US war on drugs analysis

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The “War on Drugs” is a phrase most associated with former US President Richard Nixon following his authorization to treat drug dealing and consumption as illegal activities (Lowe, 2016). While to some extent the war on drugs has some positive effect in both economic, social, and political capacities, the role of this study is to support the argument that actions undertaken by the US government to combat the illegal trade of drugs are a significant catalyst of high demand, wrong choice of careers, increase in market value of drugs, decrease in agency-legitimacy, loss of productive manpower, increase in drug-related crime, a shift in agricultural practices, and birth of illegal firearm market (Lowe, 2016). As a result, based on information available from credible academic sources, this study aims to investigate the suitability of the hypothesis that “the war on drugs is a cycle of self-sustaining factors suitable for the expansion of illegal drugs’ market and drug-related crime”.

The self-sustaining nature of factors leading to the increased supply of illegal drugs and associated criminal activity is related to the opportunities provided by the US government actions against the trade. In this study, the focus is drawn on how increased attention on the subject creates the market value of the illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, meth, marijuana, and opium among others attracting potentially productive individuals to be part of the lucrative business (Plakhotnik, 2014). In addition, an association is made between government spending and job creation since the war on drugs creates a budget diversion from productive projects leading to a society of increasing unemployment rates. Finally, the study also relates restrictive banking systems with the preference of using paper money in the funding of terror activities that could otherwise be unearthed if standard channels are used. These and other factors are detailed to link war on drugs with the explosive growth of illegal drugs’ market.


The War on Drugs, from the former US President Richard Nixon’s perspective, was to clear the society of the entities promoting moral decay, drug users. In his primal commissioning of the War on Drugs, Nixon had appointed Stephen Hess as the National Chairman of the White House Conference for Children and Youth requiring him to establish issues that affected these groups. Upon compilation of reports from 1,486 delegates, it was concluded on April 18, 1971, that among pressing issues such as unemployment, poverty, the war in Vietnam, and education, drug abuse was a major problem (Welty et al. 2016). Initially, the purpose of compiling the report was to eliminate problems associated with the youths and addressing their root causes but upon receiving the report, Nixon implemented a law in 1972 which termed every drug user to a criminal worthy incarcerating (Welty et al. 2016). However, the problem with this approach is that it did not address issues such as unemployment which was associated with poor education and lack of sufficient infrastructural developments. With an increase in population and prevalence of drug dealing in the streets, the war on drugs was already a reaction from the government rather than a means of preventing further drug-related issues (Welty et al. 2016).

From the meeting with Hess, the participating delegates argued, while available data supported, that marijuana consumption in the US was high among youths and with continued drugs effects, they risked the sustainability of the socioeconomic status of the nation. However, from one administration to another, the US government has continued to push further in the establishment of drug-regulating policies that have a clear distinction between prevention and enforcement of drug regulations. As of 2012, the war on drugs marked its 40th anniversary with spending of $1 trillion over the span of 40 years (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). Globally, the US has a 15% share of the total spent in enforcing the war on drugs at the international scale. As an observation, the war on drugs continues to intensify with higher incidents of drug-associated crimes going in records.

Incarceration Rates

From its inception, the war on drugs was to target the issues that affected youth consumption of drugs but in its implementation, the Nixon Administration back in 1972 chose to consider drug addicts and consumers as criminals. This government led action is influenced two other trends in the trade of illegal drugs. Firstly, since the government has been treating drug-related issues such as possession as criminal, the rate of incarcerated individuals has drastically grown since 45 years ago. In 2014, it was reported that over the period of 42 years, incarceration rates grew by 500% with the most affected being the poor and minority groups (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). The related financial burden associated with the war on drugs has also registered at $1 trillion over the same period. The high rate of incarceration is associated with dealing with the consequences of consuming illegal drugs rather than prevention of their circulation. For instance, state and federal prisons registered populations of drug-related criminals of 218,466 and 1,508,636 in 1974 and 2014 respectively representing 600% growth rate (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). However, to support the study hypothesis, it is observed that the US population only grew by 51% from 1974 to 2014 which complies with the assumption that more people continue to be exposed to drugs either through consumption, dealing, or production. Since the government policies have focused on incriminating drug users and ignored the need to provide alternative opportunities such as quality education, employment, and poverty management, it has increased the population of unproductive individuals in the justice system increasing funding and lowering opportunities for rest of the society (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). As a consequence, the increasing population does not have preventive measures against drug abuse and the exposure lures it to the same chain of usage, imprisonment, release, and reuse that most offenders go through.

Financial Spending

The current cost of the war on drugs stands at around 8% of the total US National Debt. At a cost of $1 trillion, the enforcement of the laws governing drugs has been considerably exaggerated provided that hundreds of other projects can make use of these funds to reduce the rate at which drugs are consumed within the US. Nonetheless, the spending on drug related law enforcement not only reduces the opportunities that can benefit the society but also creates a ripple effect on the funding of the justice system. The ripple effect is the redundant non-ending cycle of investing funds to combat drug consumption and in the process incur the liabilities of having to manage the incarcerated populations with further funding. By the withdrawal of drug users from the streets to the justice system only transfers the challenge from the community to the government but at the cost of communities developments (Gopal, & Greenwood, 2017).

With the direction of the funds, poor quality education and limited employment chances continue to prevail promoting the need for alternative engagements as well as an uninformed indulgence to drugs. Among the economic alternatives for unemployed society members, especially minority groups, is drug dealing as some narcotics are easy to obtain from the streets or prepared at home. An observed and related trend relating to increased drug dealing is decreased in the cost of drugs at the street level. Studies point that the quality of some narcotics goes up while the price goes down to indicate that government spending on enforcing anti-drug laws has limited community development at in the process amplified the number of dealers in the society. This trend shows that, unless a different strategy is applied, the government will continue to direct funds to the wrong courses while nurturing drug market as more stakeholders find it an alternative to sustain their economic needs (DeFina, & Hannon, 2013).

Loss in Tax Revenue

The differences between industries lie on the nature of products and services offered as well as the governing laws to regulate the trade. Since the illegal drugs market is not governed by constraints such as tax obligations, the standard drugs’ industry concedes unfair competition. The presence of illegal drugs denies the pharmaceutical industry the opportunity to produce and market the products. However, since some products are considered illegal, their market value is higher than standard drugs and returns to the business are higher as well. In the long run, it is reported that in various health institutions, practitioners liaise with clients addicted to drugs such as painkillers to provide them with the products for extra income. For failing businesses, owners find alternatives among which in the pharmaceutical industry include indulging in illegal sale of the over-the-counter drugs. For institutions authorized to sell medical and recreational drugs, agent-determined restrictions, such as the amount one can acquire at a time, are easily overlooked to ensure optimal sales are achieved (Plakhotnik, 2014).

On the other hand, due to the availability of drugs in both the streets and pharmacies, community addiction from these drugs is higher leading to the constant demand of the products. In this case, the action by the government to consider some drugs illegal and others legal, marijuana is both legal and illegal at different states and proportions, has led to disparity leading to the increase in counterfeit drugs, practitioner-addict liaison, and higher demand for the products. These factors indicate that the government’s war on drugs not only creates an imbalance between ethical conduct and business goals within the pharmaceutical industry but also influences business diversity into illegal drugs’ business.

Firearm Industry

The US considers the possession and handling of firearms a culture which in the recent years had gathered public attention following public shootings. The prevalence of firearms in American homes is significant and the nation’s absolute advantage in the production of these firearms makes their local acquisition affordable. To link drugs and firearms within the US, studies have focused on the characteristics of the illegal drug industry. Three entities are involved in illegal drug business which comprises of a producer/seller, supplier/consumer, and competition/government developments (Gopal & Greenwood, 2017). The grouping of these entities is based on the type of responsibility each plays. For instance, a producer engaged in large scale production will require a supply chain which must take into account competition role as well as the government. On the other hand, a small scale producer may not need the supply chain and would act like a retailer directly doing business with the final consumer but at the same time, competition and the government agencies remain constant, at times variant, variables of the trade. Since it is illegal to possess an unregistered gun in the US, the availability of drugs accomplishes three needs each specific to the group at hand developments (Gopal & Greenwood, 2017).

Producers require firearms to guard their businesses and products against rivals while at the same time preparing for government ambushes. On the other hand, consumers addicted to costly drugs acquire firearms to engage in sustainability crimes such as robbing people, breaking and entering, kidnappings, and/or car theft to fund their addiction. Since the drug industry is governed by violence, the preferred use of paper money makes it possible for members of either of the discussed groups to acquire illegal firearms from the black markets. The government action of enforcing drug laws with violence has continued to influence illegal firearms while at the same time increasing funding to terrorists who deal drugs to acquire funding for ammunition acquisition developments (Gopal & Greenwood, 2017). The restrictive nature of the banking system, which can make it possible for authorities to track money laundering, integrates with the government use of force to influence high demand of firearms to defend the alternatives devised within the community to combat addiction, economic pressure, and sustain livelihoods (Webster & Wintemute, 2015).

Imbalance between Economic Opportunities

The economic opportunities within the US range from self-employment to employment within a sustainable industry among other alternatives such as part time jobs or seasonal contracts. As of May 2017, the US unemployment rate was registered as 4.3% showing the need for an alternative economic strategy for most of the unemployed population. The rate of unemployment is not only instigated by poor education and limited job vacancies especially for graduates with non-technical diplomas but is also developed from choices. Pro-economic individuals do not choose to work within the same industry for long given they have choices to advance in better paying industries or businesses. Due to the size of the drug market, which in a year registered revenues in excess of $100 billion with Cocaine alone registering $34 billion alone in 2013 (Enderwick, 2016). However, further estimates for 2016 shows that the US government is not only fighting the war on drugs in the US alone as US illegal drug dealers have acquired supply chains that export from Mexico and Colombia to Britain and Australia. With the revenue for the sale of Cocaine acquired from Colombia at $1500 per kilogram being $12,000 – $16,000 in Mexico, it is observed that most average earners choose to engage in more profitable business. Although the street dealing is not as profitable as being a producer, the illegality of the drug increases its market value and attracting investors into the business. With profits as high as $77,000 and $200,000 in Britain and Australia respectively for the same product, most Americans with logistics knowledge would rather venture into illegal drug since the business nature sustains the productivity of the industry (Enderwick, 2016). The government ruling that some drugs are illegal amplifies their selling points with dealers meriting the high prices with the high risks of arrests, murder, and other government actions.

Crime Upsurge

As noted earlier, the manner in the war on drugs has been executed so far creates market value for the products. The business concept that higher risks have higher returns applied to the illegal drug business. The more careful entities have to be to ensure that the products are supplied to the market, requires lucrative compensations that can motivate an individual to make the choice of carrying on with the illegal trade (Plakhotnik, 2014). However, a long term effect of the war on drugs as related to the market value of products is the influence on farming practices. For two reasons, the illegal drugs market will continue to thrive while consumption will not be restrained through arrests. Firstly, due to the availability of farming land and poor market prices for commercial food products, farmers adapt to the growth of illegal crops such as coca, opium, and marijuana which have better market returns than normal farm produce. Secondly, due to the high costs of drugs, some consumers have invested in in-house greenhouses to cultivate the products within their locality. In this case, the higher the products sell for, the more willing farmers will be in shifting from underachieving businesses to more productive alternatives (Gopal & Greenwood, 2017).

While considering consumers as well as possession as criminals and criminal activity respectively, there is a continued increase in crime. Three categories of crimes associated with illegal drugs include the psychological, compulsive, and systemic crimes. Psychological crime is associated with the effects of the drug influencing one to commit crimes such as rape, property distraction, or murder in search for respect (Gopal & Greenwood, 2017). Compulsive crimes are sustainability offenses which involve theft or burglary as a funding method for addiction. The systemic crime involves the nature of the trade and the need for drug dealers and users to engage in violence such as shootings to control market shares, repel government intervention, punish unaccepted standards of business conduct, and to induce respect amongst business partners. These types of crime are linked to government acts such as shootings, arrests, destruction of property, and zero tolerance of drug business which in return creates animosity amongst industry players, government agencies such as the DEA, consumers, and other members of the society (Plakhotnik, 2014).


Evidence acquired from various reliable sources support the argument that the war on drugs is a cycle of self-sustaining factors suitable for the expansion of illegal drugs’ market and drug-related crime. From the acquired evidence, it is observed that the government concentration on the war on drugs has directed significant funds that would rather develop other sectors to limit the root causes supporting illegal trade leading to the high demand of drugs and continued supply. Fewer socioeconomic opportunities led by the poor implementation of the war on drugs create a pool of problems that society members seek alternatives such as drug dealing to resolve. Additionally, the animosity established and developed between government agencies and some ethnic groups considered high-risk or minority entities influence the characteristics of the drug industry where violence is a norm. In return, this animosity has promoted the restriction of using formal payment methods leading to the birth and sustainability of other industries, such as illegal firearm industry which relies on the black market and paper money to carry out transactions.

Armed groups continue to increase to defend their livelihoods from competitors and authorities while consumers acquire firearms to commit crimes such that their drug needs are met. Drug lords are also observed to liaise with government officials to ensure drug-related activities are conducted in the absence of authorities. With differences in earnings from one industry to another, the highly tempting returns from illegal drugs are associated with the risk-adjusted market value of the products. Both government officials, as well as stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry, indulge in illegal activities to boost their incomes and sustain their livelihoods as the war on drugs creates complications that play important roles in sustaining the illegal trade.

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  1. DeFina, R., & Hannon, L. (2013). The impact of mass incarceration on poverty. Crime & Delinquency59(4), 562-586.
  2. Enderwick, P. (2016). The Transnational Organisation of the Drugs Trade. In Financial Crimes: Psychological, Technological, and Ethical Issues (pp. 309-327). Springer International Publishing.
  3. Gopal, A., & Greenwood, B. N. (2017). Traders, guns, and money: The effects of mass shootings on stock prices of firearm manufacturers in the US. PLoS one12(5), e0177720.
  4. Lowe, S. (2016). A Cross to Bear: President Nixon’s Tactical War on Drugs Policy Implemented to Destroy the Black Race.
  5. Plakhotnik, M. (2014). Global transnational organized crime: key flows and markets. Geography and tourism, (29), 113-124.
  6. Travis, J., Western, B., & Redburn, F. S. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences.
  7. Webster, D. W., & Wintemute, G. J. (2015). Effects of policies designed to keep firearms from high-risk individuals. Annual review of public health36, 21-37.
  8. Welty, L. J., Harrison, A. J., Abram, K. M., Olson, N. D., Aaby, D. A., McCoy, K. P., … & Teplin, L. A. (2016). Health disparities in drug-and alcohol-use disorders: a 12-year longitudinal study of youths after detention. American journal of public health106(5), 872-880.
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