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America’s South West and the War on Drugs

Since President Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs’ over 40 years ago, the government has taken an aggressive policy towards the drug industry throughout the States, but particularly in the South West, where borders with Mexico mean that drug trafficking is common. Originally started as a reaction to growing drug abuse, particularly by US soldiers in Vietnam, the war on drugs has come to represent a nationwide conflict between the government and the users, dealers, producers and traffickers of drugs.

The USA is the number one consumer of cocaine internationally, and 95% of this cocaine is brought through Mexico. Such drug smuggling is common along the South West borders, where drugs produced in South or Central America are dropped into the USA.

America's South West and the War on Drugs

The trafficking chain creates huge amounts of violence and abuse. It is this industry, as well as small-time users, that have been targeted by the US government in their war on drugs over the last four decades. Yet today, its effectiveness is being questioned. Despite billions of dollars being invested in the plans over the 70s, 80s and 90s, the scheme has seen many failures and very few successes.

Today we see a new approach to the drug epidemic which Nixon once called America’s ‘public enemy number one’. The movement to eradicate drug use gained momentum in 1971 with Nixon’s first declarations about the huge drug problem in the US. He described it as a national emergency and implemented many policies to wipe it out.

Federal drug control agencies, including the police and border control, were allowed more power, presence and size. Reagan continued these policies in the 80s, and by the end of the decade, the drug problem was one of the most debated topics in the United States. Presidents poured billions of dollars into schemes that aimed to renew efforts to stop drug use.

In the 2000s, Clinton gave a 1-billion-dollar aid package to the Colombian government to aid their fight against drug trafficking. However, much of the war on drugs was fought on American streets, against citizens in possession of small amounts of recreational drugs.

As a result of this, millions of arrests were made; so many so that new prisons had to be built, demanding huge investment from the government. For decades, the war on drugs has been thought of as an out-of-bounds topic. Yet today, leaders and experts are calling the war on drugs “unhelpful”. Jimmy Carter recently suggested in the New York Times that the war had damaged the lives of millions of young people and their families, and that US drug policy should be “more humane and more effective”.

There seems to be a general opinion that the US government should tackle the drugs problem more gently, rather than in the aggressive manner of the past decades. Some argue that the way to do this is to legalize or decriminalize drugs, in particular marijuana, while others argue that the money generated by the drugs industry, the third largest after oil and arms, should be the focus of any new policies.

Barack Obama advocates a new approach to the polemic. Instead of viewing drug use as an issue for law enforcement, he suggests the US tackle it as a question of education, health and community support. He intends to rid the controversial subject of slogans and overzealous targets – rather than planning to eradicate drug abuse entirely, his government hopes to reduce drugs’ harmful impact on the community, and prevent and treat addictions.

He wants to take “co-responsibility” for the two-sided problem of violence in Mexico and addiction north of the border in America’s South West. Many Americans are hopeful for the success of this plan, although others, including leaders in South America, argue that a global overhaul of drugs policies is necessary to ensure progress. This guest post was provided by Stanley Martinson.  Stanley has a myriad of interests but has recently been compelled to write about drug addiction as well as drug rehab, for more info on this subject, read here.

About Sam Bhatti