Casa Palmera (2009) reports that marijuana was “grown by the Jamestown settlers around 1600” in plantations as it was a major source of revenue. Moreover, from 1850 to 1937, it was used as a medicinal drug. Opium in tonics and elixirs was “also used in the 19th century by upper- and middle class women to cure female problems”. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum reports that, in the 1850s, the Chinese immigrants that came to work in the goldmines and later on the railroads “brought opium smoking with them” to California and that 20 years later, the local “gamblers, prostitutes, actors began to join them”. The use of opium spread steadily so that, by the “1890s, opium dens were commonplace in American life”. The DEA Museum further notes that there was “great enthusiasm and casual use” of drugs since both doctors and patients “gratefully embraced” morphine, laudanum, paregoric and codeine (Drug Enforcement Administration, no date). The 20th century saw the appearance of marijuana, amphetamines, and psychedelics. Additionally, cocaine appeared in the 1980s leading to the epidemic levels of addiction and violence.
Historically, the drugs that have had the biggest impact on the world are marijuana, LSD, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. There were an “estimated 200,000 cocaine addicts in the U.S” by 1902 and by 1982 there were 10.4 million drug users. Heroin was “created in 1803 and widely used during the American Civil War as an injectable pain reliever, leading to the first wave of morphine addiction”. The large scale addictions led to an increase in criminal activity, violence, and immorality. UNDCP (1995) reported that “cocaine abuse has put a heavy burden on communities in many countries, frequently overloading welfare, treatment and law enforcement agencies.” UNODC (1998) also reports that a state of California study “found that alcohol and drug abusers, in the year prior to entering a treatment programme, cost the tax payer $3.1 billion per year…in 1991” and “the health bill of drug abusers is almost 80 per cent higher than that of an average citizen in the same age group.”
Nowadays, the most abused drug is alcohol. The College of Social work (2009) also reports that alcohol is the most abused drug in America, yet it is “the most accepted”. Rubin and Zorumski (2010) reported about a study in the UK that found alcohol as the most abused drug which has the highest harmfulness, taking into account the level of harm to its users and their nearest people. The study found out that, “heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine” are the most harmful drugs as they absolutely destroy the personality.
The legality of drug use throughout history has changed with time. From early times, Christianity forbade the use of intoxicating substances due to their effect on human beings. It was believed that intoxicated people are not reliable and cannot distinguish between right and wrong. The history of drug laws and restrictions in the U.S includes the 1830’s Massachusetts law that forbade selling drugs to Indians. The early 1850’s saw 13 states pass alcohol prohibition laws which were repealed by 9 by 1868. These prohibition laws were directed at users rather than against the drug. In 1875, operating or visiting of opium dens was banned by the San Francisco Ordinance. King (1974) reported that the “Towns-Boylan Act, the New York law, which became effective July 1, 1914, aimed at all non-medicinal trafficking and use, with substantial criminal penalties”.
The punishments included convictions and indictments for handling, peddling, trafficking, and using drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there are three types of offenses defined by drug possession or sales, offenses directly related to drug abuse and offenses related to a lifestyle that predisposes the drug abuser to engage in illegal activity. All of these are punishable by law.
The best course of action with regard to drug abuse in today’s world is education on the dangers of using and trafficking from an early age, as well as capital punishment for trafficking in order to inhibit the potential drug traffickers. The inability of the current laws and anti-narcotics campaigns to control the drug menace has cost a lot of money and lives, especially because the industry is controlled by well organized criminal cartels. Additionally, more restrictive laws requiring family members to report their family members experimenting with drugs will help curb those who become addicts on the early stages. Additionally, such laws would require every member the community to be responsible for the safe future of the young people.
However, the law is ineffective in curbing the drug menace as one of the crucial aspects of the industry is the high demand for drugs. Since there is a market for the drugs, and the financial rewards are very high, drug traffickers will continue taking high risks in order to make money. Thus, incarceration for handlers is ineffective in stopping the vice. The solution would lie in gradually reducing the market demand, through better education of young people, and criminalization of the glamorization of drug use in entertainment products (music videos, advertisements, movies, games, music, and novels/books.) It is well documented that entertainment products have a huge impact on the socialization of young people. As children grow up, they are influenced by what they see, hear and read from movies, music, games and each other. Additionally, the environment in which they are raised determines what they consider ‘cool’ and can be aped. Thus, it should be a criminal offence for entertainment content producers who make drug use and handling appear glamorous or ‘cool’ to children and young people.
The Singapore Country Report (2010) states that Singapore is a “relatively drug-free society and continues to adopt a firm stand against drug trafficking”. It has achieved this status through an integrated multi-agency and multi-pronged approach comprising a high-profile preventive education, vigorous enforcement to arrest addicts and traffickers swiftly, treatment and rehabilitation to reform the addicts, and aftercare to reintegrate reformed addicts back into society. Such an approach has been effective in Singapore since it recognizes the insufficiency of law enforcement in meeting solving the problem.
The existing legislation increases the problems associated with drug use and trafficking. Staff Reports (2012) reported in Carbondale News that a bill had been introduced in the Senate that “would make it easier for the United States to prosecute foreign drug traffickers by closing a loophole in current law”. Apparently, the existing law on prosecution makes it impossible to prosecute foreign drug kingpins, e.g. from Colombia and Peru, since “prosecutors often have trouble establishing the connection (between Columbia, Peru and Mexico) since the drugs go to other countries before entering the United States”. The fact that there are laws that make it impossible for drug kingpins to be prosecuted contribute to the failure of legislation to win the drugs war.
It appears that the use of law to fight the war on drugs has failed miserably. Doward (2012) reported that “The Summit of the Americas was being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favor of a more nuanced and liberalized approach” to the war on drugs. The meeting attended by the leaders of Latin America and the US president, was to include an admission by serving heads of state that there was a need for an alternative to prohibition in order to combat the drugs menace.