In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. He proclaimed, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive(Sharp, 1994, p.1).” Nixon fought drug abuse on both the supply and demand fronts. Nixon’s drug policies reflect both the temperance view and disease view of addiction.
Nixon initiated the first significant federal funding of treatment programs in. In 1971, the government funded the then experimental and enormously controversial methadone maintenance program. In June 1971, Nixon addressed Congress and declared, “as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand (Sharp, 1994, p.27).” In this statement he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of interdiction and eradication are destined to fail.
Unfortunately, Nixon failed to listen to his own advice. Nixon launched a massive interdiction effort in Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in 1973. They initiated Operation Intercept, which pressured Mexico to regulate its marijuana growers. The U S government spent hundreds of millions of dollars closing up the border. Trade between Mexico and the U S came to a virtual standstill. Mass amounts of Mexican crops headed for the U S rotted, while waiting in line at the border. In the end, Nixon achieved his goal of curtailing the supply of Mexican marijuana in America. Columbia, however, was quick to replace Mexico as America’s marijuana supplier.
The interdiction of Mexican marijuana was the government’s first lesson in the “iron law of drug economics (Rosenberger, 1996, p.22).” Every effort the U S government has made at interdiction since Operation Intercept has at most resulted in a reorganization of the international drug trade. Heavily monitored drug routes have been rerouted. Drugs enter the United States through land, sea, and air. Closing our borders to drug smugglers is an impossibility as long as the demand exists.
In 1977 President Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. In a speech to Congress he said, “penalties against possession of the drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself (Rosenberger, 1996, p25).” Although Carter endorsed lenient laws towards marijuana use, he was against legalization. Carter’s drug policy was focused on the supply front, with most funding going to interdiction and eradication programs.
Marijuana decriminalization did not fail, but failed to be realized. Carter’s presidency witnessed a sharp increase in cocaine use. From 1978 to 1984, cocaine consumption in America increased from between 19 and 25 tons to between 71 and 137 tons. The demand for cocaine increased as much as 700 percent in just six years (Collett, 1989, p. 35). Marijuana was widely connected to cocaine as a feeder drug. Thus, the federal and state governments moved away from marijuana decriminalization.
In 1981, President Reagan gave a speech mirroring Nixon’s admission that fighting the supply side of the drug war was a losing proposition. He said, “It’s far more effective if you take the customers away than if you try to take the drugs away from those who want to be customers.” Reagan, like Nixon did not heed is own advice. The average annual amount of funding for eradication and interdiction programs increased from an annual average of $437 million during Carter’s presidency to $1.4 billion during Reagan’s first term. The funding for programs of education, prevention, and rehabilitation were cut from an annual average of $386 million to $362 million (Rosenberger, 1996, p. 26).
Reagan’s demand side initiatives focused on “getting tough” on drugs. The program became known as the “zero tolerance” program, where punitive measures against users were emphasized. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse gave the drug user full accountability. Drug users were to be prosecuted for possession and accordingly penalized. Although some block grants were given for drug treatment, the rehabilitative efforts were insufficient to meet the overwhelming amount of drug abuse. Reagan’s demand side drug policy largely reflects the colonial, or moralist view of addiction.
Despite headlining innovative drug policies, Clinton has largely continued the Republican’s supply sided drug policy. In the 1995 budget, Clinton earmarked an extra $1 billion for both the demand and supply fronts of the government’s drug policy. Clinton attracted the media’s attention when he doubled the spending for rehabilitation and prevention programs. However, more substantial increases were made for eradication programs and law enforcement. The 1995 budget included $13.2 billion for drug policy. $7.8 billion was spent on supply sided efforts, while only $5.4 billion was spent on education, prevention, and rehabilitation. Although Clinton did increase the percentage spent on the demand front of the drug war, his policy clearly reflects supply sided tactics