Controlled Substance Act (1970 is used as a means of controlling and regulating dangerous and addictive drugs such as heroin and marijuana. The U.S. has a drug policy that has been at crossroads. Contemporary drug policy in America attempted to control the distribution and prevent the use of depressant, stimulant and hallucinogenic compounds that could be abused and determine if the compounds served any medical purpose, tightly controlled distribution system would have to be put in place. Drug policy has a constitutional and historical background, a relation to the public policy and an effect on the election process and voting.
Historical and constitutional background
In the late 19th century, the use of recreational and medicinal drugs was prevalent, and the federal government did not involve itself in regulating and restricting the drugs. No federal agency regulated the use of any drugs. Doctors prescribed cocaine and morphine to patients to patients for pain treatment. There was strong opposition from state officials and patent medicine firms towards the attempts to establish federal control over drugs. The federal control of drugs took shape in the onset of the 20th century (Hakim & Beckley 2011). The federal government proposed to control and regulate drugs by taxation.
In 1914 the Harrison Narcotics Act allowed for manufacturers, importers, and distributors of opium and cocaine to register with the Treasury and pay a special tax on the drugs and keep a record of transactions (Zepeda & Rosen, 2014). The Act led to many physicians being prosecuted and jailed. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 led to the unofficial ban of marijuana by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). The enforcement of the drug policy was mainly carried out by local police with the occasional assistance of the FBN, and the use of publicity and warnings on the dangers of narcotics was used to regulate drug use.
Congress began to support the medical approach to address drug abuse. In 1969 due to the rise of drug abuse, President Nixon reduced drug use one of his top priorities if he won the elections. A few years later President Nixon declared war on drugs especially heroin. In 1973 president Nixon authorized the formation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to enforce The Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The DEA began its work in 1973 with 1470 agents. In the 1970s there emerged a new form of cocaine called crack leading to a public outcry. There was a rise in federal convictions between 1980 and 1987.
Drug abuse was criminalized through the passing of legislation by Congress. The Boggs Act passed in 1951 established prison sentences that were mandatory for some drug. The Narcotic Control Act further increased penalties for all drug offenses, and the death penalty was established as a form of punishing for those selling heroin to the youth. President Nixon’s war on drugs led to the passing of comprehensive federal drug laws such as The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which placed control of select plants and drugs under federal jurisdiction (Tobbell, 2012). Federal drug laws were replaced by a single comprehensive statute after Congress passed the legislation.
The comprehensive drug law classified substances that were controlled under schedules which included how dangerous the drugs are, if there is any legitimate medical use and, the potential for the drugs to be abused. Congress passes crime legislation in 1984 which enhanced penalties for CSA violations, and the CSA was amended to establish general criminal provisions for some felony drug violations. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 pursued the enforcement action against the illicit synthetic drug trade. The 1986 Act established mandatory minimum penalties for some federal drug trafficking offenses. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1998 was passed by Congress to coordinate federal agencies efforts to reduce drug supply and demand.
Checks and balances
Checks and balances are required to control the abuse of drugs. The federal government launched an initiative in 2015 directed at reducing the misuse of opioid. This was to be done through the promotion of more cautious and responsible prescription of opioid medications. The center for disease control and prevention published guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, and this was to establish clinical standards to balance benefits and risks of chronic opioid treatment (Marcy, 2010). Physicians are required to balance the legitimate medical needs of patients with the potential risk for misuse and to reduce nonmedical use of prescription drugs.
Legislation legalizing medical and recreational marijuana has been passed by some states. States that have authorized the use of marijuana are required to regulate the practice effectively, and if they are not effective then the federal government will intervene. The laws of various states require that one has to have a recommendation from a doctor to obtain marijuana from various marijuana dispensaries (Swartz, 2012). Proper identification documents are required in the marijuana dispensaries to ensure there are no underage customers. Congress can establish a federal monopoly on the sale and distribution of marijuana, and this would minimize the size of the black market.
Public policy, elections, and media
The public policy on drugs with the potential to produce dependence such as nicotine and opium has shifted over the course of American history. The changes in the public policy have resulted from changes in the perception of the relative social and health consequences associated with the use of drugs. The public policy has shifted focus to supply-side strategies such as interdiction and international control and less on demand reduction through prevention and treatment. Proposals such as those of decriminalization and legalization of certain drugs have been initiated. There have been calls for increased restrictions on marketing and availability of drugs sold under controlled conditions such as alcohol and tobacco.
The drug policy affects the U.S. elections. The drug laws in existence may be changed by a new leader, and this is a factor that is considered by voters as they go to vote. A new government may be able to implement some changes in the domestic drug policies. Some states such as Washington were hopeful that Obama winning the 2008 election would lead to the ending of decades-long war on drugs showing that the drug policy was a major factor in the state of Washington voting for Obama. Obama had promised to change the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine and reverse the government’s stance on medical marijuana laws.
Media shapes public opinion and has a significant role in political debate. Media sets the agenda and defines public interest and indirectly shapes individual and community attitudes towards risks and feed into decision making and political debate. Media builds consensus about issues that are most important in the community in regards to the drug policy, and they can define the type of solutions by what they choose to present to their audience. Media has portrayed the drug policy negatively by continuing to air alcohol advertisements and shows with a tolerance for drug abuse.
Voting and the election process
The drug policy has allowed for candidates to openly talk about drugs in public during campaigns. There are small changes in the drug policies such as the narrowing of the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Elected officials have initiated changes to the current drug policy and also proposed the legalization and decriminalization of drugs in their states especially marijuana. Obama upon being voted for a second term proposed that spending by his government would be on reducing demand rather than reducing supply and would mean arresting of drug cartels and drug dealers. The election process allows for the drug policy to be changed by elected members and voters consider a candidate’s stand on the drug policy before voting for them.
A drug policy controls and regulates dangerous and addictive drugs. The use of recreational and medicinal drugs was popular in the late 19th century. There was no federal agency to regulate drug use until the onset of the 20th century. The federal government started to regulate drug usage by taxation. Congress began to support medical approaches to address drug abuse. President Nixon declared war on drugs that led to many constitutional changes in the drug policy to reduce drug usage especially that of heroin. Some constitutional proposals passed include the Boggs Act which established mandatory prison sentences and the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which placed control of plants and drugs under federal jurisdiction.
There are checks and balances for controlling drug abuse, and they include initiatives by the government to reduce misuse of opioids. Guidelines for prescribing opioids have been published, and states that have legalized marijuana have enacted laws that regulate the use of marijuana. Drug policy relates to the public policy as the public has changed their perception of the consequences of the drugs and instead emphasized on supply-side strategies. Elections lead to changes in drug policy as new leaders will propose new suggestions to make the policy more effective. Media portrays the drug policy positively and negatively. Advertisements on drugs such as alcohol are heavily carried and in the same time consequences of drug use are shown. The drug policy is impacted by the voting and election process as new leaders will initiate changes to the policy and voters will consider a candidate’s stand on the drug policy before casting their vote. The drug policy should take a new approach by banning all the drugs and leading ensuring a complete reduction in drug usage.
Hakim, P., Inter-American Dialogue (Organization), & Beckley Foundation. (2011). Rethinking US drug policy. Oxford, England: Beckley Foundation.
In Zepeda, M. R., & In Rosen, J. D. (2014). Cooperation and drug policies in the Americas: Trends in the twenty-first centuries.
Marcy, W. L. (2010). The politics of cocaine: How U.S. foreign policy has created a thriving drug industry in Central and South America. United States: Chicago Review Press.
Swartz, J. (2012). Substance abuse in America: A documentary and reference guide. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood.
Tobbell, D. A. (2012). Pills, power, and policy: The struggle for drug reform in Cold War America and its consequences. Berkeley: University of California Press.