Benefits of Recent Changes in Drug Legislation


History of Drug Legislation in the US

The use of drugs in the US has increased in all categories since the beginning of prohibition in the 1920’s with the exception of opium.  The use of heroin peaked between 1969 and 1971, marijuana between 1978 and 1979, and cocaine between 1987 and 1989.

In the 1980’s there was an overarching effort to impose mandatory penalties for federal drug crimes.  This caused many drug crimes that were common at the time to carry mandatory minimum sentences of 5 to 10 years in a federal prison.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the growing and use of marijuana for medical purposes. This created substantial legal and enforcement conflict between federal and state government laws. Courts have since decided that a state law in conflict with a federal law concerning cannabis is not legal. Cannabis is restricted by federal law. 

Drug Policy shifts in the new millennium

In reviewing the failed drug policies at the turn of the century it made way for more relaxed US Drug Policies. The ‘War on drugs’ during the Reagan and Nixon administrations both proved to be a disaster. US prisons were and are still packed with drug users from laws that were implemented in the 1980s.

One such solution to this issue in which many States are considering is 'Rehabilitation' as opposed to 'Incarceration' for drug users. As of January 2015, there were twenty three States and the District of Columbia who made the use of marijuana legal for medical use.   Several more States are close to adopting the same policies, and Colorado legalized Marijuana completely. Other drugs will come up against much tougher opposition to legalize, though, many Americans believe that all drugs should be legalized, and also trust that eventually it will happen. The money that is now being spent to incarcerate drug users would be redirected to rehabilitation, as well as drug education.

Effectiveness after the change in policy

In September 2006, it was reported that the 2005 survey of 67,500 people found that 8.1 percent reported using an illicit drug in the 30 days prior to being asked about their drug use, which equates to 19.7 million people nationwide (age 12 and older). The percentage was up slightly compared to 2004. Youth drug use declined for the third year in a row.   In 2008, ONDCP reported that actual youth drug use, as measured as the percent reporting past month use, has declined from 19.4% to 14.8% among middle and high school students between 2001 and 2007.

Advertising failures

In a study from 2002 teenagers exposed to federal anti-drug campaigns were not any less likely to use drugs for having seen the campaigns, and some young girls said they were even more likely to try drugs. Many blamed poor ads that weren't resonating with teenagers.

In February of 2005 it was reported that the government's ad campaign aimed at dissuading teens from using marijuana, a campaign that cost $1.4 billion between 1998 and 2006, actually did not work either.

Various TV shows including ER, Beverly Hills, 90210, Chicago Hope, The Drew Carey Show and 7th Heaven put anti-drug messages into their stories, but there was no conclusive evidence if this helped or not.  In December 2000, the FCC ruled that the networks should have identified the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the sponsor of the television programs.

What the US is doing to shift its drug policy

  1. Emphasizing prevention over incarceration.

Preventing the use of drugs before it begins is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences. 

The President's plan promotes the expansion of national and community-based programs—such as the Drug Free Communities Support Program—that reach young people in schools, on college campuses, and in the workplace with tailored information designed to help them make healthy decisions about their future.

  1. Training the right individuals

Having Health care professionals intervene early before addiction develops is just as important. Early detection and treatment of a substance use problem by a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional is much more effective and less costly than dealing with the consequences of addiction or criminal justice involvement later on. The idea is to expand programs that train health care professionals to identify and treat problematic drug use before the condition becomes chronic.

  1. Access to treatment

It is important to expand access to treatment. Today, about 22 million Americans need treatment for a substance use disorder, but only two million actually receive the treatment they need.

  1. Action to expand access to treatment

Through the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will be required to cover treatment for addiction just as they would cover any other chronic disease. An estimated 62.5 million people will receive expanded substance abuse benefits by 2020, with 32.1 million gaining those benefits for the first time.

  1. Addressing drug related crimes and violence

Drugs and crime are many times connected, which is why addressing serious drug related crime and violence will always be a vital component of our plan to protect public health and safety in America. The new drug policy emphasizes the expansion of innovative "smart on crime" strategies confirmed to help break the cycle of drug use, crime, arrest, and imprisonment.  The plan is to lower incarceration rates and reduce recidivism while protecting public safety such as reentry programs, which help guide former offenders back into society, support their recovery from addiction, and help them avoid a return to the criminal justice system.

  1. Helping with recovery and post recovery:

There are 23 million Americans in recovery today, and the goal is to eliminate legislative and regulatory barriers facing these individuals who have made the successful journey from addiction to sobriety. As part of this, for the first time, the Obama Administration established a Recovery Branch at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to support Americans in recovery and help lift the stigma associated with addiction.