps, although it is rare for first time offenders to get jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Policy Question

The current policy on drug wars not only doesn't work, it increases hard drug addiction rates. Cannabis it's less addictive than tobacco and has never killed a single person. Marijuana can be harmful if abused, but prison cells may not be the best health interventions. Marijuana can be addictive, so does alcohol. However not every person who ever consumed alcohol is an alcoholic. The same principle applies when it comes to smoking marijuana. Marijuana prohibition has failed as a deterrent. The U.S. has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available to adults over 18. The only winners in the war on marijuana are drug cartels and some politicians who have built careers out of drug war policy. The policy question debated in this assignment is, "How effective was the war on drugs and is it time to consider marijuana legalization in California?"

Legalizing marijuana could help make neighborhoods safer by removing the drug out of the hands of criminals. Supporters of Proposition 19 state that money diverted from low level marijuana cases would help schools, drug addiction rehabilitation projects, drug awareness programs. Also taxes generated from the sale of marijuana could benefit public works and scholarship programs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy made a statement recently that drug use in U.S. over the last few decades remains relatively unchanged, and is actually on the rise. It is historically provable that prohibition is the cause of violent black markets. Like alcohol during the 1920s, drug prohibition today allows drug cartels to become powerful. Statistics indicate that legalizing marijuana will not lead to an increase in usage. Several researches have also disregarded the hypothesis that marijuana is a drug that will lead adolescents to switch to harder drugs. These researches also point out that among 14 and 15 year olds who start to smoke, 17% will be dependent within two years, said Dr. Tim Cermak, an addiction psychiatrist and president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine.

University of New Hampshire study suggests that the ratio of people who try drugs and the people who become addicted has not changed significantly since the war on drugs was first declared in 1971. This research highlights the importance of distinguishing between substance use and abuse.Teen marijuana use elevates risk for subsequent use of other illicit substances ( see figure 1). Among young adults who are 21 plus years old or working, marijuana use may have little remaining effect (see figure 2), if any, on their use of other illicit drugs ( Gundy, Rebellon, 2010). In Holland, where marijuana is legal, teen drug use is half of what it is in the U.S. A common argument against legalizing pot is that nobody wants to drive on the same road with someone who recently just smoked marijuana. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a research in 1998 and they found that the effects alone on driving were small, however severe when consumed with alcohol. Legalizing cannabis will not change the principles of our justice system. It will always be illegal to smoke marijuana while driving. Minors will never be allowed to go into a store and buy marijuana. Savings of up to several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments on the costs of incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders. State and local government would benefit from tax fee revenues from the production and sale of marijuana products.

The supporters of Proposition 19 are from law enforcement field, such as National Black Police Association, San Hose Chief Joseph McNamara (Ret.), Former Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney William John Cox, Former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Jeff Studdard, Former Sutter County Deputy Sheriff Nate Bradley, among many others. United States Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, MD (Ret.) is representing physicians, who are in favor of this initiative, also some elected officials,like California State Senator Mark Leno and California State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano. Regarding organizations the most notable are California NAACP, California Green Party, ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California.

The opponents of Proposition 19 are stating that it is a poorly made initiative that will cause damage to Californians on roads, in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. Proposition 19 is also full of loopholes, for example allowing municipalities to create local laws regulating cultivation, possession and distribution. Therefore law is not the way to start an experiment such as this because it may make things worse than they are now. Even if Proposition 19 passes, on the federal level it remains illegal, therefore it is too early to go ahead and legalize it on the state level. The demographics that accounts for nearly one quarter of total arrests for marijuana possession in California happens to be those in the 18-20 age groups. This initiative makes it illegal for adults age 18-20 to possess marijuana, these arrests will not decrease, and the drug war against young adults will continue. The California Police Chiefs Association states that they do not waste their time on cases involving an ounce or less. Many cities have already passed measures that require law enforcement to make marijuana possession their lowest priority. Marijuana tax fees will not be spent for health care, public education, the re-opening of state parks, or rehiring of fired government employees. The initiative states that marijuana tax revenue can be used toward enforcing the new prohibitions that the initiative enacts; therefore it apparently taxes the drug to fund the drug war. Currently in Mendocino County, California medical marijuana growers employ seasonal workers, mostly young adults, who are able to make a living in a region where no other employment options exists. Most of them are able to make a living that sustains them throughout the year. What is currently a small scale, largely organic industry, on which entire economies survive, and without which entire economies would collapse. The marijuana industry may be dominated by corporations if this initiative passes.

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy and editor of the journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Kleiman (2009) argues against the legalization of marijuana. Professor Kleiman said that currently marijuana got fancy and is cultivated mostly inside under ideal conditions. Marijuana that grows outside is classified as an industrial product. Today this drug is much stronger then it was decades ago.

The opponents of this initiative include the Obama Administration, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R), gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown (D), Meg Whitman(R), California Police Chiefs association and California School Administrators, among others.


Prohibition of marijuana takes away the rights of Californians to do as they please with this drug no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, wastes law enforcement resources, and leads to racial inequalities. The top candidates for state-wide offices have opposed the measure along with the Obama Administration. This trend may influence the results of the latest poll. The poll shows that Proposition 19 is losing its momentum, according to a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll, which found likely voters opposing the measure 51% to 39%. If the answer is not legalization, than Californians will have to look for other ways to deal with drugs than enforcement.

Lee (2007) from University of Washington conducted a research on adolescent motives of smoking marijuana (see table 3). Experimentation was the most noticeable variance in use and consequences, while habit and coping were second for use and consequences. Experimentation and exploration in general increase during emerging adulthood (Johnston et al., 2005).Understanding motivations specific to marijuana may improve prediction of use and may be useful when it comes to interventions regarding drug related problems Simons et al., 2000 J. Simons, C.J. Correia and K.B. Carey, A comparison of motives for marijuana and alcohol use among experienced users, Addictive Behaviors 25 (2000), pp. 153-160. Article | PDF (56 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (41). This research also suggests that students who use marijuana for experimental reasons appear to report lower levels of marijuana use and marijuana-related problems.

In conclusion, beyond addiction statistics, marijuana's effects is in many cases are unclear. Therefore the experts on each side of the legalization debate can point to scientific studies that support their own position.


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